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The Victorian Asylum

The first phase of the new Berkshire Asylum was designed to accommodate 285 patients, rising to 500 when the initial plans were completed.  During 1870-1871, around 280 patients were transferred to Fair Mile from both Littlemore and other asylums. Fair Mile was extended in 1880 to 609 beds, and again in 1901 to 800 beds. These patients were mostly 'paupers', that is their care was provided at the expense of local ratepayers.  However, the asylum also admitted fee-paying private patients if there was capacity to do so.

Box and Cox poster
Poster for theatrical entertainment held at the asylum, 1872 (D/H10/F1/1/1)

The asylum was almost a self-sufficient community with its own bakery, laundry, farm and gardens. The Medical Superintendent was expected to act as senior physician and as chief executive, assisted by the support of an assistant doctor, nursing staff, and a wide range of auxiliary staff including a farm bailiff, an engineer, a baker, skilled and unskilled workmen, laundresses, servants and clerical staff. The ratio of nursing staff to patients was about 10:1.

The Victorian asylum also employed a chaplain and held regular services in its chapel. It had a library, and offered a varied programme of entertainments, such as sports, music, dances, and theatrical performances.

Kitchen or laundry

Photograph of the interior of the kitchen or laundry (courtesy of Judy & Stuart Dewey of Pie Powder Press)



Related Content

Founding the Asylum

Patient care in the Asylum

Patients in Victorian Fair Mile

Related Links

Life in the Victorian AsylumThe book based on the Fair Mile patient experience

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11 response(s) so far…

Nicky Bull
Posted on the : 12 Nov 2012

I believe that an ancestor of my husband's may have been a patient at Moulsford/Berkshire Asylum from some time not long after its opening (and certainly by 1881) until her death in 1917. Are patient records available?

Posted on the : 13 Nov 2012

The Fair Mile archive is at BRO. Please do remember to provide an email address if you would like a reply. You can also use the Contact form on the left.

stephen smith
Posted on the : 8 Apr 2013

I think a relative of mine a great Aunt was also a patient. Nellie Edith Coe. born dec 1910 and died in fair mile i think in about 1936. she had a gatro problem a bit like irratable bowel. When this flared up it was agony, and made her go to her bed screaming in agony, hence being sent away. Barbaric to think of in this day and age. i have sice been told that a certain kind of drug! maybe an anti biotic infact made it a lot worse and probably hastened her death. No one in the family knows anything about her which is sad. It wasn,t talked about. she wasn,t insane! just had a medical condition . very sad. stephen smith from maidenhead.

Posted on the : 21 Dec 2013

Hi, im looking for detailed information to where the mortuary was at fairmile and what the rotherfield ward was used for?

Posted on the : 31 Dec 2013

Hi Matt - we believe that Rotherfield Ward was originally the isolation hospital built on site in 1880. This has now been demolished. The location of the mortuary depends on date. Please use the contact us form to send an email.

William Lane
Posted on the : 8 Oct 2014

My GGrandfather died whilst at the Asylum on 14th December 1890. Is it possible that his records are available for viewing at the BRO by appointment?

Posted on the : 9 Oct 2014

Hi William - yes, there will almost certainly be something here about him. Please send us an email via the Contact Us form on the left.

Kimberly Collier
Posted on the : 31 Jan 2015

Hi. Found that my great great grandfather was admitted to the asylum around 1880 and died there February 1 1900 and was burried in the cemetery. I would love to get more solid information, alas i am in America. Is there any way the BRO could give me information?

Posted on the : 3 Feb 2015

Hello Kimberly - we have admission registers and many patients who died there were buried in Cholsey parish. We should be able to help you find out more. Please use the online Contact Us form so we can correspond in more detail.

Lucy Newsome
Posted on the : 13 Jun 2017

I just discovered my grandfather was a patient at Moulsford Asylum & died there July 8, 1885 at age 32. As he was a surgeon I would really like some information about why he was there Can you help me.

Posted on the : 14 Jun 2017

Hello Lucy Newsome We hold admission records of patients for Fair Mile, as well as registers of deaths and case books on the history of patients whilst in the hospital. You can see the details of these records on our online catalogue under reference D/H10 - though you cannot look at documents online. This comment box does not enable us to include links, so please click on the 'Search the catalogue' link on the left of the main home page. If you are able to visit us, you can look through these documents yourself free of charge as they are open for the period you are interested in. Please see our 'Using Us' page for details of how to find us, ID requirements and opening hours. If you are not able to visit, we can undertake research for you for a fee. Again current details of this service can be found on the 'Using Us' page. If you would like us to carry out research for you, please contact us via the online 'Contact Us form to the left of the web page. We can then correspond directly and privately with you. Hope this helps. Regards, BRO.


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