Posts Tagged ‘Asylum’

At Fiddington House

December 17, 2015

In some ways the local lunatic asylum seems an odd choice for a postcard, but no doubt the Burgess family knew if they were on to a reasonably good thing. Certainly they produced quite a few images of Fiddington House. As far as we of the present day are concerned this is all to the good for it gives us a chance to gauge something of the extent of the business. This shot shows house, extensions and rolling acres, together with the small lake that was a part of the scene.

Fiddington House and grounds - early 20th century

Fiddington House and grounds – early 20th century

It’s good to see the lake was fenced off. With people with a variety of mental health issues, it might have constituted a considerable risk to life otherwise.

The lake was fenced to prevent any accidental drownings

The lake was fenced to prevent any accidental drownings

We rather hope the ladder left leaning on the building was adequately supervised as well.

The House. Was a window cleaner in the area?

The House. Was a window cleaner in the area?

At times, not all of the residents at Fiddington House were closely confined. Jonny Maddox has been mentioned before as a resident who was often seen out and about in the community where, by and large he was liked. This image will predate him, though for he is remembered by older village residents now. This picture is more like 100 years old.

We can gauge, from the range of the building, that there was plenty of space for residents. Fiddington House certainly wasn’t on the scale of county asylums, like the one at Roundway, but it cared for quite a number of people who may have been finding life hard, or, often, for people who were proving hard for relatives to cope with.


Charles Hitchcock

February 8, 2015

Charles Hitchcock owned and supervised the Fiddington House asylum for much of the second half of the nineteenth century.

Fiddington, as ever, provides a slight inconvenience in that the area with that name was in West Lavington (although physically separated from the main part of that parish) and later it was transferred to Market Lavington.

But Charles started life, born at Cliffe Pypard which is to the north of Avebury, in Wiltshire. He was born about 1812 and we know nothing of his early life. In fact the first firm date we have is that of his marriage to Elinor Knight on 29th December 1835 at Piddlehinton in Dorset.

From the birth and baptism records of his children (at Market Lavington Church), we think that Charles was probably working at Fiddington House by the time of the 1841 census, but not living at Fiddington. We cannot trace Charles on the 1841 census which suggests he lived in the parish of Market Lavington. The 1841 census for Market Lavington has not survived.

But in 1851 we can find Charles as the proprietor of Fiddington House asylum, living on the premises which were then in West Lavington, with wife Elinor and five children all of whom had the middle name, Knight, and all of whom are listed as born in Market Lavington. Their ages varied from 1 up to 12. We know of other children who, sadly, died.

For the 1861 census, Charles was away from home, perhaps engaged in one of his hobbies for he was at Hythe in Kent and listed as Lt of Volunteers (Lieutenant?). Elinor, his wife, was at Fiddington, along with two daughters one of whom was married to a man serving in the Canadian Rifles.

It would have been about this time that Charles acquired the magic lantern projector we have featured before on this site.

In 1871 Charles was still in charge at Fiddington, with Elinor his wife, and a married daughter and family with him.

Elinor died in 1876 aged 62. She is buried in the churchyard at Market Lavington and the burial record says she lived in Easterton. But in 1881 Charles was still in harness at Fiddington. In fact we have featured a directory advert for Fiddington House, with Dr Hitchcock that was published in 1880. Click here to see it.

Charles was still at Fiddington in 1891, but now he was with his second wife. He married Mary Jane Weekes in 1889 when he was aged 77 and she was a mere 38. She was a Market Lavington born governess. Maybe that’s why our photo shows him looking so sprightly.


Charles Hitchcock (1812-95), physician and owner of Fiddington House Asylum

Charles died in 1895 and is buried in Market Lavington churchyard.

Six years later, in 1901, we find Mary Jane living on her own means at Weston on the edge of Bath

Fiddington Lodge

February 7, 2015

Time was when the area where the Fiddington Clays estate now stands was the site of the asylum. Fiddington House had been run for over 130 years as a private enterprise home for people with nervous disorders until the end came in the 1960s. Here we see the Fiddington Lodge house shortly before demolition.

Fiddington Lodge in about 1960

Fiddington Lodge in about 1960

For many years this had been the home of Diana Benson. Older residents in the area recall standing outside the Lodge hearing her play her piano. Diana was a part of the family who owned the asylum but music was her forte. She might have been a professional pianist but war and life intervened. She had a rather short lived marriage which foundered over the question of taking her piano to Malta during World War II. Diana, it seems chose her piano over her husband. Later she became a nun.

