Page last updated at 13:36 GMT, Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Victorian asylum secrets revealed

Broadmoor Hospital
The hospital's record are subject to long restrictions

Archives from a mental hospital, which housed some of Britain's notorious patients including a "Jack the Ripper" suspect, have gone on display.

Berkshire's Broadmoor Hospital, then known as a criminal lunatic asylum, opened in 1863 with 95 female patients. A block for men followed a year later.

Edward Oxford, who attacked Queen Victoria, was also sent there.

Berkshire Record Office in Reading has repaired the collection now at the Museum of Reading until 9 February.

The record office has spent the last two years listing the files with a 200,000 grant from The Wellcome Trust.

"The Secret World of Victorian Broadmoor" exhibition at the museum marks the completion of the listing process.

There are many sad tales of lives destroyed by mental illness, of fear and paranoia
Dr Peter Durrant
County archivist of Berkshire

Dr Peter Durrant, county archivist of Berkshire, said: "Broadmoor is one of those collections where every page tells a story.

"There are many sad tales of lives destroyed by mental illness, of families broken up and never mended, of fear and paranoia.

"It is not history for the fainthearted."

Broadmoor, which provides specialist psychiatric care for patients who would otherwise have been in the prison system, has been based on the same site in Crowthorne, Berkshire since it opened.

Their stories, together with hundreds of others, can now be used by historians interested in mental health care during the 19th Century, a spokeswoman from Reading Borough Council said.

As the hospital's records are subject to long restrictions to protect patient confidentiality and privacy, only patient records from the Victorian era will be accessible to researchers.

'Danger to society'

Restrictions will remain in place for any patient records less than 100 years old, the spokeswoman added.

Other famous patients include "Surgeon of Crowthorne" William Chester Minor.

The former US Army physician spent 38 years in the hospital after killing a man outside his house in London.

Broadmoor changed from institution to hospital after the 1948 Criminal Justice Act.

Graeme Hoskin, Reading's lead councillor for culture and sport, said: "It offers a unique insight into how, over the years, Britain has struck the difficult balance of protecting the public whilst humanely treating that small minority of the mentally ill who might pose a danger to society."

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