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Therapeutic landscapes: the design and use of nineteenth-century lunatic asylum grounds

Article Index

  1. Therapeutic landscapes: the design and use of nineteenth-century lunatic asylum grounds
  2. The rise of the asylum
  3. Homeliness and the asylum garden
  4. Landscape design
  5. Use of the landscape by patients: work exercise, recreation
  6. The patient's view
  7. Endnotes
  8. All Pages

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, Treatment of the Insane Without Mechanical Restraints, 1856.

Therapeutic Landscapes

Illustration of the Sanatorium for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest, Bournemouth, showing the buildings and landscaped grounds. Published in the Illustrated London News, December 1859.Figure 1: Illustration of the Sanatorium for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest, Bournemouth, showing the planted grounds, published in the 'Illustrated London News,' December 1859. Historically, landscapes and gardens have surrounded a variety of medical institutions and other healing places, and have often been considered part of the therapy. These have ranged from the Ancient Greek Temple of Aesclepius built in Epidaurus (now a World Heritage Site) with its pools and extensive views, to the Maggie's Centre at Charing Cross Hospital, which opened in spring 2008. Explanations for how the environment might benefit people in terms of well-being and recovery from disease have changed over time, but the notion that the landscape can have a therapeutic effect is arguably as valid now as it was in the 19th century.

During the 1800s a range of hospitals including general hospitals, convalescent homes and tuberculosis sanatoria were built within extensive grounds. These grounds were designed to be used by patients as part of their recovery or convalescence.

One type of institution that utilised landscapes and gardens possibly more than any other was the lunatic asylum. An overview of how asylum landscapes were designed and used will be described here, using case studies located in Northampton in the East Midlands. The term ‘lunatic asylum' was commonly used in the 19th century and so will be used in this article. However, those who were confined to the asylums will be referred to, using a more modern term, as patients.