This article by Richard Johnson arises from research into the history of Norfolk Lunatic Asylum in our Change Minds archives and mental health project at Norfolk Record Office.
Fascinating supplementary information about life in the asylum in 1882, Change Minds particular period of interest, appears in the next post.
The Johnson Bequest (and other Divertissements)
‘In addition to, and in aid of, the more strictly medical treatment of our patients, we endeavour, as heretofore, as far as lies in our power to provide them with useful and appropriate occupations and amusements; in this object we have been much assisted by the liberality and kindness of the late Mr William Johnson…’
In 1850 William Johnson made a will bequeathing the sum of £2,000 to ‘the lunatic asylum at Thorpe’.
William Johnson was born in Wroxham, Norfolk in 1783/4. In 1851 he was residing at South Sea House, Threadneedle Street, London with his wife Anne. Johnson was then in receipt of an annuity and his wife was the housekeeper for South Sea House which had several other independent occupants. On 27 February 1855, Johnson died at his home, aged 71.
In his last will and testament made in 1850, William Johnson left various bequests to family and friends, as well as to the Norfolk County Asylum, the Institute for the Indigent Blind in Magdalen Street, Norwich, and the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. By far the largest lump sum was left to the asylum. An examination of the asylum’s Registers of Admissions indicates that Johnson was not a former patient but he obviously had a strong link to Norfolk, not only by birth but from the location of the various other recipients of his estate.
Although Johnson died in 1855 the bequest was only paid over in May 1870. The long delay was due to the opposition of the residuary legatee; in these circumstances, the £50 left to his executor, ‘for his trouble’, appears somewhat inadequate!Correspondence was exchanged between the executor’s solicitors and the Committee of Visitors (‘the Committee’) although no copies of the same appear in the Minutes of the Committee or the Clerk’s Letter Book for the period 1855-1870.
In March 1870 the Committee informed the Quarter Sessions of this exchange but, rather ungratefully, questioned the validity of accepting the legacy on the grounds that ‘a bequest to an institution supported by the rates was void’ and that there was ‘no person qualified to give a receipt for the money’. Notwithstanding the Committee’s reservations, upon the residuary legatee withdrawing his objections the sum of £2,000 was at last paid into the ‘Account of the County Treasurer’. The Committee was invited to make a proposal as to how the money should be applied and it suggested that the money should be invested and that the annual dividend or interest should be paid to the Committee for it to spend on the asylum ‘as it deemed reasonable’. This was accepted by the Court of Quarter Sessions and on 1 July the £2,000 was used to purchase the sum of £2,153 8/8 consols (government securities carrying an annual interest). Three members of the committee were later granted power of attorney to receive the dividends. So began the Johnson Fund.
Uses of the Fund (1870 to 1890)
Under Dr Hills (medical superintendent 1861-1887), the Johnson Fund was used to pay for specific items and also ‘sundries’ which Dr Hills usually brought to the attention of the Committee for approval. Dr Hills’ proposals were accepted without exception. This appears to be the practice under Dr Thomson (medical superintendent from 1887) although he was more in the habit of periodically requesting sums of £5 or £10 (and in at least one case £15) under the general heading of ‘Johnson Fund’ rather than giving a specific reason. Unfortunately, without the benefit of the Johnson Fund accounts (see below in ‘Accounts’) we must principally rely on the entries by Dr Hills in his journals. It is not always clear when the Johnson Fund was activated – the details in this section are items/amusements which were definitely allocated to the Fund.
An important recipient of the Johnson Fund was the asylum band which consisted of male attendants who gave their meagre spare-time to practise and play for the patients. Replacement instruments (such as a bass violin, a drum, a clarinet and several cornets) and sheet music were all charged to the Johnson Fund. In December 1871 Dr Hills managed to get the Committee’s approval for a Christmas bonus of ten shillings a man, to be paid from the Fund. This award appears to have been repeated annually; in 1873 the bandmaster received a whole pound for bestowing so much of his time ‘in improving the others’. In 1872 a second-hand violin was purchased for several male patients who were able to play.
