Early Mental Health Records – Quarter Sessions and Private Asylums

The first proposals for many later improvements in the care and conditions of lunatics are to be found in writings relating to the broader issue of better provision for the poor and sick in general. A suggestion was put forward as early as 1700 that each county should erect ‘one General Hospital’ for lunatics, idiots, the blind, crippled and chronically sick to be regulated by county visitors, but it was not until the passing of the County Asylums Act in 1808, a century later, that this idea received official recognition in Parliament.

For Surrey, access to early records relating to the county’s mental institutions, are most likely to be found in the Quarter Session records (SHC ref QS5/5/- and QS/5/6/-).  Click here to see more information on the Quarter Sessions records held at Surrey History Centre. An Act for Regulating Madhouses, passed in 1774, empowered Justices of the Peace to grant annual licences to keepers of private houses for the reception of lunatics and to ensure their inspection by two visiting justices and a physician. Other legislation followed but it was the Lunacy Act of 1845, that established a central supervisory authority, titled the Commissioners in Lunacy, and ordered that no person should be admitted to a licensed house without an order of the committing person and a medical certificate. The system of licences and visitors was retained.

Records created under this legislation provide details of the number and location of licensed madhouses in Surrey, the names of those who ran them and information about the people treated there.

Such records include:

Registers of reports of visitors to private asylums, 1774-1933; contains the names and home addresses of the inmates, the name of the person who ordered them to be sent there and notes relating to new admissions, discharges or deaths since the last visit.  The use of means of restraint is also recorded.

Entry books of patients, 1832-1851; formal recording of patient details at the time of admission. Printed admissions books were produced in which the keeper of the private asylum was to record personal and medical details of the patients.

Private Asylum Papers, 1829-1887; loose papers that accumulated in the office of the clerk of the peace.  In Surrey these comprise notices of admissions, deaths and discharges; minutes of the visitors, correspondence and financial accounts.

The Lunacy Act of 1845 was passed through Parliament at the same time as the 1845 County Asylums Act. While the Lunacy Act established the Lunacy Commission, the County Asylums Act made provision for what was to be monitored within the asylums and helped establish the public network of the county asylums.


  • Great Fosters, Egham.  Active c.1774 c.1866
  • Lea Pale House, Stoke next Guildford.  Active c.1774 c.1879
  • Frimley Lodge, Frimley.  Active from c.1799
  • Weston House, Chertsey.  Active from c. 1815
  • Church Street, Epsom.  Active c.1846 – c.1933
  • Timberham House, Charlwood.  Active c.1856 c.1861
  • Canbury House, Kingston.  Active c.1879 c.1895
  • Woodcote End, Epsom. Active c.1880 c.1882
  • Croshams, Sutton.  Active c.1881 c.1889
  • Sutherland House, Surbiton.  Active c.1884 c.1897
  • Chalk Pit House, Sutton.  Active c.1889 c.1908
  • Abele Grove, Epsom.  Active c.1908 – 1914


Springfield Asylum, Wandsworth. Opened 1841.

Many records relating to the establishment and daily life of the hospital will be found in the Quarter Sessions records, (ref QS5/6/1/-).  For surviving case books, 1849-1887, see 6367/1/1-13.  Indexes to case books, c.1878-1938 are held as 6367/1/14-16 (click here to see the catalogue for SHC ref: 6367) .  Other surviving patient records are held at London Metropolitan Archives.

Brookwood Asylum, Woking.  Opened 1867.

Click here to see information on the main series of Brookwood Hospital patient records held at Surrey History Centre

Cane Hill Asylum, Coulsdon.  Opened 1883. 

Main series of patient records held at Croydon Archives Service (click here to find out more about Croydon Archives Service).

Netherne Hospital, Coulsdon.  Opened 1909.

Click here to see information on the records Surrey History Centre hold for Netherne Hospital.


