Institution Information - Aberdeen Royal Asylum

Parish/County: Old Machar, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire

Alternative Names: Aberdeen Lunatic Asylum, Royal Cornhill Hospital

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Text from 1857 Royal Commission Report

"ABERDEEN ROYAL ASYLUM; Resident Physician.—Dr. Robert Jamieson.

I—Object, Origin, History, and Date of Opening.

The Aberdeen Asylum was instituted by the Managers of the Aberdeen Infirmary, for the accommodation of lunatics belonging to the town of Aberdeen, and neighbouring counties. The original building, not now in existence, was erected by voluntary contribution, at a cost of £2576, and opened for the reception of patients in 1800. It was first extensively added to in 1820, when the centre portion of the present Asylum was erected at a cost of £11,529.

The latter building has been from time to time enlarged, both by extension of the plan, and also, in a greater degree, by additions which cannot be called developments of the original design. Several of these additions are separate buildings, or are united to each other by covered passages or corridors of communication; for example, the kitchen, workshops, chapel, superintendent's house, and the northern parts of the Institution.

The kitchen and back buildings were erected in 1840, at an expense of £3810. Additional corridors were added in the same quarter three years later, costing £2444.

The west wing was built in 1848, at a cost of £4,629 0 0

The east wing in 1852, at a cost of £4,290 0 0

The superintendent's house, built in 1854, cost £1,178 0 0

The chapel was built, and the central building extended to meet the wings, in 1855, forming one connected structure, not rising above two stories in height, except in the centre of the south front. This last extension (at present in progress,) is estimated to cost about £5,700.

About £37,773 has been spent on the building since its foundation.

The ground belonging to the establishment was extended in 1836, by the purchase of the neighbouring lands of Barkmill, and Clerkseat. Previous to that time, the airing yards constituted almost the only grounds attached to the Asylum.

II.—Constitution, Government, and Management.

The Institution is governed by a Body chartered to manage the Infirmary and Lunatic Asylum of Aberdeen. This Body consists of the following classes of Managers :–

1. Managers ex officiis, about twenty-six in number.

2. Managers for life, consisting, firstly, of individuals who contribute £50 to either Institution, or of those who contribute annually £5, until the sum so paid amounts to £50. Secondly, of the nominees of public bodies giving £50, or of individuals bequeathing £50; and of the nominees of executors of individuals bequeathing £100 to the Institution. At present the Managers for life are about eighty in number.

3. Subscribers of £3 annually, and the representatives of congregations, presbyteries, and commercial firms, subscribing sums of from £10 to £25 annually. At present these are about twenty in number.

4. Managers for one year, annually elected at a general meeting of Managers and Subscribers. These are fourteen in number.

From the general body of Managers, as above constituted, a committee of sixteen is annually chosen, as a committee of management to conduct the affairs both of the Infirmary and Lunatic Asylum, and report their proceedings to quarterly meetings of the general body.

III.—Quantity and Appropriation of Land.

The Asylum has attached to it about twenty-three acres ot land, of which six acres are occupied by the Asylum buildings and airing grounds; nine acres are cultivated by the labour of the patients as garden ground; and eight acres are let on lease, or occupied by buildings not forming part of the Asylum, but capable for the most part of being brought within the Hospital enclosure.

IV.—Amount and Description of Accommodation for Patients of the several Classes and respective Sexes.

The Aberdeen Asylum has at present accommodation for 270 patients, in equal proportions for the two sexes. Of this number 70 are private patients.

The accommodation consists of—

1.—Seventeen corridors of bedrooms. The passages are of various measurements, from 50 feet to 120 feet in length, from 5 feet to 7 feet in width [and] from 11 feet to 14 feet in height.

The sleeping-rooms in seven of these galleries are on both sides; in the remainder the ranges are single.

The bedrooms measure generally– 9 feet 1 inches in length, 8 feet 6 inches in width [and] 11 feet 8 inches in height.

2.—Eight large dormitories, each measuring 25 feet 4 inches in length, 17 feet 2 inches in width [and] 11 feet 8 inches in height.

