Psychiatry in Liverpool: 19th Century

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The Asylum was closed down to make room for the New Royal Infirmary.

Presumably the inmates were transferred either to the work-houses or the County Asylums., such as Rainhill, which had been built earlier in the century.

Liverpool Workhouse
Liverpool Workhouse, c. 1930. occupied the site of the 20th century built Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Mount Pleasant is seen to the extreme right of the picture. Opened in 1771, the population of the workhouse expanded until in 1910 there were 5,000 inhabitants. The site was sold to the Catholic Church in 1930.

Some extracts from the Annual reports of the Liverpool Infirmary between 1881 and 1884 are of interest as they show the frequency and kind of psychiatric diagnosis made on the wards of a general hospital at that time-

1881 Hysteria - 22, Epilepsy - 16, Delirium tremens (traumatic) - 6, Mania - 1, GPI - 1.
1882 Hysteria - 20, Epilepsy - 30, Delirium tremens (traumatic) - 6.
1883 Hysteria - 24, Epilepsy - 27, Delirium tremens (traumatic) - 1, Puerperal mania - 1, GPI - 2.
1884 Hysteria - 18, Epilepsy - 25, Hystero-epilepsy - 1, Delirium tremens (traumatic) - 2, Hypochondria - 1.

The Lancashire Asylum Board had been established in 1891. It was responsible for the mental hospitals of Lancaster, Prestwich, Rainhill, Whittingham and Winwick.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century there was a general practitioner named Alfred Betts Taplin who had discovered in himself the power to hypnotise. Betts Taplin has been called the "Father" of Liverpool Psychiatry because he became the first practitioner to specialise exclusively in the treatment of mental disease.

He was born in 1867 at Kingslaw near London and attended Peckliam High School. The family moved to Liverpool when his father became chief engineer to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, and in due course he studied medicine at Liverpool. He obtained the LRCP of Edinburgh in 1883 and practised general medicine in Ivanhoe Road, Sefton Park. At first in hypnosis he used a small bright object as a point of attention. Then he used a hand on the solar plexus to instil an impression of warmth. He gave these.up in favour of passes, and finally dispensed with all such aids. He would treat alcoholics and practised on his daughter many times once having a wisdom tooth painlessly removed under hypnosis.

About 1900 he gave up general practise and took rooms at 76 Rodney Street, It took a long time for his practise to develop. He was regarded as a quack and shunned by his colleagues. He had no hospital appointmnt and his practice grew simply by the recommendation of patients The shell-shock cases of the Great War were of much interest to him. He moved to No. 1 Rodney Street where he occasionally admitted a patient for treatment. His secretary who was with him for twenty years, lived there and supervised the patients. About 1920 he started a clinic at 12 St. James Road. near the cathedral. for people of slender means who could pay a small fee. Later this was run by his colleague Dr. Allbert E. Davies till it ceased in 1922.

Betts Taplin was a founder member and first Honorary Secretary to the Psycho-medical society of Great Britain, formed in 1906.He wrote two books, 'Hypnotism' and 'Hypnotic suggestion and psychotherapeutics'. He died in 1939 aged 82.

Hypnotism is a term first coined in 1843 by the Manchester Surgeon James Braid (1795-1860). The term replaced the discredited earlier terms, Mesmerism and animal magnetism. One of his first writings though was in 1842 and a response to a Liverpool minister's sermon. The paper was entitled 'Satanic agency and mesmerism reviewed, in a letter to the Rev. H.McNeile, A M, of Liverpool, in reply to a sermon preached by him at St.Jude's Church, Liverpool, on Sunday, April 10th, 1842'.



Sources include:

Zilboorg, G. (1941) A History of Medical Psychology. New York, W W Norton & Co.

Vaillant C M (1963) An Historical Sketch of the Emergence of Liverpool Psychiatry. The Journal of the Liverpool Psychiatric Club - Vol 1.

Wilkinson, C. (1999) Liverpool from the Air. Liverpool, Bluecoat Press.



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