TAYLOR, Mental Asylums near Watford, 1888/9

March 2003


Kathy Cowell (CowellKM @t aol.com) of Newport Pagnell, Bucks, writes: I am trying to find out what happened to my great grandfather, Hope Taylor, who was committed to an asylum sometime in 1888 or 1889. At the time he and his wife, Mary Jane Walter, and two daughters were living in Watford (My great mother continued to live there after his death and is in the 1901 census living at 80 Wiggenhall Road - I also have a copy of their marriage certificate; they were married in St Andrew's Church Watford on July 29th 1885).

Hope died in the asylum in 1889 but I have no record of the date or where he might be buried. My mother remembers being told that the asylum was not far from Watford because her mother and grandmother were able to visit. Is there any way that I could get access to records that would be able to help me?.

In Victorian times and the first half of the 20th century vast lunatic asylums were built in the south of Hertfordshire, mainly to "hide" the mentally ill from London out of the way in the countryside. Leavesden asylum is the most likely - as Hill End  (St Albans - for people from Hertfordshire) had not been built until about 1900 and Shenley in 1931. I am not sure when Napsbury (London Colney) or Harperbury (near Radlett) were built. All have now been closed.

It is most likely that Hope Taylor was in the Metropolitan Asylum, for pauper imbeciles at Leavesden. I have added a page on Leavesden which gives details of the asylum as it was in 1886. I have no specific knowledge of the location of any surviving records for Leavesden Asylum. However some administrative records from Hill End have been passed to HALS, but I doubt whether this includes any patient records, which I believe have been destroyed. The same may apply to Leavesden and the other hospitals, but because of their London connection some records may have gone to a London based archive. There may be records of their chapels, including a burial register, but of course the poor mentally ill would have been buried in unmarked graves ...

Of course, when he died there would have been a death certificate, and with as unusual name as Hope you should have no difficulty in getting a copy from HALS. However it will only include details of the cause of death, and not where he was buried. If the certificate shows that the death was a suicide or other violent death there would have been an inquest. HALS is again the place to start looking - but don't be too optimistic. There could be a mention of the inquest in the Watford Observer newspaper - but they might not have bothered to mention any deaths that occurred within a lunatic asylum where most of the inmates would be paupers with no local connections..

If you succeed in finding anything beyond his death certificate I would be interested to have details, as it could help others who have problems tracing the records of their mentally ill ancestors.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.