Lunacy registers have gone online

Cookson Country
Cookson Country

A READER’s paperwork regarding a family history topic suggested, when I was talking to her a while back, that the old Harton workhouse in Shields, with its infirmary, also provided what would be classed as asylum for those who were mentally ill.

Purpose-built asylums, of course, were a different matter. The former Winterton Hospital, near Sedgefield, was Durham County’s in the old days, with a history going back to the mid-19th century.

Now, records of thousands of people who were sent to these Victorian institutions are being published on-line.

The Lunacy Registers and Warrants 1820-1912 collection has been digitised by family history website Ancestry, and reveal that many inmates remained in these places until they died.

They range from violent criminals, to sad cases, such as that of Jane Smith, committed in 1821 for stealing two blankets.

Miriam Silverman, from Ancestry, said: “It’s clear that the mental institutions of the 19th century were truly terrifying places by today’s standards.”