Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Murder at the Asylum

In 1900 there was a terrible tragedy at the Rainhill Hospital when one inmate killed another with a knife that they had managed to obtain from one of the kitchens.

The Lancashire County Asylum, to give the hospital its official title, was first opened in 1851 and by 1900 had extended to have a capacity of 2,000, making it the largest psychiatric facility in Europe. One of the patients was 29 year old Mary Grainger, who had been transferred there from London on 28th March, having first been admitted to an asylum following bouts of depression and delusions that people were out to poison her.

Grainger had been stable for 6 weeks and was being considered for discharge when the incident that led to her being detained indefinitely occurred. On the morning of Wednesday 1st August Medical Superintendent Joseph Wigglesworth was eating his breakfast when he heard screams coming from an upstairs room. On going to investigate he found Grainger, who had been employed in his quarters for just two days after being transferred from the matron's kitchen, sawing away at the neck of Hannah Hancox with a kitchen knife.

Wigglesworth managed to restrain Grainger but the blood loss to Hancox was so great that she died two hours later. Two days later at the inquest Grainger had to be removed from the courtroom by nurses on the order of the coroner after repeatedly interrupting he proceedings to ask what they were all about.  Wigglesworth explained to the Coroner that the Grainger had not caused any prior concern and had probably got the knife out of the matron's kitchen cupboard. He also explained that in the immediate aftermath she had told him she had a urge to kill somebody, not minding whom, indicating a sudden homicidal impulse.

The coroner's jury returned a verdict of wilful murder and Grainger then appeared before St Helens magistrates' court where she was committed for trial. She was then transferred to Walton Gaol but at the end of the month the Home Secretary, having been made aware of he full facts of the case, intervened and ordered her removal without trial to the Broadmoor Asylum for Criminal Lunatics. Rainhill Hospital closed in 1992 and has now been demolished.

Liverpool Mercury 27th August 1900

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