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18 June 2014
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Myths and Legends
Broadmoor’s word-finder

Minor continued to serve in the army for several years, however, he showed growing signs of mental instability, and in 1868 was admitted into a lunatic asylum in Washington. Judged "incapacitated by causes arising in the line of duty", he was resigned from his commission, and in 1871 went to London, where he settled in Lambeth. Here, sinking deeper into paranoia, Minor shot and killed George Merritt, a stoker, believing he had broken into his room.

The subsequent trial revealed the full extent of Minor's insanity for the first time, and the details were widely published in the press; the "Lambeth Tragedy" was international news.
The former Broadmoor Asylum
© Courtesy of the West London Mental Health Trust.
Minor was judged not guilty, on grounds of insanity, and was detained in safe custody "until Her Majesty's Pleasure be known", and so he became Patient Number 742; inmate of England's newest asylum.

England's newest asylum

In the early-19th Century, the most dangerous "criminal lunatics" were housed in Bethlehem Hospital in London. However, it became severely overcrowded, and so, following an Act for the Better Provision for the Custody and Care of the Criminal Lunatics (1860), Broadmoor was opened in 1863 - the first institution in England built specifically for the "criminally insane".

Situated in the village of Crowthorne in Berkshire, the Broadmoor site originally covered 290 acres. The impressive building, set behind forbidding high walls and imposing front gates, was designed by Sir Joshua Jebb, a military engineer who had previously designed two prisons. And Broadmoor was still essentially prison-like; whilst its construction showed recognition of the differing needs of the "criminally insane", the Victorians were by no means overly enlightened in their treatment of such detainees – Broadmoor’s inmates were always referred to as "lunatics" and "criminals", never as "patients".

In these less centralised and institutionalised times, however, life inside could be fairly comfortable for those of means, like Minor. (Later on, under a new director, things were less "flexible".) Well-educated and still receiving his army pension, Minor was housed in Block 2, the "swell block", and was given two rooms, not one. After pressure from the American Vice-Consul-General his painting materials were returned, as were some of his clothes, but his most extravagant “allowance” was books – Minor acquired so many that he even converted one of his rooms into a library.

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