The Poor Law Unions became a handy tool for parishes and government officials to deal with mentally disturbed individuals. In those days, the term "lunatic" was applied to a range of mental problems. These individuals were evaluated, and if they could be adequately kept in the workhouse infirmary or barracks, that's where they were housed. For more severe cases, the Union would move them to an asylum, sometimes contracting with asylums out-of-county for their care.

There is a long history of legislation in the Kingdom dealing with "Lunacy." The 1774 Madhouse Act was followed by several amendments and extensions. The 1800 Criminal Lunatics Act was followed by the 1808 County Asylums Act. The Lunacy Act was passed in 1890, consolidating many of the various laws into a single document.

In the Board of Governors' minute books, you will often find entries for individuals who are being "maintained" at private or out of county asylums.

In some records, the term "visitors" refers to the staff or inspectors who would visit the institutions.

The best place to research Poor Law Records is the Lincolnshire Archives, starting with the Archives booklet "Poor Law Unions" which lists all surviving material from Lincolnshire Poor Law Unions. There is a closure period for these registers of 100 years. Therefore the registers for 1911 would not be available for research until 2011.

Fiona Poulton tells us:

"There was a lot more compassion around than we perhaps take for granted, One tends to think that they put you in there and then they threw away the key. Not so. There were people there who went in on a seemingly casual basis for three months or so then came out again only to return a while later. This may have been more to do with the Parish having to pay for you than a "cure", but it goes against what I had imagined. I have to say from my medical background the reasons given for their seeming "insanity" were a bit dodgy. "Forlorn in love" and "having domestic problems" may not seem sound reasons, but saying that I get many of them through my ward doors quoting the same reasons and we kick them out the next day with a letter to their Doctor, maybe they were kinder. Who knows?"


  • Boston Poor Law Union seems to have used Ipswich Asylum in Surrey. It also used Hull Borough Asylum and the Berrywood Asylum (in Dunston, Northamptonshire).
  • Within the boundaries of the City of Lincoln was an asylum known as The Lawn. The Lawn opened in 1820 as the Lincoln Asylum and was the County's first purpose-built hospital for the mentally ill. It closed in the mid 1980's.
  • The asylum closest to the City of Lincoln was in the parish of Bracebridge, just to the south of the city. The Asylum is often called by its proper name: Bracebridge Heath Asylum.
  • Another asylum close to the City of Lincoln was Harmston Hall in Harmston parish, but that facility was not used until 1930 and closed in 1990.
  • Another county asylum, this one close to Sleaford, was in the parish of Quarrington, near Rauceby. The Asylum is often called by its proper name: Kesteven County Asylum. This facility was built in 1902.

Mapperley (Nottinghamshire):

  • Within the city of Nottingham, which is just to the west of Grantham, is Mapperly Hall, built in 1875-1880. Originally known as "Nottingham Borough Asylum," it closed in the early 1990s.

Dunston (Northamptonshire):

  • Stamford Poor Law Union used Camberwell House Lunatic Asylum and the Berrywood Asylum (in Dunston, Northamptonshire).
  • This asylum is referenced in many records as "St. Crispins". It was built in 1873-1876.
  • The building was still standing in 2000, but was derelict. Asbestos removal had started in 2003.

Hull (Yorkshire):

  • Some deranged patients were sent to the Hull Asylum. Here are the Lincolnshire-born residents of the Hull Asylum in 1861.