A Rare Steel Key for The Women's Wing of The Cumberland and Westmorland Lunatic Asylum

Origin: English
Period: Late Victorian
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1890-1910
Length: 3.5”
Width: 1.25”

The weighty single steel key with turned barrel for Garlands Asylum at Carlisle, bearing the manufacturer's name of Gibbons of Wolverhampton and stamped "FEMALE,  surviving from the late Victorian period.

The key remains in original condition with no damages.

The construction of asylums was widespread in Britain following The Lunacy Act of 1845, which resulted primarily from the work of John Connolly and Lord Shaftsbury. This act professionalised the asylum, and ensured that each institution was mediated by the local authority. It marked a paradigmatic shift, wherein ‘lunatics’ began to be considered as patients instead of prisoners.

The Cumberland and Westmorland Joint Lunatic Asylum was also referred to as ‘Garlands’ The hospital, which was designed by Thomas Worthington and John Augustus Cory using a Corridor Plan layout, opened as the Cumberland and Westmorland Lunatic Asylum in January 1862. It started out with a capacity of 200 and within a year it had grown to 220, and by 1914 there were almost 900 patients.

It was the only mental institution in the area, taking people from all over Cumberland and Westmorland. The majority of patients were receiving treatment for either mania or melancholy, which were common umbrella terms of the time.

There were a lot of women being treated for postnatal depression, while epilepsy was also seen as a mental health condition. Some patients had lost children, and were referred to people with learning disabilities as "idiots" or "feeble-minded". Records show that some people were only there for a few months, though others stayed for 40 years. Many of these would otherwise have been in the workhouse, so they were much happier there. Treatment options back then were limited, with the only medication available being sedatives. Patients were therefore encouraged to spend time outdoors, go for walks, work on the hospital farm and complete tasks that would give them a sense of purpose. There were also regular tea dances and even day trips.

After the introduction of Care in the Community in the early 1980s, the hospital went into a period of decline and closed in March 1999. The administration block was subsequently converted into apartments.

On each floor, and to each ward, spacious bath-rooms and lavatories, slop-rooms, and water-closets are provided, with an abundance of light and ventilation; and those to the main wings are detached from the wards. All the rooms and corridors are warmed by the open fire-places, and the ventilation on each floor will be managed by means of a large horizontal trunk leading into the main shaft at each angle of the building. The effective operation of which, will be assisted by placing the boiler and furnace for supplying the hot water in the basement story, the smoke being conveyed by an iron tube through the shaft. The attendants’ rooms arc placed, so as to provide a ready means of inspection to the majority of the patients

The Asylum Rule Book stated the following:
“There be at least one attendant for every ward and that there be not less than one attendant for every 25 patients who are tranquil or convalescent and not less than one attendant for every 12 patients who are dirty, violent, refractory or dangerous to themselves or others. No ward shall be left at any time without an attendant being there and that the attendant be so distributed that in case of need they may readily assist each other.”

Probably a unique key and an object with a huge amount of gravitas.