The Padded Cell Part 2: the most frequent visitor

In the late nineteenth century the medical journals of Bristol Lunatic Asylum list which patients were placed in the seclusion room.  The name which occurs most often was Hannah Llewellyn. Over a number of years starting in 1873 she was regularly placed there, usually the reason given was ‘excitement’ or ‘fighting’(Medical Journals, BRO 40513/J/7 and 40513/J/8).

These journals show that from 1873 the use of seclusion was used for more female patients than male, why this was so, it is difficult to determine. Louise Hide also found that at the Claybury Asylum, seclusion was used more often on women. She suggests that male attendants were more likely to use violence and that ‘they may have regarded ‘seclusion’ as an ‘unmanly way of dealing with a situation’’. (Louise Hide,

seclusion numbersGender and Class in English Asylums, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 162).

Chart shows the numbers of patients placed in seclusion.

The figures have been taken by Paul Tobia from the Medical Journals at Bristol Archives (BRO 40513/J/1-8).

John Weston, a patient in the 1860s, in his account of his time in the asylum, Life in a Lunatic Asylum, (London: Houston and Wright, 1867), suggests the violence on the men’s wards was tolerated by the attendants; they use to bully and sometimes use violence against the male patients who were difficult. He describes the female wards and attendants in more favourable terms.

Hannah Llewellyn, was admitted on February 13th 1871. The admitting doctor stating ‘her mind seems given up to fear and anticipation of evil’. Her character was said to be good and her physical state was described as ‘feeble and in an exhausted condition’. She had injuries to her spine and head after jumping out of a widow and the following day she had tried to hang herself (Admission book, BRO 40513/C/3/7, 17). She had been epileptic for four years and had several fits shortly after admission.

She became subsequently more violent and notes from February 1873 indicate she continued to be suicidal; trying to strangle herself and tearing up all her clothes. She often broke things, mostly windows and refused food. She was often given sedation and nursed in a single room but nothing seemed to help. Some sort of brain damage may have been the cause.

One entry stated ‘sinister, not destructive’, as the following examples from the reports illustrate. On the 12th June 1880, it was recorded that the doors to the laundry were slightly open and she, with Tripp (another regular in the seclusion room), dashed in overturning all the clothes baskets. On the 11th October 1881, the report read ‘exited, struck fellow patient on cheek causing it to swell, injected with morphine’ (Admission book, BRO 40513/C/3/7, 26).

In the 1890’s her health deteriorated and it was reported that she ‘is getting very thin, her maniacal attacks seem to be weakening her’. When she died on November 1st 1893 she was 46 years old (Admission book, BRO 40513/C/3/10, 27). The cause of death was listed as Marasmus, which is a form of malnutrition. It is associated with infections, (eg, gastroenteritis, respiratory illnesses, measles), chronic illnesses (eg, tuberculosis) and prolonged hospitalisation is listed as a risk factor as ‘challenging nutritional management is often overlooked and underestimated’ (

Part 2: Padded Cells by Paul Tobia and Stella Man

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