Under the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913 (3&4 Geo.V, cap.28) ‘to make further and better provision for the care of feeble-minded and other mentally defective persons’, institutions certified by the newly established Board of Control might receive those deemed idiots, imbeciles or, if under 21, suffering from a lesser degree of mental deficiency, on application of their parents or guardians supported by medical certificates.  Other mental defectives might be admitted under a reception order of the judicial authority.  As an alternative to being placed in an institution a mental defective might be placed under guardianship.

The visitors of licensed houses appointed under the Lunacy Act of 1890 were also to act as visitors of mental defectives in institutions or under guardianship.  Such visitors were to examine each defective at periodic intervals (one year from the reception order; thereafter, if the order was continued a further year, at the end of that year; thereafter at five yearly intervals) and were to report to the Board of Control whether the defective was ‘still a proper person to be detained in his own interest in an institution or under guardianship’.  Those persons originally placed in an institution or under guardianship when they were under 21 were also to be examined on reaching that age to determine whether they should continue to be detained.

  • Godstone Poor Law Institution, Bletchingley;
  • Clerk’s Croft, Bletchingley.  (This was also used to house some patients from Netherne)
  • St Mary’s Hospital, Carshalton
  • St Lawrence’s Hospital, Caterham (Caterham Metropolitan Asylum)
  • Chertsey Poor Law Institution, Ottershaw (later Murray House)
  • Botleys Park Hospital, Chertsey
  • St Teresa’s, Dockenfield
  • Dorking Poor Law Institution
  • Royal Hostel, Elstead
  • The Manor Hospital, Epsom (See separate webpage)
  • Mount Olivet Monastery, Frensham
  • Farmfield State Institution and Farmfield Institution, Charlwood
  • Kingston Poor Law Institution
  • Eagle House, London Road, Mitcham
  • Royal Earlswood Hospital, Redhill. (See separate webpage)
  • Reigate Poor Law Institution
  • Ellen Terry Home, Reigate
  • Spelthorne St Mary Home, Thorpe
  • St Peter’s Home, Maybury, Woking.

6 thoughts on “Early Mental Health Records – Quarter Sessions and Private Asylums”

  1. Jodie Williams says:

    I am trying to verify if a John Bacon who was at the Caterham Hospital is an ancestor’s child. I cannot find signs of him anywhere after 1851 and his brother and their family lived near Caterham, so I am thinking this could be him. I see a John Bacon listed as a patient on the 1871 census, close in age and born in Surrey, which fits. Can someone please tell me how I can find out if I am on the right track?

  2. Elaine Myles says:

    My Great Grandmother spent two years at Farmfield (1911-13) and I wondered if you could help with any records from this time.
    Thank you.

  3. Sally Gustin says:

    William Cannard worked at Cane Hill Asylum in 1894 when he married Jane Appleby. Prior to that she was married to Frederick Appleby DOB Feb 26, 1858 (my great-grandfather). I wonder if Frederick Appleby spent time at Cane Hill Asylum and in fact if he died there.

  4. Diana Webb says:

    My husband’s two maternal grandparents both died at the Clerk’s Croft, Charles Richard Teague on 5 October 1931 and Sarah Rebecca Teague on 15 March1936. I would be interested to know if there are any records of their time there. I suspect that Sarah had possibly been in the hospital for some time, perhaps ever since her husband’s death. They had been living nearby, in Whyteleafe, for some years, and had three daughters, one of them my husband’s mother.

  5. Grace mewse says:

    Have you information of a patient Mary Cullen from London SE 1 around 1932/3 as an inmate please?

  6. Mark Heal says:

    Fire at the Timberham Private Lunatic Asylum, 8 Dec 1861, 6 miles south of Reigate Surrey, now under Gatwick Airport.
    One man died James Burnie DIXON and one man escaped and ran away Robert ANSTRUTHER.
    Source: The Era newspaper.

    I would like to trace any records for these men.

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