Speaker at Orton & Tebay Local History Society’s June meeting was
Peter Lewis who has made a special study of ‘Lunacy in the Eden in the
1700 & 1800’s. He explained that the word ‘lunacy’ came from
Aristototle’s belief that the phases of the moon affected the brain.
outlined the development of both attitudes and treatment towards those
regarded as either idiots (people born with learning difficulties) and
lunatics (those with mental illness) over the centuries. In the early
centuries those with such problems were either hidden away and looked
after by family, or were cared for in various religious houses. With
dissolution of the monastery’s there was no refuge remaining.
the last resort of many, when the Workhouse movement was established
there was now somewhere for people with mental problems to go. Sadly as
the workhouse was meant to have a harsh regime to deter the poor from
going there, it also meant that the mentally ill were treated no
had tried to humanize the history, by following three local men who,
suffering from ‘lunacy’ were admitted to various local institutions
during the 19th century. John H in 1816 from Tebay, Matthew D in 1840
and James B 1888 both of Orton.
Kirkby Stephen Workhouse was a vast establishment, and from old maps
was shown to be twice the size of the Parish church. In such places the
mentally ill were often restrained by manacles and strait jackets.
Dunstan Lodge near Gateshead was a ’private madhouse’ catering for
those who could pay, but also taking in those sent and paid for by
parishes. The greatest step forward, though they eventually fell into
disrepute, was establishment of County Asylum’s, like Garlands in
Trepanning Equipment for
cutting holes in the skull
was only when King George third’s madness became public knowledge, the
awareness and tolerance to those with mental illness improved, though
treatments were still barbaric for many years. These included
‘trepanning’ cutting holes in the skull to let out the demons, blood
letting, confinement, laxatives and emetics. Only slowly were medicines
like opium grains, laudanum and chloral introduced. Also the benefit of
gardening, farming and outdoor activities were introduced with the
Victorian Asylum system.
audience found Peter’s talk both illuminating and frightening, and were
thankful not to be living with any mental problems in past centuries.
He was thanked by Len Clark for his talk.