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Lunatics and Lunacy

Victorian asylums were not vast prisons where poor unfortunates were kept locked up for their entire lives.  Many patients were discharged 'cured' to their friends or families, and the Victorians themselves were determined to make admission very difficult.   Asylum care was a relatively expensive option, and as a result mentally ill people, particularly the elderly, might be just as likely to endure the spartan regime of the workhouse than be admitted to an asylum.

Patient Statistics, 1872Nevertheless, Victorian asylums tended to expand.  They did so because there was a lack of effective medical treatment for both mental illness and for physical illnesses with mental symptoms. Many of the patients would now be easily cured or not have fallen ill.  For example, some of the female patients were admitted suffering from mental health problems as a side effect of post-natal infections caused by poor hygiene. There were also a large number of patients with tertiary syphilis, a sexually-transmitted disease that eventually affected the brain and nervous system, causing severe neurological problems. Tertiary syphilis became extremely rare once penicillin became generally available in the 1940s.

(right) Patient statistics, 1872
(D/H10/A4/1 (part))

Victorian Fair Mile also admitted a substantial number of patients with severe learning disabilities, including children.  It was not until 1930, when the Berkshire and Oxfordshire County Councils created the Borocourt Institution in Peppard, Oxfordshire, that a residential alternative to the mental hospital became available for people with these needs.

Borocourt Institution

Photograph of Borocourt Institution, c.1993
(P/HA2/5/3 (part))


Related Content

Founding the Asylum

Early years at Fair Mile

Patient care in the Asylum

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31 response(s) so far…

Barbara Talmage
Posted on the : 7 Jun 2012

very interesting

tilly james
Posted on the : 4 Dec 2012

I'm sorry but I know that the patients were not given a great deal of care. Its a very sad that although interesting the truth is not out The patients were all house in one long room mixed together .The cells remain to this day, Straw was scattered on the floor and patients left roaming, striped of clothing. Food was poor, the majority going to the workers, the place is full of 'ghosts' the best thing to do is demolish the whole building and wipes away the evil deeds commited there.

Posted on the : 4 Dec 2012

Thanks Tilly - mental health care is obviously an issue that creates a lot of discussion. The Fair Mile archive doesn't bear out your assertion, but certainly a Georgian asylum might have looked more as you describe.

Petula Ash
Posted on the : 29 Sep 2014

I was a patient in Bourocourt Hospital in 1975 I was put there for mental health issues, I was not there long however I underwent a lot of tests on my mental state and was placed in a padded cell on a few occasions, shutting it down was the best they could do.

Jenny de Fraine
Posted on the : 2 Dec 2014

I recently discovered that my g,g Grandmother Mary Ann Quelch was a patient & died there in 1917 so found Tilly's comment's really upsetting. I do hope it was not as she decribed.

Posted on the : 3 Dec 2014

Hi Jenny - we can only reiterate that Tilly's description does not fit the layout of Fair Mile. Your gg grandmother would have experienced Victorian and Edwardian regimes that did attempt to care. However, in the 20th century many people shared negative experiences of asylum care, and these experiences can be deeply affecting. Hope that helps.

David Caffery
Posted on the : 12 Apr 2015

I did my R M N training at Fairmile, starting there on September 6th 1965. I consider it to be the best phase of my life. My first ward was Drayton ward, which then was the Male admission ward. I wonder if anyone remembers me from that time. I have a lot of memories to share so get in contact with me

Steve Brook
Posted on the : 20 Apr 2015

I wonder if Tilly's description relates to Fairmile or Borocourt, and what period. It certainly does not correspond to my memories of Borocourt. My mother worked there from 1959 to late 1960's, teaching the children. I understand that Borocourt was a residential centre for the more severe cases. I remember visiting on several occasions, my best friend lived in the staff houses as his father was an engineer in the Boiler house, and we lived in Stoke Row for a time. I remember spending time there in the summer holidays. I also remember Christmas parties there. It is true that at that time there were people with Downes syndrome and probably Autism that would have been cared for externally these days. Certainly there was segregation between men and women at night time, there being separate wards. It would be interesting to know exactly who made all the profit when it was sold off and converted into luxury flats and houses built in the massive grounds. Is it correct that to avoid negative connotations it has reverted to its original name of Wyfold Court? - Steve Brook

Posted on the : 21 Apr 2015

Dear Steve Borocourt Hospital was originally built as Wyfold Manor House in 1878. It became a hospital for people with learning disabilities in 1930. The Oxford Regional Health Authority managed it from 1974. It was closed in 1993 and was later converted into housing. It seems to have been called Borocourt throughout it's history as a hospital. Whether the housing developers renamed the site, I'm afraid I do not know. You may need to enquire with the developers or the NHS Trust to find out more about the sale and its name.