3.—Sixteen three-bedded dormitories, each measuring 17 feet 4 inches in length, 9 feet 1 inches in width [and] 11 feet 8 inches in height.

4.—Sixteen day-rooms, of various sizes, the largest measuring 25 feet 4 inches in length, 17 feet 2 inches in width [and] 11 feet 4 inches in height.

V.—Sources and Amount of Income.

The income of the Asylum, for the year ending 31st March 1854, amounted to £5716, of which £5344 consisted of payments made for the care and treatment of patients; and £372 were derived from rents, interest of money, value of ground under crop, &c. The expenditure for the same year amounted to £4873, 12s. 4d., leaving a surplus of £842, 13s. Id.

VI.—Rates of Payment for Patients.

Patients, not paupers, are admitted at rates varying from 8s. 6d. to £3, 3s. per week. Pauper patients from the county and presbytery of Aberdeen, are charged at the rate of £15 per annum, and those from other counties at the rate of £22 per annum. Ten patients are maintained by the Institution solely from the annual interest of £1000, called the Bedlam Fund.

The average cost of each patient is at present from £18 to £19 a year. All pauper patients are furnished with clothing and bedding at the cost of the Asylum.

VII.—Medical and other Officers, Attendants, and Establishment, with Salaries, Wages, and Allowances.

The staff consists of—

[table not shown here]

N.B.—Those male servants who have families to support, with no further means than the above wages, have for the last twelve months received a gratuity of 3s. a week, in addition to their


VIII.—Total Capital Expenditure on 14th May 1855—

For House and Land, £43,743 0 0

For Furniture, £1,845 0 0

Total, £45,588 0 0

The proportion of this expenditure for each patient, on the estimated accommodation for 270, amounts to £168, 16s. l0d.

The Managers are at present extending the Hospital buildings, with the view of providing accommodation for. more than 50 additional patients of various classes.

IX.—Condition of the Asylum and Patients when visited by the Commissioners.

The Asylum stands in a good situation, on elevated ground, in the suburbs of the city, and is the oldest institution of the kind in Scotland, with the exception of that of Montrose. It contained, at the date of our visit, 26th July 1855, 277 patients, viz.,—130 males, and 147 females. The house was over-crowded, not being calculated to accommodate, properly, more than 250 patients.

The front central building was originally intended exclusively for the accommodation of private patients, but owing to the pressure for the admission of paupers, the upper story is now only partially used for their accommodation. On the first floor are the bedrooms and sitting-rooms of the private patients. There are no artificial means of warming and ventilating this part of the building, but most of the rooms have open fire-places. The accommodation is tolerably good. A patient paying £100 a year has a sitting-room and bedroom, and, it was said, a separate attendant. The rooms are clean and orderly.

The two extension wings, which are placed on each side, in a prolonged line from the centre, were formerly only one story high, but are now being converted into two-storied buildings. The upper story is divided into two suites of rooms by a central gallery, running the whole length of the ward, rising above the bed-rooms, and lighted by lateral sky-lights. The rooms on each side are intended for single patients, excepting a few, which are meant as small dormitories for three patients. This part of the house is heated by hot water circulating in pipes. The ventilation is imperfect.

The upper story of the lateral wings, to which the extension wings lead, consists of two rows of single rooms, separated by a central passage, with a dormitory at each end, which contains eleven beds. The dormitories and single rooms are clean, but over-crowded, and imperfectly ventilated. Some of the rooms contain two beds. The bedsteads are of wood, but are rather short; the mattresses and pillows are filled with chaff. There is only one sheet to each bed, and the blankets are scoured only once a year. Canvas bottoms are used for the beds of wet patients. There is a lavatory, with five basins, attached to this ward.

