Witney Museum & Historical Society
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Page last updated: February 19th 2012
Page first published: February 19th 2012
Dr. Batt's Madhouse
Information from the Witney museum
During the eighteenth century, an awareness grew of the need for
public responsibility for the care of lunatics. The County Asylum
Movement reflected the humanitarian attitudes of the early
nineteenth century and public responsibility for pauper lunatics was
accepted. However, demand was such that private madhouses
The private licensed house in Witney High Street was under the
supervision of successive members of the Batt family. The first
licence was granted to Edward Batt in 1823 and members of the
family ran the house until it closed down in 1857. It was a relatively
small asylum; for instance, in 1840 there were no admissions or
discharges and during the 12 months from October 1842, seven
admissions were recorded with two discharges and one death.
The house occupied the buildings which are now the Base 33
building and Huffkins. To the rear was a very nice garden with a pond
and inspection reports do indicate that, during its early years, a
relatively humane regime was practised, but a 'dark room' was used
for the restrain of acutely disturbed patients. One male patient was
even allowed to visit The Great Exhibition in 1851.
Attention was paid to religious observance, but only for those
patients who were thought likely to benefit from it and attendance
at church was permitted if felt appropriate.
Suitable exercise was encouraged, in some cases as a substitute
for restraint during periods of excitement.
However, by 1851, the Commissioners were becoming critical of
the regime at Witney and recommended the removal of the
mildewed straps, staples and padlocks, which had been used for
the restraints of patients. In 1855, it was recorded that six of the
nine female patients were fastened.
At the 1855 Michaelmas Sessions, Eliza Batt's licence was
renewed for a four-month period only. Subsequently, she
discontinued the use of any mechanical restraint and her full
licence was renewed in 1856, following favourable reports. In her
application, she had mentioned that since the death of her
husband, in October 1853, she had spent £500 improving the
asylum, the gardens had been improved and alterations to the
house had been made including removal of the partitions forming
the 'dark room'. A small aviary had been built for the amusement
of the patients. It was not unusual for birds to be used in this way
and preferred birds, such as doves and silver pheasants, were
often chosen for this purpose.
At this time, the proportion of attendants to patients varied - four
to ten and four to six. The staff in 1854-55 comprised four resident
attendants, a cook and a housemaid, whose duties were divided
between patients, Mrs Batt and her family.
History always seems to raise questions...
"the removal of the mildewed straps, staples and padlocks"
...mildewed straps and staples!?