The Commissioners in Lunacy or Lunacy Commission were a public body established by the Lunacy Act 1845 to oversee asylums and the welfare of mentally ill people in England and Wales. It succeeded the Metropolitan Commissioners in Lunacy.

Previous bodies

The predecessors of the Commissioners in Lunacy were the Metropolitan Commissioners in Lunacy, dating back to the Madhouses Act 1774, and established as such by the Madhouses Act 1828. By 1842 their remit had been extended from London to cover the whole country. The Lord Chancellor's jurisdiction over lunatics so found by writ of De Lunatico Inquirendo had been delegated to two Masters-in-Chancery. By the Lunacy Act 1842 (5&6 Vict. c.64), these were established as the Commissioners in Lunacy and after 1845 they were retitled Masters in Lunacy.[1]


Anthony Ashley-Cooper, Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury was the head of the Commission from its founding in 1845 until his death in 1885.[2] The Lunacy Commission was made up of eleven Metropolitan Commissioners: three medical, three legal and five laymen.[3] The Commission was monumental as it was not only a full-time commission, but it was also salaried for six of its members. The six members of the commission who were full-time and salaried were the three members of the legal system and the three members of the medical community. The other five lay members of the commission were all honorary members who simply had to attend board meetings. The duty of the Commission was to carry out the provisions of the Act,[4] reporting to the Poor Law Commissioners (in the case of workhouses) and to the Lord Chancellor.[3] The first Secretary to the Commissioners was Robert Wilfred Skeffington Lutwidge, a barrister and uncle of Lewis Carroll.[5] He had previously been one of the Metropolitan Commissioners, and later become an Inspector of the Commission.[6][7] A Master in Lunacy ranked next after a Master in Chancery in the order of precedence.[8]

Asylums commissioned

The following asylums were commissioned under the auspices of the Commissioners in Lunacy (or their predecessors):[9][10]

English county asylums
"New" mental hospitals established later by Middlesex County Council

Note: The First Surrey County Asylum at Tooting (see above) was transferred to Middlesex County Council in 1888 and became the First Middlesex County Mental Hospital in the early 20th century

English borough asylums
Metropolitan Asylums Board asylums (established for chronic cases)
Welsh county asylums
Welsh borough asylums


The Mental Deficiency Act 1913 replaced the Commission with the Board of Control for Lunacy and Mental Deficiency.[11]


Incomplete list:

See also


  1. ^ Jones (2003) p.222
  2. ^ Unsworth, Clive."Law and Lunacy in Psychiatry's 'Golden Age'", Oxford Journal of Legal Studies. Vol. 13, No. 4. (Winter, 1993), pp. 482.
  3. ^ a b Watkin, Brian (1975). Documents on health and social services, 1834 to the present day. Taylor & Francis. p. 358. ISBN 0-416-18080-9.
  4. ^ Wright, David: "Mental Health Timeline", 1999
  5. ^ Seiberling, Grace; Bloore, Carolyn (1986). Amateurs, photography, and the mid-Victorian imagination. University of Chicago Press. p. 135. ISBN 0-226-74498-1.
  6. ^ a b Edwin Fuller Torrey; Judy Miller (2001). The invisible plague: the rise of mental illness from 1750 to the present. Rutgers University Press. p. 87. ISBN 0-8135-3003-2.
  7. ^ Mellett, D. J. (1981). "Bureaucracy and Mental Illness: The Commissioners in Lunacy 1845–90". Medical History. 25 (3): 221–250. doi:10.1017/s0025727300034566. PMC 1139037. PMID 7022062.
  8. ^ The New Hazell Annual and Almanac for 1922. London: Henry Frowde, 1922; p. 154
  9. ^ Taylor, Jeremy (1991). Hospital and Asylum Architecture in England, 1840–1914: Building for Health Care. Mansell Publishing. ISBN 978-0720120592.
  10. ^ "The Asylums List". Time Chamber. Retrieved 22 April 2019.
  11. ^ Phil Fennell (1996). Treatment without consent: law, psychiatry and the treatment of mentally disordered people since 1845. Social ethics and policy series. Routledge. p. 75. ISBN 0-415-07787-7.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Jones (2003) p.191
  13. ^ Richard Marggraf Turley (2009). Bright stars: John Keats, Barry Cornwall and Romantic literary culture. Liverpool English texts and studies. 57. Liverpool University Press. p. 60. ISBN 1-84631-211-6.
  14. ^ a b "No. 25917". The London Gazette. 2 April 1889. p. 1870.
  15. ^ "Sir Marriott Cooke, K.b.e., M.b". British Medical Journal. 2 (3695): 829–830. 1931. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.3695.829. PMC 2315577. PMID 20776478.