The Sketch 23 Oct 1901

The Sketch

An article from the 23 October 1901 issue of The Sketch, an illustrated weekly newspaper/magazine. The full text reads:

“During His Majesty’s Pleasure”

Life At Broadmoor Asylum

An extensive red-brick building, fashioned somewhat like a squat letter “H”, standing on a lofty eminence, amidst beautiful scenic surroundings, and wearing a generally bright and attractive appearance. That is the Asylum, at Crowthorne, in Berkshire, which received as patients the insane among criminals.

The only feature about it which bears any resemblance to a prison are the large, nail-studded entrance-gates. The grounds in the rear are arranged in terraces, leading down by stages to the cricket-field, a wide stretch on bright-green turf, level as a billiard-table, and flanked by the high outer wall. Viewed from the rear, the Asylum might pass well for the princely country abode of a distinguished nobleman. Standing immediately outside the building on the top terrace, one obtains a perfectly free and uninterrupted view of the surrounding country, the outer wall being hidden below the terraces. The building is designed to accommodate 486 male patients and 185 females. Upon the occasion of my visit, they had one male beyond their number, but twelve short of their full complement of females. Another wing is being added, which is to accommodate an additional eighty patients and will be ready next year.

It might be supposed, from the above figures, that criminal lunatics are on the increase and that crime generally is in a flourishing condition. This, however, is not the case, when the increased population is also taken into account.

And now kindly allow me to introduce Mr. R. Brayn, the Superintendent of Broadmoor Asylum, who very kindly placed himself at my disposal and supplied me with much interesting information. A more painstaking and energetic guide I could not have desired.

Broadmoor Asylum was instituted by special Act of Parliament in 1860, and a Council of Supervision, eight in number, is appointed by the Secretary of State. These, for the most part, are Justices of Peace for Berkshire, and attend the Asylum once a month to receive complaints. Practically speaking, there are no real causes of complaint: plenty, however, of imaginary ones. An annual visit is also paid to the Asylum by two Commissioners in Lunacy, and a report is made by them to the Home Secretary.

Although discipline prevails at Broadmoor, there are no hard-and-fast rules to be observed, as in the case of an ordinary prison. It is conducted as far as possible on the usual lines of a County Asylum. The patients rise at six, breakfast about eight, dine at twelve-thirty, take tea at five , and go to bed at eight. Though these are not “quality” hours, they are, at least, healthy ones. The inmates play cricket, billiards, chess, cards, and dominoes, read, smoke, and have an allowance of beer at their dinners. Many are also efficient gardeners, one man having raised a splendid crop of tomatoes, and they have a band of musicians among themselves.

A theatrical element is introduced into the Asylum by the establishment of an entertainment-room which is fitted with a stage and scenery. Here, dramatic performances, concerts, and other entertainments are given frequently during the winter months. The Treasury allows the payment of £2 or £3 for an entertainment of about two hours’ duration. Performances, too, are given by local histrions, and some members of the staff who have a touch of the footlight-fever will strut their brief hour for the amusement of the inmates. I am not sure that some of the least affected of the patients themselves do not also take part.

All round the entertainment-room are hung framed paintings in water-colours, the work of a dead and gone inmate. Were I permitted to tell you the name of the artist, I should surprise you. I think I may venture to indicate that he was a man with inherited artistic instincts, and bearing a name honoured in London’s coterie of the brush and palette. The act-drop and the proscenium were also painted by the same hand. The subject-mater and designing are good, but the colours were laid on with a remorseless hand, and the effects generally are excessively ornate. A “front’cloth” was painted by another patient, still in the asylum, and this displays the same prodigality in colours. It represents a rustic scene, with a pond in the foreground, which is painted right on to the stage, so that those appearing in front of it are, in effect, walking in the water.

There are a good many aged inmates at the Asylum, which is explained by the healthy condition of the place and its surroundings, which keeps patients long in residence. It is generally supposed that, once in Broadmoor, nothing but death can bring release. This is not the case, for every year patients sufficiently recovered are handed over to the care of friends or relations. The latter must give a guarantee to watch carefully over their charges, and report if anything suspicious occurs. It occasionally happens that patients are discharged only to return again to the Asylum, a relapse having supervened. They may be sane enough at Broadmoor, where they have no worries, but directly they are subjected to the stress of the outside world their minds give way.

