Ancestry UK

Broadmoor Hospital / Criminal Lunatic Asylum, Crowthorne, Berkshire.

The Broadmoor Hospital (originally formally known as Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum) was opened in 1863 to house individuals who were diagnosed as insane while in custody on criminal charges. Previously such cases had been placed in Royal Hospital at Bethlem or in Fisherton House Asylum near Salisbury. The institution occupied a 300-acre site at the south side of the Bracknell Road at Crowthorne. The buildings were designed by Sir Joshua Jebb, the Home Office's prison architect.

The initial plan include five blocks for males and one for females. As the latter was the first section to be completed, the first inmate to be admitted, in May 1863, was a women, and for the first nine months of its existence Broadmoor was a women-only establishment.

The prison site in 1910 is shown on the map below.

Broadmoor site, Crowthorne, c.1910.

A report from 1867 described the institution as follows:

The new institution at Broadmoor, in the parish of Sandhurst, Berkshire, two miles from the Wellington College, on the Reading and Reigate Railway, was opened for their reception at the beginning of 1864, and all the criminal lunatics who were at Bethlem have been removed thither. The situation is one of the most convenient for the purpose that could have been chosen within a moderate distance of London. The buildings were planned in isolated blocks, with a view to the more effectual separation of different classes of patients; and one block was built of great strength, like a prison, for the special security of violent and dangerous men. It is probable, however, that extensive alterations will be found necessary in the internal arrangement of the buildings, as well as in the laying out of the surrounding land; the estate comprising 300 acres, of which only 100 acres are yet under cultivation. The medical superintendent, Dr. John Meyer, in his last annual report, states that the health of the establishment is not altogether satisfactory, about twenty cases of fever having occurred in the blocks and in the cottages on the estate during the previous year, but only three of those cases were among the patients. He observes that there is a large extent of wet, undrained land in the immediate neighbourhood and that the supply of water, being derived from the surface drainage of the heath, contains an amount of organic matter. This, together with the insufficient day-room accommodation, especially for the female patients, in the winter months, and other faults in the buildings, may perhaps account for the unfavourable sanitary report. The average number of resident male patients is 328, and of females ninety-eight, but there is room for 500 altogether; eighteen died in the course of last year, and six were discharged; four attempted to escape, but did not succeed. Dr. Meyer's management is well seconded by Dr. Gibson, assistant medical officer; Mr. Orange, deputy superintendent; the Rev. J. T. Burt, chaplain; Mr. Charles Phelps, steward; and the other officers of the asylum. Many of the patients are employed, when in a fit condition, in various work about the garden and farm, in the wards, laundries, kitchen, and storeroom, or in the tailors', shoemakers', carpenters', and other workshops. There are classes for the elementary instruction of such as have not learned to read and write, with a good library for those who have; a billiard-table, with chess, draughts, bagatelle, cards, dominoes, croquet, and bowls for their amusement; besides music and occasional theatrical entertainments. A small number of the patients are voluntary attendants at religious worship in the chapel.

Broadmoor Asylum from the south-east, Crowthorne, Berkshire, 1867.

The original building plan of five patient accommodation blocks — four for men and one for women — was completed in 1868. A further male block was built at the west of the site in 1902.

Broadmoor Asylum block plan, Crowthorne, Berkshire, 1887. © Peter Higginbotham

Broadmoor Asylum entrance gate from the north, Crowthorne, Berkshire, c.1910. © Peter Higginbotham

Broadmoor Asylum female quarters from the south-east, Crowthorne, Berkshire, c.1910. © Peter Higginbotham

Broadmoor Asylum male quarters from the south-west, Crowthorne, Berkshire, c.1910. © Peter Higginbotham

Broadmoor Asylum men's day room, Crowthorne, Berkshire, 1867.

The patient's accommodation was alsmost all in single rooms but the women's section also included several dormitories.

Broadmoor Asylum men's room, Crowthorne, Berkshire, 1867.

Broadmoor Asylum women's dormitory, Crowthorne, Berkshire, 1867.

Broadmoor Asylum female patient's room, Crowthorne, Berkshire, c.1900. © Peter Higginbotham

At the rear of the central block in the men's section were workshops for upholstery, tailoring and shoe-making.

Broadmoor Asylum boot and shoe manufactory, Crowthorne, Berkshire, c.1900. © Peter Higginbotham

The asylum used special knives and forks that limited the harm that could be done in the hands of a violent patient.

Broadmoor Asylum safety knife and fork set, Crowthorne, Berkshire, c.1900. © Peter Higginbotham

An additional male block was erected in 1902. In 1912, a shortage of places at Broadmoor led to the opening of a branch asylum at Rampton. After the arrangement was discontinued in 1919, Rampton was used to house what were then termed 'mental defectives'.

During the First World War, a prisoner-of-war camp, known as Crowthorne War Hospital, was established in Broadmoor's Block 1 (north-east of central building) to house for mentally ill German soldiers.

Broadmoor Hospital continues in operation to the present day.


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  • Prison Oracle - resources those involved in present-day UK prisons.
  • GOV.UK - UK Government's information on sentencing, probation and support for families.