The ‘first festivity’ planned to be given under the Fund was an excursion to Lowestoft in 1871 for 40 ‘convalescent and industrious’ patients (20 of each sex). Unfortunately the railway company then refused to grant permission for the patients to embark and disembark from the train at the bridge opposite the asylum and the trip was cancelled until the next year when 50 patients were taken up the river by steam pleasure boat to Cantley. ‘Luncheon, dinner and tea were provided for them on board, which added considerably to the enjoyment of all’. Summer trips to the seaside (Cromer, Lowestoft or Yarmouth) became a regular annual feature. Patients would travel, usually in groups of about a dozen, by rail or by river steamer. In 1877 the trips to Yarmouth consisted of six groups with about a dozen patients each trip. A day’s outing on the river in ‘the steam boat’ was enjoyed by 70 patients together with the asylum band. On this occasion Dr Hills accompanied the party and so could ‘testify how much they appreciated it’.
The Commissioners in Lunacy noted that a portion of the bequest would be set aside for small advances to convalescent patients on leaving the asylum ‘such as Dr Hills determines desirable’. The first recorded of these was in October 1871. Jemima Moore was recommended for discharge but Dr Hills considered that she was still ‘delicate’ and would ‘necessarily miss the extra diet she has had here’. He applied for, and received, an allowance of four shillings a week for one month which he paid to Mrs Moore’s husband. The next month, ‘her wound not quite healed’, Dr Hills successfully obtained an extension of the allowance for another month. On payment of the allowance to her husband, Dr Hills learnt that Jemima was in ‘pretty good health’. He had intended to visit her but had been prohibited by the prevalence of smallpox in the Moore’s neighbourhood. In 1877 another female patient received three shillings a week during a two-month probation. In 1882 Dr Hills obtained ‘another gratuity’ for ‘the patient who acted as a housemaid in the Auxiliary Building, the Committee having previously granted her £2 a year from the Johnson Fund’. Incidentally, this is the only reference to a ‘wage’ being paid to a patient that I have so far encountered in the records.
Lawn tennis was provided for the female patients on the grounds that it was a ‘good outdoor sport’, although Dr Hills appears to have meant it as a winter activity (purchased December/January and as ‘a serviceable pastime at this season’). Minor amounts were also spent on various publications, including bound copies of the Illustrated London News and ‘suitable’ books. In 1871 Dr Hills purchased more Sunday periodicals, there being only two pamphlets per ward. Apparently Sunday was the only day when the majority of the female patients were ‘disposed to read’.
Board games were also popular and the Fund enabled draught and cribbage boards to be replaced. In 1873 the bagatelle table was re-covered and its balls re-turned. Dr Thomson obtained a second-hand billiard table for ‘not more than £30’ in 1888. Aviaries and birds were purchased for the wards, day-rooms and airing courts; an aviary on the female side cost £20. The ‘various pets in them afford much amusement’. Shrubs, seeds and bulbs were bought for the patients’ gardens and airing courts.
On several occasions the Johnson Fund enabled the services of entertainers who ‘amused and astonished’ the patients in the hall. These divertissements included ‘comic singers’, magic lantern shows or ‘dissolving views’ and on several occasions a ventriloquist. About two hundred and eighty patients attended a mixed entertainment of comic singing and ventriloquisms in March 1873. ‘Everyone was highly amused.’
Other articles purchased with Johnson Fund money were invalid chairs to wheel ‘helpless’ patients from the wards to the day-rooms. A couple of times small stoves were purchased for the conservatories, not for the patients but, ‘in order to preserve the plants during the winter nights’! In justification, Dr Hills claimed that in one year the asylum had ‘lost ‘800 plants in one night’!
In addition to the trips to the seaside, in 1873 Dr Hills reported that the Fund had enabled many patients to benefit from ‘entertainments at Norwich’ but there do not appear to be any specific details in his journals (but see ‘Other Amusements’ below).
