19 November 2012

"Strong clothing"

Strong clothing was a rather euphemistic term used to describe certain forms of restraint used in late 19th century asylums. While chains, strait-jackets (known as strait-waistcoats) and similar garments were outlawed during the ‘non-restraint’ movement of the 1840s and ’50s, other methods of ‘mechanical restraint’ were permitted by the Commissioners in Lunacy (the government body who inspected and licensed asylums for much of the 19th century). The intention of strong clothing (including strong dresses and padded gloves) was to protect patients, both preventing self-inflicted injury and the destruction of their clothing.

 “Strong dresses,” as described by Bethlem Superintendent George Savage in 1888, were “made of stout linen or woollen material, and lined throughout with flannel. The limbs are all free to move, but the hands are enclosed in the extremities of the dress, which are padded. …There are no strait-waistcoats, handcuffs, or what may be called true instruments of restraint in Bethlem”. Savage claimed that, by avoiding recourse to the use of sedatives or padded cells for violent or destructive patients, many “were thus really granted liberty by means of the slight restraint put upon them”. 
The embedded photo is by Jane Fradgley, who photographed a collection of strong clothing housed at the Bethlem Royal Hospital Archive & Museum, Beckenham, Kent.  Her photos are currently on display at Guy's Hospital.  Details at Morbid Anatomy.

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