The Lunatic?

Many of our ancestors led fairly straight forward lives – got married, worked, had children etc.   However, there are some of those ancestors who stand out for other reasons.

When researching some of my extended family, I stumbled across this record for my paternal 1st Cousin 3x Removed, James Bennett Prescott (his grandparents are my 3x great-grandparents).

His name was listed on the UK Lunacy Patients Admission Register.  He was admitted to the Wells Lunatic Asylum on 24 March 1911.    Interestingly, it also includes his military number and rank:  Private H-3-30.  This record also includes his date of death – 19th April 1911.


“UK, Lunacy Patients Admission Registers, 1846-1912”, Jas Bennett Prescott, Wells, Somerset, 24 March 1911, database and images, Ancestry ( accessed 25 March 2019); citing National Archives, Lunacy Patients Admissions Registers; Class: MH94; Piece:46. 


The 1911 England census was taken on the night of 2nd April 1911.  James was listed as a patient at the Somerset and Bath Lunatic Asylum (also known as the Mendip Hospital).  It lists his occupation as Ex-Sailor.  His condition, like most of his fellow patients, was listed as ‘lunatic’.

1911 England Census, Wells St Cuthbert, Somerset, Registration District No: 313,  Piece 14532, Page No. 15, J B Prescott, database and images, ( accessed 25 March 2019).


He was only at the asylum for less than 4 weeks.  Unfortunately,  the register record does not note the reason for his admission.  However, his death certificate appears to give an answer.

Wells Lunatic Asylum (Photo credit: Gilbert Scott Wells, Flickr)


According to his death certificate (seen below), he died from Tuberculous Meningitis.  It appears he suffered with the condition for six weeks, which may explain his admission into the asylum, as his battle with the disease would have began around two weeks before he entered the asylum.

James Bennett Prescott death
General Register Office. Death Certificate, Wells, Somerset, James Bennett Prescott, Apr-May-Jun 1911, Vol 05c, Page 292.


Although we traditionally think of ‘lunatics’ as mentally ill, many of these patients suffered from common physical ailments such as the menopause and epilepsy.   In the case of James, Tuberculous Meningitis can cause confusion and agitation, which may be why he was sent to the Lunatic Asylum and not a workhouse hospital for treatment.

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