The Commissioners in Lunacy ‘distinctly understood’ that the bequest money ‘would be in addition to any sums ordinarily expended in such directions hitherto’. This would appear to have been the case as the major annual entertainments: the summer ‘frolic’, the harvest treat and Christmas were funded from other sources.
The Bazaar Fund contained money obtained from the selling of ‘fancy work’ (such as crochet lace, antimacassars and patchwork counterpanes) produced in the asylum by the patients, off-set against money paid to tradesmen for materials. The articles purchased and amusements paid for were similar in nature to those provided by the Johnson Fund and included day-trips to Cromer and Yarmouth in 1886. The Bazaar Fund was likewise used to replace musical instruments for the band, such as a cornet (again!) and a baritone saxophone. In 1875 the Bazaar Fund even paid for a grand piano;Dr Hills got it cheap at a house sale. In addition gardens, aviaries and day-rooms were stocked with flowers, plants (including two lycopodium or fancy moss), birds (canaries and linnets) and vases/plaster of Paris images.
The year 1880 must have been especially festive with almost a pound (!) being spent on Christmas decorations and £2 13 shillings and threepence spent on the hire of ‘wigs, curtains and dresses for private theatricals’ In 1887, second-hand billiard balls were purchased (hopefully the billiard table purchased in 1888 from the Johnson Fund was a replacement and not an original purchase!) together with more Christmas decorations.
As mentioned above it is difficult to categorically assign funding of amusements etc to a specific source and the following may or may not have been funded by either the Johnson or the Bazaar Funds, but it seems perverse not to consider the general efforts made by the asylum to counter boredom and to stimulate the patients. I think the details are interesting in their own right.
Cricket was played at the asylum but descriptions of matches rarely appear in Dr Hill’s journal and not at all in the 1880s. In his 1888 Annual Report Dr Thomson states that 20 cricket matches were played in summer and it is not unlikely that this was a continuation from Dr Hills’ superintendence. Several cricket matches were even the subject of local newspaper reports. One in June 1883 saw the asylum beat Postwick 114 runs to 71. The cricketers all appear to have been e selected from the medical officers (including Dr Hills) and the male attendants. Apparently ‘the weather was charming and there were a number of spectators and patients, who thoroughly appreciated the game. The asylum band was in attendance and played selections during the afternoon’. Perhaps Dr Hills’ reticence in reporting the matches was his own low innings rate!
Dr Thomson also reported that 10 ‘football (Association)’ were played in the winter. Other outdoor amusements consisted of trips by steamboat, in addition to those paid for by the Johnson Fund, and various picnics or frolics such as the annual summer or harvest treats.
Patients were, of course, free to roam the airing grounds and funds were regularly spent to beautify these areas, whether on planting lime trees to provide much needed shade on the female wing or on shrubs and flower beds. In their inspections during the 1880s, the Commissioners in Lunacy were particularly taken with the high standard: ‘beautifully laid out’, ‘the cheerfulness of airing courts which are so laid out and planted that this would hardly be mis-described as gardens’, ‘much cheerfulness and are beyond praise in regard to their laying out and the brightness of the flower beds’. Even this fulsome praise did not satisfy the asylum authorities as in 1884, by the ‘kindness of a member of the Committee’, the airing courts had been ‘prettily laid out under the direction of a landscape gardener of some eminence’.
Some patients were permitted to walk in the countryside outside the asylum walls, with or without attendants. By 1881 groups as large as 50 were taken daily on walks in the countryside and steps were being taken to extend walkways so as to increase the number of patients able to benefit from this exercise. A sailing or rowing boat was also available at various times during this period. Sadly the sailing boat was suffering from dry-rot in 1872 and although the repair was paid for it was not used for three years due to the failure to secure the service of an attendant who could manage it. Dr Hills gave up and acquired a large rowing boat ‘which would be more useful as the patients could be frequently taken out and thus their outings could be varied’.
