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Life in Gloucester's Asylums Exhibition: Display 1 of 16



Image of a madhouse, 1735 from A Rake’s Progress by William Hogarth

For much of history, people living with mental illness have been treated very poorly.  It was believed that their condition was caused by any number of things, from demonic possession, witchcraft or simply an act of God.  Care for the mentally ill was almost non-existent: the afflicted were usually relegated to prisons, almshouses or inadequate supervision by families. Treatment, if provided, paralleled other medical treatments of the time, including bloodletting and purgatives. This image of a madhouse (as they were known) from William Hogarth’s ‘A Rake’s Progress’ shows the Rake being placed in restraining manacles and chains, as other inmates look on – a wild variety of caricatures of “madness”.  By the early 1700's the so-called “trade in lunacy” was well established.  Daniel Defoe, novelist, and a critic of madhouses, estimated there were 15 in London in 1724.  The "madhouses" were simply private houses whose proprietors were paid to detain those sent to them and they were run as commercial concerns with little or no medical involvement.  This led to two forms of abuse: the first was the keeping of actual mentally ill people in atrocious conditions and the second was the detention of those who were falsely claimed to be insane – in effect, private imprisonment.