The Lunacy Commissioners and the East London Guardians, 1845-1867.


The social history of insanity has proved a seductive paradigm for students of the management of the dependent poor in nineteenth-century England. Largely through Andrew Scull's work, the insane have been perceived as "casualties" of class and gender power relations during the transformation from paternalistic laissez-faire rural economy into an industrialized capitalist state.' While the Elizabethan Poor Law was the administrative foundation on which the system of care was constructed, until recently two other themes dominated the historiography of mental disorder, first that of the rise of psychiatry and psychiatrists and second the expansion of the Victorian asylum as society's preferred response.2 The place of the insane in social welfare provision was located by Kathleen Jones and Scull in their early works within the reforming zeal of the county magistrates, the mid-Victorian Lunatics Acts and the central inspectorate responsible for policing the Acts, the Commissioners in Lunacy.3 The literature underplayed the legal and administrative context of the Poor Law within which lunacy was managed and paid only glancing attention to the influence of the changing role of the state and the growth of nineteenth-century government administration. Over the past fifteen years, largely through the work of Peter Bartlett, David Wright, Leonard Smith, and Bill Forsythe and Joseph Melling,4 the asylum and "mad-doctors" have been repositioned on the periphery of a target that places the

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Cite this paper

@article{Murphy2002TheLC, title={The Lunacy Commissioners and the East London Guardians, 1845-1867.}, author={Elaine M Murphy}, journal={Medical History}, year={2002}, volume={46}, pages={495 - 524} }