Day-rooms were available for wet or winter days. Board games and periodicals were available (see above). There appears to have been a regular fortnightly ‘musical event’ as one of the reasons for the bandsmen’s annual bonus was that the attendants’ band was a saving, ‘as formerly musicians were hired once a fortnight’. Given that, the bonus of ten shillings a year seems less than generous!
‘Treats’ were occasionally arranged by local dignitaries. Mr Colman MP granted permission for 60 patients (plus attendants) to picnic on the Whitlingham Estate. Mr Longe gave 16 female patients ‘an excellent tea’ in Spixworth Park. By the kindness of Mr Coleman (a linen draper) upwards of 40 patients had free entrance to ‘Cinderella’ and enjoyed it ‘immensely’.
Evening entertainments came from a variety of sources and usually took place in the hall, among them ventriloquism acts, with or without ‘comic singers’. Hand bell ringers were prevalent; Heigham Hand Bell Ringers paid a number of visits. Magic lantern or ‘dissolving views’ and musical entertainments were also popular. A shadow entertainment of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ which ‘being in every way novel, was much appreciated’. Perhaps more in Dr Hills’ line, the Orpheus Quartet gave a voluntary concert which contained ‘songs of much higher class than we have hitherto had’ but that does not appear to have dampened the patients’ enjoyment. Even the army paid a visit – in 1882 the 7th Dragoon Guards ‘troupe’ gave a ‘Christy Minstrels’ (black-and-white minstrels) entertainment: ‘the undivided attention of the patients testified to show approbation of the performance which was certainly excellent in all parts’. To complete this ‘diversity’ a ‘Japanese’ troupe visited twice. The introduction of theatricals in 1875 (and hence the later recorded hire of wigs and dresses) ‘supplied the patients with a novel and fruitful source of hilarity and enjoyment’.
However, not all performances were of a high calibre. Dr Hills was not impressed by Mr Jones, a ventriloquist, ‘he was not the adept his testimonials made him, so it was rather a disappointment’. To be fair, that is the only occasion when the entertainment did not meet expectations.
Recorded trips into Norwich included two sets of patients (13 each time) visiting an entertainment by the Christy Minstrels at the Victoria Hall.
More amusements, or any rate diversions, were the Sunday services (morning and evening) and one or two prayer readings during the week taken by the Church of England Chaplain. Lunacy legislation did provide for non-conformists to be attended by their own minister, subject to medical approval. Initial perusal of the casebooks confirms that non-CoE ???? something missing????were not uncommon but there does not appear to be any record of anyone taking advantage of this. The Commissioners of Lunacy in their report of 1889 noted that ‘it is a singular fact that there is not…a single patient professing the Roman Catholic faith’.
During the superintendence of Dr Hills, the Johnson Fund was audited every January, together with the accounts of the Bazaar Fund. There is no reference to such an audit in Dr Thomson’s entries for 1888 and 1889, but in 1890 accounts of both funds were submitted for inspection. Subsequently the Johnson Fund was included in the general accounts of the asylum.
There is no reference to the Johnson Fund in the Accounts of the Treasurer in the Annual Reports up to 1888 which implies that it had a separate internal record book (as did the Bazaar Fund). Unfortunately this book has not been retained, and is not included in other account books. In 1888 the accounts have a receipt under the Johnson Fund for £3 for ‘cricket lunches’, but details of income and expenditure do not appear until the report for the year ending 31 March 1890. The average annual sum received from dividends on consols on which the Fund was invested (to the accounts for the year ending 31 March 1915) was £54, 7 shillings and a halfpenny. The average sum for payments for ‘sports and amusements’ was £53, 7 shillings and a halfpenny; which at least implies disciplined budgeting. The balance remaining in the Fund in 1915 was £33, 16 shillings and seven pence.
The Annual Report for 1920 includes financial statements for 1 April 1915 to 31 March 1921. For much of that period (1915-1919) the asylum was a war hospital. The Johnson Fund is not specifically mentioned but could be included in ‘other receipts’ which are all credited to the war hospital (even though columns for the asylum are present and are used for other sums).
