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Proper People: Early Asylum Life in the Words of Those Who Were There

By David Scrimgeour

Proper People enables the reader to travel back to the early nineteenth century to meet some of the mentally ill patients who passed through Yorkshire’s West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum in Wakefield during the first 50 years of its existence. The patients’ stories are told using the actual words of those who were there at that time.

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978-0-993371509 [E21]

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While many excellent books have been published about the nineteenth century county asylums in England, comparatively little has been written about the tens of thousands of real people, mostly “pauper lunatics”, who passed through their doors. Social historians starved of material providing a deep insight into the lives of patients have many questions to answer.


Why were they in an asylum?

What was their life really like?

How were they treated?

What happened to them?

What was the impact on their families?


Proper People shines a powerful light on the lives of just some of the patients admitted to the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum in Wakefield, Yorkshire between 1818 and 1869. Using transcribed extracts from the surviving patients’ case notes, other original asylum records and contemporary newspaper reports a picture of early asylum life is painted using the actual words of the asylum physicians, attendants, poor law officials, magistrates, asylum visitors, press reporters, patients’ families and, on occasions, the patients themselves. Readers will be able to imagine being a fly on the Asylum wall.

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