Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum – Mark Stevens

This is a little book in terms of its length but in terms of subject matter it is vast, and one that could lead to further reading. Mark Stevens has access to the historic records of Broadmoor, as he is an archivist at the Berkshire Record Office.

What he has done, has allowed those who are fascinated by crime, the Victorian era and perhaps the historic placement of mental health in the wider world to dip in and out of a book which fills in so much about a hospital. From its inception, the book covers the structure of the buildings and the way they were set out with a few of the more well known Victorian inmates who were detained ‘at pleasure’. Babies that were born into an institution through no fault of their own and many who decided that it would be the best place to escape from. It appears that insanity was seen by some ‘career’ criminals as an easy way to gain access to the outside world through the gates of Broadmoor.

Obviously there is only certain things that are covered in this book, it is short, but there are restrictions due to the age of records, and obviously the security of the place. This was a really interesting book and I learnt a lot from it, that it has piqued my interest and I then went and read more about the hospital. In a macabre sort of way a nice change to read some excellent non-fiction which sparked my interest.

I have always had  fascination with institutions I suppose and it was this that perhaps led me to the book, it is a bargain price for 86p via Amazon or free via Smashwords. Whenever we think of Broadmoor today, we think of the criminals who are locked up there, and wrongly assume it is a prison. It is not; in fact it is a high secure NHS hospital and one of 3 in the Britain. The book deals with the building of the hospital and the lengths then the establishment went to improve its security when the lengths the patients went to get out of it. Perhaps from this picture below this is where the misconception of the prison comes from.

There is very little about the staff in this book, mainly about those in charge and I am sure that is an area where records are probably lacking. An interesting read which sparked my historical brain back into action. I was intrigued by  the ‘pleasure’ patients, ie. those who were detained at Her Majesties’ Pleasure having been found not guilty by reasons of insanity or guilty, but insane who were invariably detained until death unless the current Home Secretary intervened. And those ‘time’ patients who were sentenced for an exact period of time in prison but were transferred to Broadmoor when during their sentence they needed treatment in an asylum. After their sentence was served they would be released back into the county asylum or back into the community.  I went off to read more about some of those infamous names which are featured in Mark Stevens book and I have certainly found a varied mix bunch of people.

This book is only available as an ebook, but I am sure it must be in print form from the Records Office where Mark Stevens works.