Broadmoor Hospital at Crowthorne in Berkshire opened in 1863 when the first five female patients were admitted.

Today Broadmoor is a high security psychiatric hospital and one of four UK high-security psychiatic hospitals (the others being at Ashworth on Merseyside, Rampton in Nottinghamshire and Carstairs in Scotland).

Built as the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, the hospital received its first female patients in 1863 and in February 1864 the first male patients arrived. Former patients included artist, Richard Dadd, and American surgeon, William Chester Minor, a major contributor to the first Oxford English Dictionary.

Berkshire Record Office in Reading now holds the Broadmoor historic archive and many of its records are available for public access, subject to certain exemptions under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act. The archive holds a wide range of material from the Victorian period up to 2004, including plans and maps, administration and staff records, patient records, and photographs – of patients, staff and site. Conservation of this material, much of which was in poor condition on acquisition, was made possible by receipt of a grant from the Wellcome Trust

Protocol for access to the records is downloadable as a PDF document from the Record Office website. (Use the link in the next paragraph to go to the web page from which the protocol can be downloaded.)

The Berkshire Record Office gallery Inside Victorian Broadmoor features a few individual patient histories from the Broadmoor archive, including those of Richard Dadd and lexicographer, William Chester Minor, the ‘Surgeon of Crowthorne‘.

In the Members’ Area of the society website you can read an article on the Conservation of the Broadmoor Archives by Mark Stevens, then Senior Archivist at Berkshire Record Office, published in the March 2009 Berkshire Family Historian. Earlier editions of the Historian carry other interesting articles and contributions about Broadmoor and its patients. In the June 2002 issue, Broadmoor Hospital archives by John Heritage, a Crowthorne resident, gives further perspectives on these important records.

The article also provides a powerful reminder that original records often provide unexpectedly rich sources of information that, in an instant, can unlock family details that would never be uncovered from searches of online datasets alone.

Read more in Broadmoor revealed by Mark Stevens, published 2 May 2013 by Pen and Sword Books, ISBN 9781781593202 which is available through the Shop

Berkshire had its county asylum— the Fair Mile Hospital at Moulsford near Cholsey, itself near Wallingford — opened in 1870 as the County Lunatic Asylum for Berkshire and operating for over 130 years before its 2003 closure.

Helped by a further grant from The Wellcome Trust, Berkshire Record Office has made the Asylum’s archive available to researchers.  A gallery on the Record Office website provides an illustrated history of Fair Mile Hospital

The County Asylums Act, 1845 required all counties to make residential provision for treatment of the mentally ill. In the early days, this obligation could be contracted out. In 1847, Berkshire’s justices, with the Berkshire Boroughs of Abingdon and Reading, entered into an agreement with Oxfordshire to use that county’s Littlemore asylum rather than build their own.

Between 1847 and 1870, Littlemore’s records may prove another unexpected but useful source of information for those seeking Berkshire ancestors during that period.

The Moulsford Asylum , as it was known from 1867-97 (later the Berkshire Lunatic Asylum, 1897-c1915, Berkshire Mental Hospital, c1915-48; Fair Mile Hospital, Cholsey, 1948 – 2003) opened in 1870 to care for people with mental health problems. The site was bought in 1866 for £8,317, and the asylum built for £68,000. The architect was Charles Henry Howells, to a corridor-plan design. The hospital closed in 2003, and the site has been redeveloped. The archives are held by Berkshire Record Office under the reference DH10.