Webpage created: October 01, 2021
Webpage updated: October 01, 2021
PLYMPTON HOUSE LUNATIC ASYLUM
Plympton House, in Plympton Saint Maurice, was formerly the mansion of the Treby family.
In 1835 it was turned into a privately-run lunatic asylum by Doctor James Duck.
In 1842 it was taken over by Mr Richard C Langworthy, a surgeon.
On January 1st 1844 the asylum contained 17 private and 66 pauper patients. Mr Langworthy was charging more for each pauper lunatic in January 1844 than any other private asylum in England and Wales apart from in Hereford.
Conditions at the asylum were very poor. It was what was known as an 'outhouse asylum', where the patients were kept in the out houses of the mansion not in the house itself. The incontinent male paupers lived in what had previously been a dairy. The room, for that is what it was, was badly ventilated and had no proper windows. The openings were closed up at night by means of shutters, making the smell rather offensive.
The female pauper patients slept in three rooms or cells, where the wooden cribs were filthy, the straw floor was soaked in urine and excrement. When a private patient was compelled to sleep in one of the rooms she begged the staff to move her somewhere more pleasant. The walls of the rooms were covered in filth and suffered from either damp or rain. Near to some small rooms where the violent young female patients slept was a bedroom for a male patient. The ease with which he could access the girls' bedrooms was highlighted. The Day Room was just 8 feet by 4 feet, with two wooden seats fastened to the wall. In fact it was being used in 1843 as a place of confinement for three female patients.
Two women shared one of the bedrooms. One had a piece of carpet for her bedding, the other had to use straw. A third woman occupied a room to herself but as she had broken her crib she was forced to sleep on a filthy pile of straw on the floor. Another room was used for a dangerous male criminal and an 'idiotic boy'. During the night the criminal was fastened to his bed by a chain.
In one of the so-called "Day Rooms" there were seventeen patients but only seating for ten. It was reckoned that each person had about one square yard of floor space. There were no tables in the Room so it was unclear how the patients took their meals.
Three meals were provided every day, breakfast, dinner and supper. Milk and water were available if requested. Breakfast and supper consisted only of bread and a drink. Elderly or weak patients were allowed to have butter on the bread. Soup was given for dinner on two days a week: pea soup or beef soup. The latter did contain chunks of meat. Potato pie was served on one day but three dinners consisted purely of boiled rice with salt, potatoes, vegetables and bread. Sunday dinner was boiled beef.
Being a lunatic asylum, the patients were more often than not kept in some form of restraint. In July 1843 a woman who had given birth to a child but five or six weeks before was found to be confined in 'a straight waistcoat and chained by the arm and leg to a bench'. Ten curable patients and two idiots were being looked after by a lunatic who was himself kept in chains to prevent him from escaping. As if that was not bad enough, later that year the lady mentioned above was found to be chained not only by her leg but by another passing around her waist and an iron ring with two hand locks restraining her hands. In total, two private patients and nineteen paupers were found to be chained to their beds each night at that time. The visit was carried out by the Metropolitan Commissioners for Lunatics, who were so disgusted by what they saw that in August 1843 they wrote to the chairman of the Quarter Sessions to complain. It brought no response.
Eventually, after a visit in October 1843, the chairman of the Commissioners, Lord Ashley, wrote directly to the Earl of Devon, who took immediate action. In July 1844 Lord Ashley reported to the House of Commons that the conditions at Plympton House Lunatic Asylum had greatly improved.
It would appear that in 1858 no pauper inmates were in residence.