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Page last updated: February 19th 2012
Page first published: February 19th 2012
Dr. Batt's Madhouse
Information from the Witney museum
During the eighteenth century, an awareness grew of the need for public responsibility for the care of lunatics. The County Asylum Movement reflected the humanitarian attitudes of the early nineteenth century and public responsibility for pauper lunatics was accepted. However, demand was such that private madhouses prospered.

The private licensed house in Witney High Street was under the supervision of successive members of the Batt family. The first licence was granted to Edward Batt in 1823 and members of the family ran the house until it closed down in 1857. It was a relatively small asylum; for instance, in 1840 there were no admissions or discharges and during the 12 months from October 1842, seven admissions were recorded with two discharges and one death.

The house occupied the buildings which are now the Base 33 building and Huffkins. To the rear was a very nice garden with a pond and inspection reports do indicate that, during its early years, a relatively humane regime was practised, but a 'dark room' was used for the restrain of acutely disturbed patients. One male patient was even allowed to visit The Great Exhibition in 1851.
Attention was paid to religious observance, but only for those patients who were thought likely to benefit from it and attendance at church was permitted if felt appropriate.

Suitable exercise was encouraged, in some cases as a substitute for restraint during periods of excitement.

However, by 1851, the Commissioners were becoming critical of the regime at Witney and recommended the removal of the mildewed straps, staples and padlocks, which had been used for the restraints of patients. In 1855, it was recorded that six of the nine female patients were fastened.

At the 1855 Michaelmas Sessions, Eliza Batt's licence was renewed for a four-month period only. Subsequently, she discontinued the use of any mechanical restraint and her full licence was renewed in 1856, following favourable reports. In her application, she had mentioned that since the death of her husband, in October 1853, she had spent £500 improving the asylum, the gardens had been improved and alterations to the house had been made including removal of the partitions forming the 'dark room'. A small aviary had been built for the amusement of the patients. It was not unusual for birds to be used in this way and preferred birds, such as doves and silver pheasants, were often chosen for this purpose.

At this time, the proportion of attendants to patients varied - four to ten and four to six. The staff in 1854-55 comprised four resident attendants, a cook and a housemaid, whose duties were divided between patients, Mrs Batt and her family.
History always seems to raise questions...

"the removal of the mildewed straps, staples and padlocks"

...mildewed straps and staples!?