We’d love a picture of Diana at the museum. Has anybody out there got one they could copy and send to us?

Fiddington House – 1963

March 12, 2014

Fiddington House has an interesting history although we know little of its origins.  In 1834 Robert Willett purchased house and grounds to replace his first asylum in Market Lavington – there were too many ‘residents’ to cope with at his business in Palm House. And as the asylum made good money, he realised he could make that much more with bigger premises.

But interestingly, Fiddington House, set fair and square between Market Lavington and Easterton was actually in West Lavington. The strange arrangement of parish boundaries passes our present understanding and it was sorted out in the later part of the nineteenth century when Fiddington and its asylum house passed to Market Lavington

It continued a fairly peaceful existence, providing a home for troubled people and employment for locals until the early 1960s when the asylum closed.

Our picture today dates from 1963 when the building still existed but decay is clearly setting in.

Fiddington House after closure as an asylum in 1963

Fiddington House after closure as an asylum in 1963

This is the back of the building. The original Fiddington House is at the far end of the terrace like extension which comes out towards the camera.

Soon after the photo was taken the whole area was cleared and is now forgotten under the Fiddington Clay housing estate.


Fiddington House – 1920s

September 21, 2012

Fiddington House, was, for more than 100 years, a private home for people with nervous disorders – more usually, albeit incorrectly, called a lunatic asylum. Fiddington always had a very good reputation for the way it cared for the residents and its grounds were regularly thrown open to the community for events such as fetes and carnivals. The home also provided much needed local employment. Apart from actual care staff, cleaners, cooks, gardeners and clerical people may have found jobs at Fiddington.

Perhaps it was at one of the fetes that a camera belonging to a member of the Gale family was pointed away from any activity and at the back of the building. It was definitely in the 1920s, according to Tressie Gale who gave the rather damaged photo to the museum. The photo has been at the museum since we opened back in 1985.

Fiddington House from an unusual viewpoint in the 1920s

We can get some idea of the fairly extensive nature of the premises. The nearest structure here is a rather fine greenhouse. A gateway leads into what appears to be a walled garden and beyond that is a rather austere structure which was the main house.

In 1960, the whole area was swept away and the Fiddington Clays housing estate was built in the area.

Inside Fiddington House

August 10, 2012

Fiddington House was a home for people with nervous disorders from the 1830s until the 1960s. It was privately owned although it took what might be called council residents. But the real money came from providing accommodation for the (perhaps) eccentric older members of rich families.

Such an organisation needed to advertise and we have seen, on this blog an advert for the asylum from the 1880s, when Dr Charles Hitchcock was the owner (click here).

In 1927, the asylum was operated by members of the Benson family. They obviously felt a glossy brochure was needed. Of course, back in 1927, this was in monochrome.

Title page for the 1927 Fiddington House brochure. The entire brochure can be seen at Market La\vington Museum.

The brochure paints a picture of something like a country hotel, with all sorts of facilities for residents. There was, for example, a gentlemen’s club room.

Gentlemen’s Club Room at Fiddington House Asylum

So, our male residents can clearly have a game of billiards or just relax in the convivial surroundings.

For the ladies there was a drawing room.

Ladies’ Drawing Room at the Fiddington Asylum in Market Lavington

So perhaps a lady could sit at the piano whilst others carried out suitable, ladylike activities, such as embroidery.

Reports, even back into early Victorian times do suggest that this was an extremely well run establishment.

Of course, the asylum is now a distant memory. It was entirely rased to the ground in the 1960s and a new housing estate was built on its site.

The end for the lodge at Fiddington House

April 28, 2012

Once upon a time (all fairy stories start that way) there was a house called Fiddington House. From the 1830s this was used as a private hospital for those of a nervous disposition – more commonly called a lunatic asylum. It was in the parish of West Lavington.

Then, in the 1870s it transferred to Market Lavington. Of course, the house and grounds didn’t move. Neither did the patients or staff. The parish boundaries were reorganised and the long thin strip of land called Fiddington, sited between Market Lavington and Easterton, became a part of Market Lavington. It was altogether a more convenient arrangement because you couldn’t get from Fiddington to the facilities of West Lavington without passing through Market Lavington. So, the asylum became a part of our parish and stayed there until it finally closed in 1962.

