Showing Restraint

You guys know what I’m like with old photographs.

I came across these three when writing my ‘Claws For The Weekend:Admissions’ last Friday. Although that was a light-hearted post, this is an altogether darker post, if not a little disturbing.

This first photograph is from around 1869, and was taken by Henry Clarke of a patient in a restraint chair at the West Ryding Lunatic Asylum in Wakefield, Yorkshire.

Does this old man have an air of defiance, or of being subdued, about him? Or was he incapable of experiencing either feeling?


This is another photograph by Clarke, from around the same time, of a patient being restrained by warders. I know that sometimes restraining patients was done for their own safety, or for the safety of others, but there is something about how he is being held by the hair to be captured by the camera that is disturbing.


This last photograph, of which I know neither the photographer nor the location,shows a seemingly isolated patient in restraints.

Looks like a still from a horror film doesn’t it?


My wife worked for a while in a psychiatric hospital. And even though she and colleagues were trained on how to restrain patients for the safety of everyone concerned, the term used was ‘care and restraint’, with the emphasis on care.

Thankfully today, the practice is, or should be, done in a more dignified manner for everybody involved.

12 thoughts on “Showing Restraint

  1. It is simply monstrous, but I suppose back then they just didn’t really understand about mental illness, and what they didn’t understand they were scared of, and what they were scared of they tried to control so they could feel like they had mastered ‘the beast’ so to speak.
    I am very glad that attitudes towards care have changed vastly, although in recent years it has been quite shocking to see how many so called carers have abused their position of trust to abuse the wards in their care, such as in retirement homes and in specialist care homes.
    So many indignities people have suffered over the years just for simply being who they are and just needing someone to care about them and look after them.


    • This is true. One of the main principles, if you like, at the core of my outlook on life, is that the stronger among us has a responsibility towards the weaker, be they people, nations, or animals.


    • That is true, there needs to be more regulation and co-operation between the various agencies to ensure that the more vulnerable of our society are safeguarded against this sort of thing.


  2. There is a traveling exhibit in the US called “Suitcases From The Attic” which is about the lives and effects of those who in previous generations were held for years and years in mental institutions. I will look for a link for you; it may interest you. i think they have a Facebook page also. We think as a species we have evolved, but have we really?


  3. Wow. So horrible. I also know people who interned in psychiatric hospitals. My sister-in-law is a therapist and my father also worked in mental health. I’d like to say that things are better, but I wonder if they really are.


  4. I’m a sucker for old photographs too… they’re a gift to the imagination! These photos are so interesting … and horrific. It’s crazy to think that in the scale of things, they really weren’t taken that long ago; or at least not enough time ago. I feel terribly bad for these people!
    Great post as always. :))


    • That’s right-it really wasn’t that long ago. In school, when doing history, I used to think that the Second World War was ‘in the olden days’. But when I got a greater perspective and sense of time, (basically, as I got older!) knowing that it ended just twenty six years before I was born made me realise that that is no time at all!
      I tend to post old photographs that appeal to me from time to time-no pun intended 🙂
      And thank you, PJ.


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