The archives of the Ticehurst House Hospital, which are part of the Wellcome collection, have been preserved and its records from 1787 to 1925 have now been digitized and put online. These records provide a glimpse into life in an Insane Asylum.
Ticehurst House Hospital was opened as a private lunatic asylum at
Ticehurst, East Sussex, in 1792. At first the hospital admitted a number
of pauper patients as well as its more numerous private clients.
However no pauper patients were admitted after 1838, and the clientèle
became increasingly upper class as the century progressed.
In the 19th century and earlier, people were often committed to Insane Asylums by a family member who had grown tired of them. Aging parents could be sent away by resentful adult children; wives discarded by a husband who wanted a change, a well-off auntie whose scheming nephew wanted money - these were often patients.
The horror stories abound. Treatment was often cruel and neglectful. Little was understood about true mental illness so even those truly suffering from some type of illness were not helped by the treatments of the time.
Male doctors were in charge and women suffered terribly in this male dominated world. Patients could be chained to the walls, they could be dipped in icy water. Straightjackets and solitary confinement were commonplace for those who could not or would not keep quiet.
My Experiences in a Lunatic Asylum written by Herman Charles Merivale and published in 1879 was written by a former inmate of an Insane Asylum. It is free to read on Project Gutenberg.