Genealogy handspinning History

Very Amiable Gentlewoman

1809 Fashion Plate, Wikimedia Commons


Still  employing myself studying the (historical) crazy. Digging around in some York archives, last week. For an upcoming article in a genealogy magazine about crafts and eighteenth/nineteenth century insanity. Here are some snippets I thought might interest readers, but I can’t shoehorn into the piece ~ some more fascinating reasons for inmates being “a fit object for confinement in a House for the reception of Lunatics”.

Trawled from the certifications ~ this time, from the 1820s. See how many of these boxes you tick :

“Too close application to literary pursuits”

“Brain fever”

“Hereditary taint and a weak mind”

“Hipocondriac” [sic]

“Over-exertion at extinguishing a Fire in the 25th of 12 mo[nth] 1824”


“Overstrain’d Nerves especially on religious subjects”

“Since the death of her husband, she has suffered a series of disappointments”

“Intemperate drinking”

“Religious melancholy”

“…he led a dissolute and idle life. About the 9th mo[nth] 1826 all other resources having failed he enlisted in the army… He was then in Chatham Barracks… he gave me a clear and succinct account of what he had undergone since I saw him and described persecution and cruel treatment… I saw him repeatedly til the 19th of the 1st mo[nth] 1827 when I procured his liberation. This circumstance did not appear to exhilarate him…”

And, as ever, the old favourite of doctors locking up early nineteenth century people, simply one word: “Religion”. Which always catches my eye in the context of a Quaker-run asylum, as you’d think they’d overlook that kind of thing…


I also took a quick look at the patients’ occupations on some of the certificates. Interesting that there are a few textile-related ones. Here are some entries under the question “Occupation?”:

“Not any”

“A servant”

“In early life was closely employed in needlework”

“Surgeon Apothecary”

“Cabinet maker and upholsterer”

“Paper Maker”

“Grocer & Tea Dealer”

“Linen Draper”


“Worsted Spinner” [This is a man, and from that and the date, 1821, we can infer he spun on the water frame]

“Farmer & Maltster”


“An inmate at her Father’s house”

“Cotton Spinner and Manufacturer” [A man from Gledwick Clough, admitted 1823]

“None of late. He was for a short time with a Chemist, his genius for that and botany” [a Guernsey man]

“A Weaver”

“A Manufacturer & Merchant”

“Toy & Turnery Workshop”

[The Retreat, Register of Certificates, 1796-1819].


(Toy & turnery manufacturers often made fancy parlour wheels; companies such as one maker often considered the finest wheel-maker in late eighteenth century England who advertised as:


 “JOHN JAMESON his TOY & TURNERY MANUFACTORY in Carlisle Buildings, Little Alice-Lane, in the City of YORK”

Site of Jamesons’ spinning wheel shop. Photo Credit: Nathaniel Hunt

There is so much that is poignant, in the asylum records.  Amongst the case notes, you often glimpse a personality. Re. Penelope Rathbone, from Liverpool, admitted in 1814 aged 70, the doctor recorded: “A person (gentlewoman) of a remarkable kind, charitable disposition of late became so imprudent as to give away all her property and borrow upon interest to give away when all was gone she lived for some time upon almost nothing… and thought it right to destroy herself… She died with water in the chest, 1814”. At the bottom of the page, in pencil, some anonymous person scrawled:

“Very amiable gentlewoman”.



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