In the summer of 2016, the Irish Times newspaper published the text of a twenty-nine-page document discovered by an Irish student in the 1980s (Boland 2016 ). Penned by an anonymous former staff member of St Ita’s Hospital outside Dublin, formerly Portrane Asylum, the document provided an account of daily life in the institution from the mid-twentiethcentury and a brief account of the history of the asylum. The document came to the student through a doctor, who pulled it from a filing cabinet as he showed the student around the
archetypical asylum building, eclipsing the institutions which came before.
By the end of the twentiethcentury, many of the large asylums – those constructed in the first wave of asylum building before 1845 and those constructed after – ceased operation as hospitals or facilities for the poor. Many were closed, others repurposed, and a few were demolished or left exposed to weather and vandalism. The result of this mass closure was that dozens of large institutional buildings in English and Irish towns and cities stood empty and in need of reuse
-keeping, and management in the asylum. Architecturally, they are among the few individual elements of historic asylum buildings which have survived late twentieth-century mental hospital closure and redevelopment; for example, the administration block formed the central focus of redevelopment, as at the Wakefield Asylum and the Devon County Asylum (Franklin 2002b : 29–31). In the plans of purpose-built Georgian asylums, the administration block formed the central crux of a sprawling complex, radiating or extending out from the centre. This block was usually the most ornate
design in the nineteenth and twentiethcenturies; early twentieth-century asylum architect G.T. Hine noted in his description of British asylum architecture in 1901 that the division of asylum buildings by gender was a natural given ( 1901 : 197). German asylum reformer and psychiatrist Maximilian Jacobi even went so far as to suggest that all facilities in asylums be doubled up, ensuring that male and female patients would never mix ( 1841 : 26). However, while separate baths and yards were reasonably feasible, Jacobi’s suggestion was expensive when extended to
movement away from the architect as a primary influence in the running of the building. The Pocock Brothers’ door and cell design on the early twentieth-century padded cell demonstrates a movement away from concerns about the noise of bolts over time. As with the architectural arrangement of the asylum, the idealism that saw the omission of bolt locks from the patient room doors when the asylum was founded was omitted later, whether in favour of practicality or economy; neither are clear motivations.
Creating a solution to the problem of