Reading that one of your Victorian ancestors was classified as a lunatic who should be confined in an asylum is clearly very distressing, but at the turn of the last century it was a common diagnosis. People with late-stage syphilis, senile dementia or postnatal depression were often locked away, and although the Victorians believed in “moral treatment” for them – there was still a stigma attached to being in an asylum so the family members left outside often struggled to survive.
01 Best Intensions
The first of two programmes in which celebrities embark on an emotional journey to discover how their ancestors coped in Victorian asylums. Hollywood hardman Ray Winstone visits Colney Hatch Asylum in north London, where his great-great-grandmother’s first husband was committed in 1875.
Comedian Al Murray follows in the footsteps of one of his forebears, Vanity Fair author William Makepeace Thackeray, to discover the measures he took to save his suicidal wife from the horrors of institutionalisation. Plus, actress and singer Claire Sweeney finds out how senile dementia and old-age mental health was treated in the 19th century.
02 Road To Ruin
Al Murray finds out how Victorian ideas of inherited insanity meant one of his ancestors was institutionalised from a young age. Birds of a Feather star Lesley Joseph goes on a deeply personal journey to uncover a painful family secret about an aunt whose very existence was kept secret for years.
Christopher Biggins discovers the truth behind his great-grandfather’s time in an asylum. The Royle Family’s Sue Johnston looks back on her job as a ward orderly in the 1960s while she was a drama student.