The Lawn Hospital project

Brief description of the Lawn Project with indicators for cross-disciplinary relevance.

The Lincoln Asylum / The Lawn Hospital


This project is led by Rob Goemans:

The Lincoln Lunatic Asylum (later known as the Lawn Hospital) was opened in 1820 as a subscription funded, purpose built asylum, situated in central Lincoln, receiving both private and pauper patients. Although embroiled in controversy, under the leadership of figures such as Edward Parker Charlesworth and Robert Gardiner Hill, Lincoln is acknowledged as the first asylum to be run without recourse to mechanical restraints (such as straightjackets and chains which were, at that time, standard practice), though institutions such as The Retreat in York, and the Hanwell Asylum in Middlesex, are much more widely discussed in this context in the available literature.

“Most doctors who were converts to moral treatment continued to give their primary loyalty to medicine, and so emphasized that medical skill still had a role. Gardiner Hill did not, and his case provides us with an interesting indication of a profession’s response to a heretic from within its own ranks who challenges its competence. Hill had every right to be recognized as one of the outstanding figures of nineteenth-century psychiatry. It was his efforts at Lincoln which showed the feasibility of the total abolition of mechanical restraint. His practical demonstration convinced Conolly, and the latter adopted it at Hanwell, from which it spread to become the reigning orthodoxy in all British asylums. Conolly achieved a high place in the psychiatric historian’s pantheon of heroes, and widespread honour in his own time. Hill, within two years of his first success, was forced to resign from his position at Lincoln, assailed over a period of years in The Lancet as a charlatan, saw his achievement attributed to Charlesworth, his nominal superior at Lincoln, and remained a perpetually marginal figure in his chosen profession.” (Scull, 1993, p228)

Records / Archives

Lincolnshire Archives (Lincolnshire county Council) have the original documentation relating to this institution.  The steering panel for the project includes representation from Lincolnshire Archives and the University of Lincoln’s Schools of Health & Social Care, History and Heritage and  Psychology.

The Aim of the Project

The Project aims to digitise the available archive material to bring it to a wider public availability, and provide meaningful analysis of its content.

The First Phase of the Project

The project has enjoyed initial support from the College Research Fund to carry out a pilot phase of limited digitisation and analysis. We have so far created digital images from the archive documentation (see list below), and are currently conducting analysis of these with regard to understanding positive and negative factors in achieving a change in organisational culture such that restraint was abolished within the institution. The project team are carrying out a literature review of the relevant social, political, and legal contexts in which these changes took place (much of which is detailed in the asylum’s annual reports). It is noted that the only voices represented in the documentation are those of the relatively affluent, male doctors, and that the views of either attendants or patients are not represented. The project team intend to develop a paper for publication in this area.

Planning for Phase Two

Additional funding will be required for the development of this project on a more long term basis, and possible sources for such funding are being investigated.

Current and potential themes for analysis so far identified include the following:

  • Factors influencing cultural change in abolition of mechanical restraint
  • Communities of practice: sharing knowledge leading to cultural change
  • Development of professional roles in psychiatry and nursing
  • Influence of class and gender in depictions of staff and patients
  • Historical perspective on the social construction of madness
  • Parallels between radical perspectives on madness in the early 19th and 21st centuries
  • Influence of practice on law/policy and vice versa
  • Architectural design of an asylum, and the revisions thereof; noting influence of documented concepts of ‘comfort’, ‘space’, ‘air’, ‘view’, and ‘classification’.


Many of these themes are of relevance across the colleges of the University, and it is hoped that this project will be of interest to a wider group of colleagues who may wish to use the documentation or other project outputs in their own work. We would be happy to discuss any proposals for collaboration.


The full catalogue of documentation relating to The Lawns held by the archives includes the following:

  • Building & property records (incl. Maps & plans, specifications & correspondence)
  • Administrative records (incl. correspondence, minute books, visitors reports, annual reports, statistical returns, stores, finances)
  • Medical records (incl. Dr’s journals, admissions papers, case books, registers of restraints)
  • records (incl. printing blocks, photographs)


This project has so far digitised the following documents:

  • Admissions Papers: 1820-1824: Patients 1-41 (missing 7, 11, 20, 23, 27, 30, 31, 32)
  • Directors Journal: 1824-1828
  • Annual Reports: 1823, 1825, 1829, 1830, 1831, 1833, 1834, 1835, 1837, 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841-1854 (missing 1824, 1826, 1832, 1836)
  • Rules of the Asylum: 1819, 1841
  • Communications with Her Majesty’s Commissioners in Lunacy 1847
  • Minute Books: 1807-1822 and 1822-1829
  • Register of Restraint: 1829-1832
  • Register of Control: 1832-1880
  • Registry of Admissions – Paupers: 1845-1880
  • Registry of Admissions – Private: 1851-1890
  • Visitors Book: 1825-1900


Already digitised and available on Lincs to the Past website:

  • Case Books 1847-1875
  • Physician’s Case Books 1837-1869


2 thoughts on “The Lawn Hospital project

  1. Hi, i am currently researching for my undergraduate dissertation. i am looking for information on Hysteria at the lawn hospital and would like to know if you have any information surrounding the patients, the treatments and the doctors who worked there. any information would be valuable to me!

    kind regards,

    • HI Dionne
      I expect the best person to speak to on this matter is Rob Goemans ( as he leads on thsi project.
      best wishes


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