Posted on the : 9 Aug 2015

I worked for the pj livesey group at borocourt after it was closed down and sold to them. I've worked in lot's of old listed buildings but this one sticks in my mind the most. Ive still got some photos and things that i found on the premises i also have photos that i had taken over the three years working there. The "cells" was like something you get in films apart from the paintings of animals and stuff on the outside of the rooms that was just strange. I can only guess that they was there to make them feel happy befor they do tests on them.i would love to see some photos of inside the house when it was a hospital if anyone could point me in the right direction. Sorry about my grammar but there's a reason am in the buildings trade.

Posted on the : 10 Aug 2015

Dear Dale I'm afraid that we have very little on Borocourt. We have some minutes and a couple of pamphlets. One contains external pictures of Borocourt (as seen in the Lunatics and Lunacy webpage ref. P/HA2/5/3). It has a picture of a staircase and a hallway/archway too. P/HA2/3/2 is all about Borocourt in 1959 and does contains internal images of wards, nurses rooms etc. You would most be welcome to visit us to consult this material. Please see our opening hours and location (links on the left) and call or email to make a booking. You may also like to contact the Oxfordshire History Centre as they also hold records relating to Borocourt and may even hold actual photographs. There is a link to their website on our Useful Links page. I hope this is of help to you. If you would like to ask further questions, please use our online Contact Us form on the left to send us an email.

Luke Mitchell
Posted on the : 17 Aug 2015

I was born in 1976 and lived in the staff housing estate until almost 1993 when it was knocked down. Both my parents and those of all my friends worked there. Over the years (to my knowledge) the care improved with the usual NHS budget problems. Care seemed to depend on what ward you were on and through which time periods but I associated lots with the residents (we never liked to say patients) with very fond memories. During it's life as a hospital and after it closed, despite many stories, I searched for the ghosts that people talk about but never found any, not even in the network of tunnels hidden underneath. It should never have closed, instead a massive cash injection and change of management style could have helped so many poor, sick people, that Thatcher threw to the streets in private houses.

Posted on the : 21 Sep 2015

Does anyone know how I would go about getting a patients record from this hospital? Somebody in the family was sent there and died there and we have never been able to get hold of his details? Thanks in advance

Posted on the : 29 Sep 2015

Hello Rosie We may have records available on your family member depending on the date in question. Some records are also closed due to their sensitive nature. It is probably best if you send us an email via the Contact Us page so that we can provide you with details of what we have and what you need to do to access the information. Hope this helps.

mr robert cherry
Posted on the : 7 Feb 2016

I worked as a nurse at Fairmile from1975 to1979 and resided in the school of nursing Moulsford manor great info on the history patient care was very good although a lot has changed over the years I have very fond memories of working there and would be pleased to hear from old coleagues I have seen the redevelopement of residential houses and I feel a very good job has been done.

Posted on the : 25 Sep 2016

My mum was here twice. In 1989 and 1990, I was 8 at the time we would visit her everyday from Reading. I remember being nervous on my first few visits of the buildings, interesting history

Eamonn donohoe
Posted on the : 15 Oct 2016

i worked at borocourt in 1975. i was at huntercomb borstall and was given day releas with others to work there. we worked on the low grad wards. cleaning and feeding bathing the in mates. i liked my time there.

Pamela mcmichael
Posted on the : 2 Nov 2016

I was a patient on the children's adolescent unit in the main house,, I was abused by a former patient within weeks of being there,, I should have been there just for observation but had to stay for two and a half years

Posted on the : 6 Dec 2016

Hi! I'm doing my A-level photography coursework on mental illness and was curious if anybody could share their experience of living in the hospital and what life was like in Fair Mile. Thank you!