So far as is possible, the inmates are classified, and the worst cases kept entirely apart. These are mostly what are called the “Convict class” — that is to say, those individuals whose minds have succumbed during their term of incarceration in a prison or at a penal settlement. These are the only inmates who wear a distinctive dress.

When a convict or prisoner becomes insane, he is at once sent to Broadmoor. If he recovers before the expiration of the term of his sentence, he is sent back to prison. If he remains insane at the expiration of his sentence, he is removed to a County Asylum.

Besides gardening, tailoring, boot-making, and upholstery are also carried on. The patient is allowed one-eighth of the gross estimated value of his labour. He does not, however, handle the money, but it is placed into his account, and he makes purchases through the Steward. There is periodically a requisition day, when slips of paper–a kind of order-form–detailing the articles needed by the patients are handed to the Steward, who makes the purchases in the neighbouring village. The papers must, however, bear the signature of either the Medical Officer or of the Superintendent ; otherwise they might obtain articles injurious to themselves, which is no reflection on the Steward, whose knowledge in the matter is not supposed to be equal to that of the officers above-mentioned.

I doubt if there is a more pathetic sight than the mental degeneration of a human creature. While passing from one terrace to another, I was made poignantly concious of this. An old, white-haired, grey-bearded man came running up to me, and, with childish glee, said, “Just look! I’ve drawn your portrait!” In his extended hand he held a small piece of slate which he had picked up from the ground, and on the surface of which he had either pencilled or scratched what he was pleased to call a portrait of me. It was not a flattering one–in fact, it resembled a leg of mutton more nearly than a human face. It consisted mainly of nose. I do not know if this was in recognition of my life’s work of poking that particular organ into other people’s business. As we were not enthusiastic about it, he became confused and receded a little, like a young child who has made a too precipitate advance and half repents it.

On the next terrace, another incident happened which was full of interest. A tall, military-looking man, holding in his hand a note-book and several slips of paper, advanced and begged an audience of the Superintendent. The latter excused himself for the time being, on the plea that he had visitors to attend to. The patient persevered, and, pressing one of the slips of paper, on which were written a name and address, into the hand of Mr. Brayn, mumbled, “That’s the man who got me into this place,” and added something about medals. As he still persisted, in opposition to Mr. Brayn’s expressed wishes, a young patient stepped forward and, with great care and gentleness, drew away the importunate one.

Subsequently, Mr. Brayn explained to me that the older man was an ex-soldier, and when he entered the Asylum he had with him several medals. As one or two of these had been lost, it was deemed advisable to take charge of the others. The reference to an individual as answerable for his incarceration was a delusion.Reversing the courteous order of things, I have taken the males first, because on this occasion they are more interesting than the females. The principal occupations of the latter are sewing and washing ; they make very poor gardeners. Speaking generally, they lead quiet, uneventful lives. The various corridors in their part of the establishment are beautifully kept and embellished with floral decorations. The same remarks apply to their rooms, which are small, but in many cases quite elegant. At the sides of all rooms, male and female, are long, narrow windows–mere slits in the wall–which look direct on to the bed, work on hinges, and are locked. By this means, the attendants, who pace the corridors all night, are able to keep a watchful eye on the patients in bed.

Suicides are rare. Those with such tendencies are specially watched. Not long since, a man made an attempt in a curious manner. He secreted a length of canvas about his waist, climbed a tree, and hanged himself from a branch. Fortunately, he did not obtain much of a drop ; luckily, also, and attendant was able to just reach his feet, and held him up, while another attendant climbed the tree and released him.

There are, altogether, one hundred and fifteen attendants at the asylum–eighty-five males and thirty females. Some have been there over thirty years. Leave of absence is granted every eighth day, and there is an annual holiday of ten days. There is a fire-drill among the attendants, who are very expert at it.

I cannot conclude better than by expressing my unbound admiration of the masterful grip of the entire system which the Superintendent, Mr. Brayn, displays. His tact and readiness of resource are unlimited.

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Published in: on 22/04/2014 at 09:31  Leave a Comment  
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