The next year (ending 31 March 1922) the Johnson Fund appears once more: a total income of £68, 7 shillings and eleven pence (dividends: £53, 1 shilling and eightpence, other receipts: £15, 6 shillings and threepence), and expenditure on ‘amusements’ was £62, 15 shillings and twopence. This is the last mention of the Johnson Fund; I have checked the Annual Reports up to the 1967 (the most recent held by the NRO). Possibly the fund is included in ‘other receipts’.
In 1896 the external auditors of the asylum accounts, Eastern and Midland Counties Audit District, advised that the investment of the fund should be in the name of Norfolk County Council – the local authority then providing the asylum. Presumably this was acted upon and the Johnson Fund was incorporated into the council’s accounts. A perusal of the abstract Accounts of the County Treasurer has yielded up no specific mention of the fund which is particularly surprising for the initial deposit in 1870 as £2,000 was no small sum and dwarfs other income amounts.
Where is the Johnson Fund?
Norfolk Record Office
Annual Reports: SAH28 (1844-76), SAH29 (1877-86), SAH30 (1887-96), SAH31 (1897-1905), SAH32 (1906-21), SAH33 (1922-33), SAH34 (1934-48), SAH35 (1949-63), SAH36 (1967).
Medical Superintendent’s Journal: SAH131 (1861-78), SAH132 (1878-88).
Minutes of the Committee of Visiting Magistrates: SAH10 (1868-75), SAH11 (1876-90), SAH12 (1890-98), SAH13 (1898-1906), SAH14 (1906-14).
Clerk’s Letter Book: SAH38 (1853-75).
Admissions Registers: SAH172-175 (1814-61).
Workroom and Bazaar Accounts: SAH483 (1853-98).
County Treasurer’s Department – printed abstracts of accounts: C/T 1/6-8 (1863-95).
Baptismal records (Wroxham).
http://www.findmypast.co.uk (thanks to Norfolk Libraries)
In particular: Census Records, births and marriages).
British Newspapers Archive (thanks to Norfolk Libraries)
London Evening Standard (01/03/1855), Shipping Mercantile Gazette (01/03/1855), Norfolk News (10/03/1855)
Norwich Mercury (23/09/1882), (09/06/1883)
Public Record Office – The National Archives
Last Will and Testament of William Johnson [(c) Crown Copyright, Catalogue ref: prob 11/2208]
 This piece started off as a specific study of the Johnson Bequest but subsequently turned into a general overview of amusements, entertainments etc within the asylum between 1870 and about 1890.
 Dr Hills 1871 – SAH28 Annual Reports (1844-76)
 1851 Census. Johnson was 71 in February 1855 so would have been born between March 1783 and February 1784. A search of the Wroxham baptismal records suggests William could have been the child baptised on 14 December 1783 and the son of James and Elizabeth Johnson. Anne was born c1790 in Eastborne, Sussex.
 London Evening Standard (01/03/1855), Shipping Mercantile Gazette (01/03/1855), Norfolk News (10/03/1855)
 Last Will and Testament (with codicil) of William Johnson (1850)
 Medical Superintendent’s Journals SAH131 (1861-78), SAH132 (1878-88)
 Just under a week’s wage for a standard male attendant.
 Report of the Commissioners in Lunacy (1871) [SAH28 Annual Reports (1844-76)]
 Each month a few patients were permitted to return home for a trial period (usually one or two months). The qualification for this appears to have been based on their general health and the capacity and willingness of family or friends to look after them. It seems that they were ‘supervised’ to some extent by the local ‘medical man’ as reports were made back to Dr Hills.
 Workroom and Bazaar Accounts SAH483 (1853-1898)
 Norwich Mercury 09/06/1883
 2 in the June 1883 match and 4 in a match in September 1882 (Norwich Mercury 23/09/1882).
 About 60-65% of the patients attended Sunday service, and about 35-45% attended the prayer readings (1882-3) [SAH11 Minutes of the Committee (1876-90)]