Strait jacket

The strait jacket was first invented in France 1790 for Bicêtre Hospital. They were used to restrain individuals who were attempting to do harm to themselves or others. The patient’s arms would be inserted into the sleeves and then crossed over the chest, and the ends of the sleeves could be tied behind the wearer’s back, keeping the arms close to the chest to limit as much movement as possible. The one pictured was used at West Riding Asylum in Wakefield in the late 19th century. The unusual pattern was the same as the hospital blankets at that time. Today the use of strait jackets in Britain has been discredited but they are still used in other parts of the world.



Padded cell

From 1845, asylums in England and Wales began to adopt a non-restraint system. By 1850 most institutions had stopped using straps, chains, strait jackets and other mechanical restraints. Seclusion became increasingly common as an alternative, sometimes in a padded cell like this one. The period of seclusion might range from half an hour to a number of days. Legally, a register of restraint and seclusion had to be kept. The floor was padded as well as the walls and the door. There would be no curtains and lights would be protected in the ceiling. A window allowed observation of the inside of the room. Seclusion is still used in some circumstances today, particularly in forensic services.



Asylum plan

This is a scaled plan of ‘Bristol Lunatic Asylum’ (later known as Glenside Hospital). Most lunatic asylums across the UK were designed like an ‘E’. The idea was that there was a male side and female side to keep each sex separate. The male side was run by the Head Attendant and only male nurses (or attendants as they were known) were allowed to work on this side.  The female side was run by a Matron and equally this was staffed by female attendants. A lot of the Victorian asylum buildings started off looking very similar, however as each site developed and the need for beds increased, the hospitals had to develop plans which would fit into their overall geographic boundaries. Each site therefore developed in ways to suit its location.



The asylum key is symbolic of the power that was held by the attendants from the opening of Glenside Hospital in 1861. Staff used the keys to access different areas of the hospital which patients could not and to prevent patients leaving. It was common for each nurse to have a key and the loss of it could result in dismissal. The grand master keys were held by the superintendent or the individual responsible for maintenance which allowed access to all areas and the master keys would only open doors to certain places. The key for the male side of the hospital was square whereas the one for the female side was round. The single key looks extremely crude because it was made by a patient at Glenside Hospital out of an old nail. He used it to access certain areas of the hospital and visit his girlfriend in the female ward. The nurses were reportedly happy to let him go about his business as he caused no trouble and locked the doors behind him.



Tell-tale clock

Time clocks were incorporated into the practise of mental health nursing in the late 1800s and was used as a method of keeping track of nurses on night duties. As the attendants and nurses were responsible for preventing suicide and fatalities, the clock was used to ensure that they were making regular checks on patients at the required time. On touching a small button, a brass pin would make a mark on paper around the cylinder, which would allow the Medical Superintendent to check in the morning whether there had been any neglect in the duties of the staff. The clock emphasises how little control nurses had over how their lives were regulated at this time.



Nurses’ pay list

A ledger was kept for the Bristol Lunatic Asylum attendants and servants remuneration. The rates of pay varied because there were different grades and classes of nurse and was also dependent the length of employment. For example, in 1891 one nurse was paid £26 a year although other nurses might earn £16. In comparison, the housekeeper got £85 a year. At that that time it was common practice for female nurses to be paid less than men. The annual salary was usually in addition to accommodation and food. Most nurses lived onsite and would work the hours that the hospital required of them.



Bathing thermometer

In the 1800s bathing was introduced as a therapeutic technique. Patients would be prescribed “continuous baths” often for hours at a time. It was thought this would calm and relax them. Bathing also became a very important ritual in hospital life and in the 1950s a patient would have a bath every week. It was done under supervision and patients would not be allowed in the bathroom without a nurse. It was the only time where the nurse could be guaranteed to see the whole of the patient’s body. The person would be ticked off to show they had had a bath that day and there was space to make a note of any marks (if the patient had a bruise it would be reported). The nurse would put the thermometers in the bath to check the temperature. The nurses followed a set of ‘Bathing Rules’ which instructed that ‘it shall not be less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit and not greater than 105 degrees Fahrenheit.’



Specialist cutlery

From the 19th century, most of the patients used a knife, fork and spoon to eat their food. The fork was webbed like a duck’s foot and the knife was blunted for safety, with only an inch suitable for cutting. These would be laid on the table in the dining room before the meal. Afterwards, the patients had to stay seated while the cutlery was counted by a nurse, put back into a box and locked. From time to time a patient might decide to put something in his pocket, however it didn’t happen often as it meant everyone would kept at the table until it was found. If it did happen, the nurses would generally have an idea who it would be. A patient who had a suicidal or homicidal caution card would often be searched first.




Hairdressing became a part of hospital life. Taking pride in one’s appearance was seen as a sign of recovery for patients. Staff would make an appointment for patients to go to the on-site hairdressers. If the individual wasn’t allowed to leave the ward the hairdresser might come to them. A visit to the salon was a change in environment and often a boost to self-esteem, with some patients even having perms. Quite often male nurses were taught to cut hair, the usual style being short back and sides. Female nurses would also wash patient’s hair if the patients were unable to and style it nicely.



Locked boots

In hospitals, clothing was sometimes adapted to limit threats of violence. Some individuals had to wear locked boots, as the shoes could not be taken off without using the padlock and therefore not be used as an aggressive weapon. Similarly if the individual had the impulse to self-harm or hurt others, he or she might take the laces off the boots and use them to do this. The boots would be unlocked by nursing staff and if they rushed off with the key and forgot to unlock the individual, then the wearer would have to go to bed with their boots on. The boots would have been repaired onsite by the cobbler.




Before safety razors were introduced in the 1890s, male patients were shaved by male attendants and would not be allowed access to a razor. There were accounts of patients stealing razors to commit suicide and sometimes injuring nurses in the process. The advantage of the safety razor was that a blade could be fitted into and locked into place and then given to a patient to shave themselves. There were certain times of day a person might shave, such as just after getting up in the morning or after breakfast. It was common for the men shave themselves, however there were some male patients who were not allowed to do this. Neither male nor female patients experienced much privacy in this area.




This is one of the sketches drawn by Denis William Reed 1917 – 1979 who was a patient at Glenside in the 1950s who suffered bouts of severe depression. He produced a number of works depicting life at the hospital which include bathing, what may be a patient recovering after ECT and a scene of conflict between individuals at the hospital. The pictures are important because they serve as a true to life record of life in the hospital, particularly as no one was allowed to take photographs because these would be a breach of confidentiality. Some 80 originals are held at Glenside Museum Hospital.

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