A browse through William Asheton Tonge’s bound set of The East Lancashire Review led to the discovery of a magnificently un-PC article entitled ‘The Ways of Mad Folk’, written by ‘An Ex-Warder of Prestwich Asylum’.
The author recounts:
“I’ve been a keeper for many years and I reckon I’ve learned something of East Lancashire Lunatics. Of course there’s no difficulty about the most of ’em. They think they’re the Prince of Wales or a blue glass bottle, breakable, and wanting great care, or some such rubbish of the sort. Of course they want watching to keep ’em from quarrelling or running away, but they don’t give us much real trouble, only, perhaps, in keeping ’em clean.”
But that’s not the end of it:
“Then there’s another sort, just the opposite, regular wild beasts, who want to damage or kill themselves or anyone else, and yell and roar and upset everybody.”
Or, perhaps worse:
“A man may think he’s Noah come to life again, after being a kangaroo and an elephant in the meantime, or that he hears and talks to his great grandmother, who was dust years ago.”
Sobering stuff indeed, although in the author’s defence he seems to have run a kindly ship and the ‘mad ‘uns’ appear to have been cared for in a friendly spirit.
Prestwich Asylum (later Prestwich Hospital) was built as a result of the 1845 Lunatics Act at Prestwich Woods, chosen for its ‘general air of salubrity’. It was intended to house five hundred lunatics, or the ‘morally depraved’, as they were then known.