Heather bowley
Posted on the : 9 Apr 2017

Would like to see the admitance of this person

Posted on the : 12 Apr 2017

Hello Heather Bowley If you let us know who you are interested in finding out more information on, we will try to help. Probably best writing in to us via the online Contact Us link on the left of the website as we monitor this more readily than the website and social media platforms. We can also discuss research options and add attachments and links to websites if required - which we cannot do on this comment box. We look forward to hearing from you. BRO.

Brenda Peacock
Posted on the : 12 May 2017

Hi. I have recently discovered that my grandfather worked at Fair Mile hospital as a male mental nurse around 1939. I would be very grateful for any information that you can give me. His name was Charles Ives and lived in Moulsford. Thankyou.

Posted on the : 17 May 2017

Hello Brenda Peacock We do hold some staff records for Fair Mile here at the BRO. There are staff medical examination books (where they checked the health of staff). The one for male staff is closed for 75 years as it goes up to 1953 (ref. D/H10/C1/1/1), so you will not be able to access this volume yourself. However as your are interested in 1939 it may be possible to provide information for you - though we would need to charge a fee. Our Using Us page provides full details of our current fees and how to visit as well. We also have salary and wages information. There is a volume covering 1934-1945 (ref. D/H10/C2/1/5). There is also a staff register (males - ref. D/H10/C2/10/1) covering 1921-1948. You would be welcome to visit us to consult the open documents free of charge. Alternatively, we could conduct research for you for a fee. It is best if you write to us via the online Contact Us form (to the left of the webpage), particularly as you may need access to closed items. We can then respond directly, and privately. The email account is also monitored more regularly than the website and social media pages. Hope this helps. Regards, BRO.

maria bagnoli
Posted on the : 6 Aug 2017

I was in the adolescent ward at bcourt for anorexia in 1975 i dont know how i survived i have some severememories so pls contact me anyone doing research so we never repeat again i came upon the place 20 yrs later it was shut i went immediately to counselling and told my story

Robert Young
Posted on the : 14 Aug 2017

I was a care assistant on the Mary Sheridan unit, myself and alot of my mates from sunderland worked at the hospital on various units. Still have many great memories. I have continued in the profession since. And have been an RMN for some years now.

Nicholas Hudson
Posted on the : 27 Nov 2017

My sister ( rubella damaged )endured electric shock treatments and many undisclosed drugs in the 1960/70 era not atall a nice place .

Gail Trevelyan
Posted on the : 16 Jan 2018

I lived in the staff houses at Borocourt from 1969 when I was born until 1975 when we moved to Devon. Both my mother and father were nurses there - June and Ernest/Ernie Bamford. I remember our house backed onto some woods and had a really long garden (or maybe I was just really small!)

Dolores Romero
Posted on the : 21 Feb 2018

I worked at borocourt hospital in the kitchens as dining room staff,between 1972 and 1974,have very fond memories. Would like to know how I could get in touch with other employees of around the same time as I lost touch and some names I have forgotten.

Posted on the : 27 Feb 2018

Hello Dolores Romero Afraid that's not something we can help you with. Sorry. You could perhaps try social media, or one of those 'reunite' type of websites, or even place an ad in a local newspaper. Regards, BRO.

Brian Ransom
Posted on the : 28 Aug 2018

My G Grandfather was admitted to Cholsey Hospital and died just before Christmas in 1890. Are there any records for patients available? My G Grandfather was William Lane.

Posted on the : 29 Aug 2018

Hello Brian Ransom Yes we do have patient records for the period you are interested in. We have pauper admission registers, 1886-1890 (ref. D/H10/D1/1/1/3) and 1890-1895 (ref. D/H10/D1/1/1/4) as well as private patients 1872-1890 (ref. D/H10/D1/1/2/1) and 1890-1895 (ref. D/H10/D1/1/2/2). There are also case books which would provide information on the medical condition of patients. It would depend on when your grandfather was admitted as to what case books we would have. There is also an index of patients, 1870-1914 (ref. D/H10/D3/1/1) which may be of use. You would be most welcome to visit us in order to look at these records - just see the Visiting Us section of our website and then contact us to make a booking. If you are unable to visit, we can offer to carry out research for you for a fee. Please see the Using Us section for details of our services. Hope this helps. Kind regards, BRO.


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