Wilson Firth

My first job as a consultant psychiatrist was at the Towers Hospital on the edge of Leicester. At the time I believed I had been inspired by such postwar pioneers as Maxwell Jones and Tom Main, who had made asylums more egalitarian and democratic. Now I wonder if I just wanted to work in a Victorian asylum before they were all closed down. The Towers was a red-brick, three-storey structure built around a number of gloomy courtyards, its several wings steeply roofed in dark metallic slate. Under the whole complex ran a tunnel, maybe two hundred yards long, that had once joined the male and female wings of the hospital. In 1986, when I started, most of the admission wards had been moved to the district general hospital, leaving the long-stay wards for adults who suffered from chronic schizophrenia and for elderly demented patients. In the 1930s and 1940s, when asylum populations were at their peak, the Towers housed 1400 or 1500 patients, but by 1986 there were around 4oo. The decline in numbers began after the introduction of Chlorpromazine, the first antipsychotic drug, in the early 1950s.

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