Catalogue description Records of the Lunacy Commission, Board of Control and Special Hospitals

Details of Division within MH
Reference: Division within MH
Title: Records of the Lunacy Commission, Board of Control and Special Hospitals

Records of the Lunacy Commission, Board of Control and Special Hospitals relating to responsibilities for the hospital care of the mentally ill and detention of the criminally insane.

Minutes of meetings of the Lunacy Commissioners and Board of Control are in MH 50 with general correspondence and papers in MH 51. Correspondence concerning asylum buildings is in MH 83. Representative case papers of patients are in MH 85, with selected files concerning patients whose cases raised questions of precedent in MH 86. Registers of patient's admissions are in MH 94

Notes of monthly conferences of the Board of Control are in MH 100. Representative files of reports on visits by the commissioners to institutions under the board's control are in MH 95. Selected case files of patients at the institutions at Broadmoor, Moss Side and Rampton are in MH 103. Registered files of the board relating to these institutions are in MH 118

Date: 1798-1981
Related material:

For papers of the Special Hospitals Working Party,1959, see MH 140

For warrants for the removal of criminal lunatics from asylums see HO 145

For records of the Mental Health Royal Commission, 1954-1957, see MH 121

Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Board of Control, 1913-1960

Board of Control, Broadmoor Institution, 1948-1960

Board of Control, Moss Side State Institution, 1934-1960

Board of Control, Rampton State Institution, 1920-1960

Commissioners in Lunacy, 1845-1913

Department of Health and Social Security, Broadmoor Hospital, 1968-1988

Department of Health and Social Security, Moss Side Hospital, 1968-1988

Department of Health and Social Security, Rampton Hospital, 1968-1988

Home Office, Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, 1864-1948

Home Office, Rampton Criminal Lunatic Asylum, 1913-1920

Ministry of Health, Broadmoor Institution, 1960-1968

Ministry of Health, Moss Side Hospital, 1960-1968

Ministry of Health, Rampton Hospital, 1960-1968

Physical description: 10 series
Administrative / biographical background:

By the eighteenth century lunatics were confined in a number of ways: pauper lunatics under the poor law, criminal lunatics under the criminal law, vagrant lunatics under the vagrancy laws, and others either in profit-making private madhouses or by other private arrangements.

The County Asylum Act 1808 authorised justices of the peace to erect and inspect county asylums for pauper lunatics. The crown's jurisdiction over idiots and lunatics in England and Wales with property was exercised by the Lord Chancellor through the masters in Chancery, to whom commissions de lunatico inquirendo were normally addressed, and by Chancery visitors.

In 1828 justices of the peace visiting county asylums were obliged by statute to send annual returns of admissions, discharges and deaths to the Home Secretary, who acquired powers to send any visitor he chose to inspect any asylum. The same year powers of inspecting private madhouses and subscription hospitals in the metropolis, except the Bethlem Hospital, were given to 15 Metropolitan Commissioners in Lunacy appointed by the Home Secretary and reporting annually to him. At the same time visiting justices in the provinces were given powers to visit houses there and report to him.

In 1832 the statute of 1828 was replaced by another which entrusted the appointment of the Metropolitan Commissioners to the Lord Chancellor, with legally-qualified commissioners being added to the existing medically-qualified ones. In 1842 the Metropolitan Commissioners were charged with carrying out a national tour of inspection of all asylums and producing a report, which they did in 1844. Meanwhile the machinery for dealing with Chancery lunatics was altered by the creation in 1842 of two permanent Commissioners in Lunacy to decide questions of sanity in place of the Chancery Masters.

The Lunacy Act 1845 provided for the appointment of 11 new Commissioners in Lunacy, performing the functions of the former Metropolitan Commissioners in Lunacy (whose title however continued in use for some time) but now covering the whole of England and Wales. Their duties involved the inspection and regulation of asylums and the visiting of lunatics, with the exception of Chancery lunatics, who remained under the jurisdiction of the Masters in Lunacy supported by Chancery visitors. The commissioners were responsible for the licensing of asylums in London, but those in the provinces continued to be licensed by JPs.

The Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary shared certain supervisory powers over the commissioners, but the Home Secretary remained completely responsible for criminal and dangerous lunatics. The state institution constructed for them at Broadmoor in 1864 was under his control, with the commissioners reporting to him annually on the condition of the patients.

The commissioners later acquired an advisory function, but their primary duty remained to visit all institutions regularly, reporting annually to the Lord Chancellor and to Parliament. In 1853 counties and boroughs were obliged to provide an asylum. The same year the Bethlem Hospital was brought under their supervision. During the second half of the century public asylums became dominant as private madhouses declined in number.

The body of legislation on lunacy was consolidated in the Lunacy Act of 1890, which remained the basic legislation until 1959, and a further act of 1911 authorised the appointment of two further commissioners because of increased work. The latter was one of the minor recommendations of the report in 1908 of the Royal Commission on the Care and Control of the Feeble-Minded, whose appointment in 1904 followed years of public pressure for recognition of mental deficiency as a condition distinct from lunacy. Its main recommendations were embodied in the Mental Deficiency Act 1913.

The Mental Deficiency Act 1913 merged the Commissioners in Lunacy into a new Board of Control, with enlarged powers including the supervision of the mental deficiency service established by the act and run by local authorities through mental deficiency committees. The board was subject to the general superintendence of the home secretary.

In May 1920 most of the functions of the Home Office in relation to the Board of Control passed to the new Ministry of Health. The Home Office retained responsibility for the detention of criminal lunatics and for the administration of Broadmoor until it was handed over to the board in 1948. The Lord Chancellor remained responsible for regulations under the Lunacy and Mental Treatment Acts.

Pressure for reform resulted in 1922 in the appointment of a departmental committee to enquire into the administration of mental hospitals, and in 1924 of a Royal Commission on Lunacy and Mental Disorder, whose report in 1926 recommended that the Board of Control be given some of the executive functions of the Minister of Health. Under the resulting Mental Treatment Act 1930 the board acquired duties concerning the reception, care, treatment and discharge of patients in mental hospitals and facilities for the treatment of such cases.

In July 1947 the statutory functions of the Board of Control, with the exception of its quasi-judicial powers relating to the protection rather than the medical treatment of patients, and many of its staff, were transferred to the Ministry of Health. The board remained responsible until 1960 for the special hospitals for the criminally insane at Rampton and Moss Side which had been transferred to it in 1920. Also in 1947 the Office of the Master in Lunacy was renamed the Court of Protection.

The Royal Commission on Mental Health, which was appointed in 1954 and reported in 1957, recommended that safeguards against abuse of the mentally ill would be better dealt with by local review and discharge than by a central body, and that the Board of Control should therefore be abolished. It was dissolved by the Mental Health Act 1959 with effect from November 1960. Its staff became officers of the Ministry of Health, to whom some of its functions passed, the rest, including inspection being given to local authorities. The Board of Control's 'watchdog' functions relating to inspections and review of individual cases of compulsory detention were taken over by Mental Health Review Tribunals.

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