The basement story of the extension wing, at present in the course of alteration, is intended for refractory patients, and the half of the ward, to the front of the central passage, is being converted into an open corridor. The back half consists of single rooms, which are lined with boarding. The beds, destined for the refractory and dirty patients, are fixtures, and extend from wall to wall, the whole length of the cell. They have a strong wooden front, which forms, with three sides of the room, a fixed wooden trough, having a bottom sloping from each end to the centre, where a drawer is introduced to receive the urine. The bedding consists of small mattresses, of which, perhaps, four are required to cover the bottom of the bed or trough. The supposed advantage of this kind of bedding consists in the facility with which the wet part may be removed without a change of the whole being necessary. We observed in the carpenter's shop that a number of new trough beds with drains were being prepared.

The private patients have two day-rooms, but owing to the alterations at present in progress, they will shortly leave those they now occupy. These rooms appear comfortable, and are sufficiently furnished.

The day-rooms for paupers are also comfortably furnished. Those for convalescents and quiet patients have pictures and other ornaments. All the day-rooms have benches with backs, and they are warmed by open fireplaces.

At the time of our visit, one male patient was in seclusion, labouring under a maniacal paroxysm. There is a room called a "seclusion day-room," but at present it is occupied as a dormitory, and contains five beds. Two-thirds of the patients are in single rooms.

The part of the house occupied by females is laid out precisely on the same plan as the male side.

Generally, the single rooms used by noisy and dirty patients are floored with wood, but in one part of the house they are flagged.

From the house being over-crowded, five beds are placed in one of the galleries, and several of the small rooms intended for one patient contain two beds for the same reason.

Mechanical restraint, by means of the strait-waistcoat or muffs, is not in use, but in its stead lengthened seclusion is resorted to. Three female patients were in seclusion, one of whom was extremely violent and noisy, disturbing the whole ward by kicking and beating on the door of her room. On a second visit we found a female in a dark cell, lying naked on straw. One female wore a canvas dress. Blankets sewn between strong canvas are used for patients of destructive habits.

There are ten airing courts, and four "seclusion yards." The airing courts for the better class of patients are in front of the extension wings. All the courts are too small, and being surrounded by buildings and high walls, they are gloomy, and afford no view of the country. One for male paupers is used for about fifty-five patients, of whom a large proportion never go beyond its walls. Several patients were lying about in corners, and several of the men were dressed in dirty sacking. The "seclusion yards" are paved with asphalte, and are used for patients labouring under maniacal excitement.

The patients generally seem to be well attended to in their persons and clothing, and appear sufficiently fed. Many of the paupers, however, especially those who are town-bred, complain of the porridge-diet for breakfast, for which the resident physician is not authorised to substitute tea.

There are several warm baths, and the patients are said to be bathed and thoroughly washed once a week. Lavatories and water-closets are in sufficient abundance, and there are necessaries in the airing courts. The house is lighted with gas.

About forty patients work in the fields, and there are two workshops for carpenters, &c, under the chapel, but they do not appear to be much used. Some of the females work in the washing-house and laundry, and others sew and knit.

The chaplain attends daily. There are prayers every morning, and religious service twice on Sunday. Ihe chapel is in the rear of the house, but is not yet finished. There is little amusement for the patients, except occasional concerts in the different day rooms. There are few excursions beyond walls. A ball or festivity of some kind is given at Christmas, but little seems to be done to break the routine and monotony of the Asylum.

The Sheriff, in accordance with the provisions of the statute, visits the Asylum regularly, accompanied by a physician and the procurator-fiscal. These visits are recorded, and in the last entry, dated 10th January 1855, it is stated that, " except as far as some disorder in the house arises from the alterations now in progress, the whole house and establishment is in its usual orderly state. In the opinion of the medical inspector no one is improperly confined or under undue restraint."

The books kept are the Madhouse Register, and Weekly Register.

The chief faults of construction in this Asylum, are imperfect ventilation, double galleries, the smallness of the airing courts, and the exclusion of almost all view of the country from nearly every part of the building occupied by patients.

The principal defects of management are the employment of trough-beds with drains, the use of strong dresses for male and female refractory patients, too frequent seclusion in cells and "seclusion yards,” and a great deficiency of the means of occupation and amusement, and of extended exercise."

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