19 Feb 2014 5:00pm - 7:00pm CRASSH, Seminar room S1, First floor*


Therapeutic Landscapes: The Use and Design of Gardens and the Wider Landscape by Nineteenth-Century Psychiatric Institutions in England

Dr Clare Hickman  (Welcome Fellow in Medical History and Humanities, King's College London)


A man of rank comes in, ragged and, dirty, and unshaven and with the pallor of a dungeon upon him; wild in aspect, and as if crazed beyond recovery. He has passed months in a lonely apartment, looking out on a dead wall; generally fastened in a chair […] Liberty to walk at all hours of the cheerful day in gardens or fields, and care and attention, metamorphose him into the well dressed and well bred gentleman he used to be.”   John Connolly, 1856

Large tracts of land surrounded nineteenth-century psychiatric institutions. This could be highly ornamental, agricultural or wooded in nature and was often a combination of all three. The elite private institutions reflected their domestic counterpart, the wealthy country house estate. Their gardens contained a wide range of ornamental features, from ornate thatched cottages to aviaries, and Gothic summerhouses to ornamental pagodas. Two famous examples of this type of elite institution, which will be explored in detail in this paper, are Ticehurst Place, Sussex and Brislington House, Bristol. These were by no means typical of the type of pauper institution catering for the majority of those categorized as insane but their overt interest in the design of the gardens indicates the significance attached to the physical environment at the time.

Other institutional gardens that will be interrogated in this paper will explore in more depth issues of class, gender and the therapeutic approach. These are three nineteenth-century institutions based in Northampton – the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum for the Middle and Upper Classes, Abington Abbey Retreat, and Northampton County Asylum.

Within all these institutions, where the basis of moral therapy was the re-education of the mind, it seems likely that the superintendents consciously employed the external environment as a vital part of this process because of its perceived effect on the imagination and emotions. This paper will explore this close relationship between the landscape, the mind and the therapeutic approach as employed in the nineteenth-century asylum.


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