Before the nineteenth century the mentally ill in Lincolnshire would mostly have been kept in the family home or maintained by the parish. An alternative was to pay for them to be housed in a privately run “madhouse”. In neither case was any real medical treatment provided.
From the middle ages, the Court of Chancery could investigate the sanity of an individual and appoint a “Committee” to administer their property. Because of the expense, this process for designating “Chancery Lunatics” was confined to wealthy families. For an example of such an inquest, relating to Richard Bilcliffe who owned most of the village of Usselby, in 1789, see TDE/A/USSELBY/6/C/3.
Other lunatics rarely appear in the records, a rare exception being an inquest into Mary Mallett, wife, aged 36, of the Castle, Lincoln, Lunatic, 6 July 1753 [see INQ/1753/2].
The Madhouses Act, 1774, required the licensing of madhouses for the first time. The regime included inspection by the local Quarter Sessions. As a result, the records of Kesteven Quarter Sessions include Returns of Lunatics and Idiots 1803-1853 [see KQS/B/5], and those for Lindsey Quarter Sessions contain Returns for intermittent years from 1807-1912 [see LQS/B/1].
The Kesteven Quarter Sessions records also include records relating to Greatford & Shillingthorpe establishments, including Minute Books, letters and plans, 1829-1863 [see KQS/B/5]. Greatford Hall was established as a private lunatic asylum by Dr Francis Willis (1718-1807), a founder of, and physician at, Lincoln County Hospital. He had a growing reputation for treatment of the insane, which was enhanced by his successful treatment of King George III in 1788-1789. In 1796 he built Shillingthorpe Hall, in Braceborough, which was extended in 1833 for his son John Willis (1751-1835). Both establishments housed high status patients, and the king himself stayed at Shillingthorpe on occasions. The list of patients in 1829 records a Marquis, two honourable ladies, a clergyman and a brewer out of the eight patients at Greatford, and two honourable gentlemen, an architect and a clergyman among the fourteen patients at Shillingthorpe.
The County Asylums Act, 1808 enabled the Justices of the Peace for each county to build and run their own pauper asylums, though this opportunity was not initially taken up in Lincolnshire. The Act was replaced in 1828, and again in 1845 in conjunction with the Lunacy Act. Together these Acts helped to establish a nationwide network of county asylums and a system to monitor standards, overseen by the Commisisoners in Lunacy (who were later replaced by the Board of Control for Lunacy and Mental Deficiency under the Mental Deficiency Act, 1913). Two publicly funded asylums were established in Lincolnshire during the course nineteenth century: The County Lunatic Asylum at Bracebridge Heath (later St John’s Hospital) and the Kesteven County Asylum at Rauceby (later Rauceby Hospital). The Lawn Hospital in Lincoln had earlier origins but was originally funded by subscriptions.