Several generations of the Benson family had been medical officers at Fiddington and other members of the family lived in local properties. Diana Benson was one of these. She lived in the Lodge to Fiddington House.

The following extract about Diana comes from the website of Turtle Bunbury at It refers to our Diana Benson.

Great Aunt Bubbles

Their eldest daughter Diana Whishaw Benson was born on 28th October 1913, three months after the tragic death of Enid’s younger brother Jimmy from appendicitis. She was known as “Bubbles” and was a talented musician, successfully obtaining her Licentiate or LRAM from the Royal Academy of Music exam at the age of 19. She made her debut as a professional pianist at Bournemouth on 20th June 1933, two days before the death of her grandfather. Jim’s last conscious act was to send her a telegram of encouragement. Ian recalls her as “very pretty, small and dark-haired with wonderful eyebrows”. When performing, she would have the audience “half made” before she took her bow and sat on the piano stool. She excelled at the piano, violin and harp but Ian holds that she could master any instrument, “within minutes, or at the outside a week, a month at the absolute maximum … The only one that really flawed her and took her at least a year to master was the Irish tin whistle. Because it was wind not string! But in the end my God she could play that too!” But she was also “fearfully temperamental; she would never have done a thing she was told!” Wendy recalls a recital by Diana during which one of her aunts turned to another and said “Evelyn dear, do give me a recipe for your scones”. Diana slammed down the piano and left the room. “It was terribly funny and such a wonderful thing to be caught saying”, muses Wendy.
On 19th September 1936 Diana married John Atkinson, a popular naval officer from Northern Ireland. He was stationed in Malta during the war but the couple had a serious row when he refused to countenance Diana bringing her Grand Piano out to the island. They divorced in 1940. When John met Diana some years later, he described the experience as “not unlike standing on a rake in such a way that the handle leaps up and belts you in the face”. She subsequently converted to Catholicism and became a nun. She passed away on 20th February the age of 53.

Diana lasted a little longer than her former house – the Lodge at Fiddington which is seen here shortly before demolition in 1962.

Fiddington Lodge - former home of Diana Benson - shortly before demolition in 1962

Diana’s house was small, but contained her beloved grand piano. In the days before TV, locals used to stand around outside to hear Diana play. The sign on the wall does say Fiddington House and the gate led to the main house which was the asylum.

The lodge stood at the entrance to Fiddington House

Let’s just look at an older (1900) map to see the position of the Lodge and of Fiddington House. Nothing remains of these buildings now.

1900 map of the Market Lavington area shows the position of Fiddington House and its lodge

Cally Hulbert’s inkwell?

February 9, 2012

Emily Charlotte Hulbert was known as Cally. She was born around 1869 in Market Lavington. Her parents were Henry who was a solicitor and attorney and his wife Emily (née) Hitchcock. Emily was the daughter of Doctor Charles Hitchcock who owned and ran the Fiddington Asylum.

At the time of the 1871 census the family lived at Townsend, Market Lavington, quite close to the asylum. Apart from Henry, his wife Emily and our Emily Charlotte, aged 2, there was a younger child, Frederick and also Henry’s parents. They were Henry and Charlotte Hulbert and to help with the confusion of names, the two Henrys were both solicitors and attorneys. The prosperity of the family is clear for they also had three live in servants.

In 1881 the Hulberts lived at West Lavington. The older generation were no longer with them, but young Cally was a scholar and as well as Freddy, she now had three more brothers, Charles, Theodore and Percy. Three live in servants were still on the payroll.

By 1891, the 22-year-old Cally had left the Lavingtons and was living at Dengie in the far east of Essex. She was working as a school governess and living at the Rectory with Edward Warrington, the rector, his wife and family.

In 1901, Cally was back with her parents but in different circumstances. Her father, Henry, was now a clerk in holy orders. He and his wife and Cally were the only occupants of the Parsonage, St Agnes in the west of Cornwall.

We do not know when Cally returned to Market Lavington – we haven’t yet traced her on the 1911 census but she lived in her Northbrook, Market Lavington Cottage by 1939. By this time, it seems, she had become eccentric in her ways. One local ‘lad’ recalls hearing a lot of splashing coming from Cally’s cottage. He was told by his father not to go up there because it would be Cally taking her bath in the water butt.

Another resident recalls Cally being a regular traveller on the bus to Devizes where she ate her breakfast of mouldy bread.

Her toffee, apparently, was legendary – not only for its fine taste and texture, but also because she used it to stop the keys on her piano from moving. It sounds, really, rather a sad end.

Emily Charlotte Hulbert was buried at St Mary’s, Market Lavington on 12th November 1951. She was 82 and her address was given as St James Hospital, Devizes. The Reverend John Arthur officiated.

We have no photos of Cally at the museum. Neither do we have one of her cottage on Northbrook, which has been demolished. Maybe somebody somewhere has these items and would be willing to share them. What we do have are a number of items dug up in what would have been her garden.

Perhaps this rather splendid glass inkwell, probably once part of a stand, which may have been silver, provides us with a link with the genteel early life of Cally.

A glass inkwell which was found in the former garden of Cally Hulbert of Northbrook, Market Lavington

An unlikely find in a Drove Lane garden

January 27, 2012

An unlikely find? Yes, it does seem surprising that a button from Somerset turned up, many years ago, in a Market Lavington garden.

The item we look at today is not a recent metal detector find, rather it was found some 25 years ago – maybe more – and given to the museum back then.

The item is a button, and we know little about it, apart from the inscription on it.

Bath and Somerset Lunatic Asylum button found at Drove Lane, Market Lavington

As we see, the button, which has a metal loop on the reverse for sewing it onto a garment, is marker, ‘Somerset and Bath Lunatic Asylum’

We can trace something of the history of the asylum through the Somerset Council website at

The land for the site was purchased in 1844 and a competition was held to design the structures. The builder was Mr Kirk of Lincoln. The stone was quarried and dressed on site and the lime burnt close by. The asylum was originally called ‘Somerset County Asylum for Insane Paupers’. The asylum opened in 1848 and housed 350 patients. The establishment was intended to be largely self-sufficient and had its own water supply, gasworks, smithy and sewage treatment as well as farm. More land was bought and leased over time until the site was 307 acres in extent. A separate hospital block to the northeast was built in 1867 to house 30 female patients.

The original design of the site included ‘airing grounds’, gardens for the various categories of patients. There was also an apothecary, plumbers shop, shoemakers shop and brewhouse. In 1854 ‘Besides attendants there is an engineer, a bailiff, a gardener, an assistant gardener, a carter, a cowman, a baker and a brewer, a cook and a porter’. In 1876 there were 668 beds, twice the original intended capacity. In 1927 the site’s gas works became redundant when the hospital was connected to the town’s supply. Electric lighting was installed in 1928. {5}

The buildings were demolished or converted for other use in 2006.

The UK finds website at
shows a similar button and suggests it is late 19th or early 20th century.

None of this explains how the button came to be found in a cottage garden on Drove Lane, Market Lavington. The Market Lavington area, had its own private asylum at Fiddington and the Wiltshire county asylum was at Roundway, Devizes.

Any ideas?

Fiddington House – a brief history.

January 22, 2012

We do not know where these typewritten notes came from but they tell the story of the origins of the Fiddington Asylum.

Typed notes on Fiddington House, an asylum at Market Lavington

The notes transcribed

In 1816 a Mr Willett, linen-draper in Devizes took premises* in Market Lavington which he named the ‘Market Lavington Retreat’. The Gazette of March 27th 1817 carried an advertisement for this home for the insane. The conductors announce that they have taken for their model the celebrated ‘Retreat at York’, and describe their grounds as ‘pleasantly situated with several acres of ground appropriated to horticultural pursuits, calculated to induce the patients to take bodily exercise’.

The Asylum filled so rapidly that in 1832 when Fiddington Hill Farm and Manorial Rights came up for sale Mr Willett bought these new premises and enlarged and adapted them. It was 1834 before the patients were transferred to their new home where they now had fifteen acres of garden and grounds for recreation. A press notice advertising Fiddington Retreat speaks with enthusiasm of the lovely surroundings, and stresses the fact that there is now ample space for ‘maintaining these distinctions desirable according to the circumstances of life’.

Ann Saunders, in her book entitled ‘Russell Mill’**, says, ‘Uncle Willett and Aunt established a lunatic asylum. My aunt made the house comfortable and uncle made it lively. He laid out the grounds and built the house at Fiddington’.

*Those first premises were at Palm House, High Street, Market Lavington

** We have a photocopy of this book at Market Lavington Museum