The Diary of Elizabeth Hitchcock

  • Reference
      GB 133 Eng MS 1571
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      120 x 187 mm. 1 volume Medium: Paper, newspaper pasted onto the covers.
  • Location
      Collection available at The John Rylands Library, Deansgate

Scope and Content

Contents: The diary begins on Christmas 1841 and continues through to August 1842. It largely consists of a day-to-day account of Hitchcock’s experiences as an inmate at Lancaster asylum. In addition, Hitchcock wrote poetry in the diary. Her descriptions present the hospital as reasonably clean and well equipped, with a nicely decorated day room, clean table cloths, outside space and access to a fire. She compares her sleeping lodgings with two other women (men being confined to a separate wing), who change throughout the course of the diary.

Frustration is apparent, particularly in regards to residents being locked in their lodgings for large parts of the day. It is not noted why this occurs. Hitchcock is occupied in part by the sewing of various garments, given and taken away by the Hospital. Multiple entries discuss her infant son, James, who was taken out of her care due to her poor mental state. He was being looked after by a woman named Mary Austin, whom Hitchcock describes as an ‘affectionate nurse.’ Austin’s death in June 1842 is recorded in the diary.

The journal gives insight into the importance of religion for the author, with descriptions of various Psalms and Scriptures being a reoccurring theme throughout. Hitchcock seems particularly concerned with asking God to help deliver her from the situation she is in, and to clear and support a healthy frame of mind. As well as her religious feelings, the dairy contains Hitchcock's reflections on freedom of speech, the disposition of the human mind, and various historical events. Such reflections are well-balanced and informed.

Hitchcock took particular care in noting down the names of visitors to the asylum. She reflects on their kindness, and despite limited access to writing materials, presents them with copies of her own and others writings. She also records conversations with Dr James Bower Harrison, her caseworker, whom she convinces she is of sound state of mind.

ScriptThe Diary is written in small but easily legible handwriting.

Administrative / Biographical History

Titled ‘Diary of an inmate of Lancaster Asylum’, this journal contains the account of Elizabeth Hitchcock, describing her experience as an inmate of Lancaster Moor Hospital in 1842. Little else is known about Hitchcock; she appears to have come from the Manchester area and was a mother to a young son. The diary is a rare instance of an inmate's view of a Victorian mental hospital.

Lancaster Moor was Lancashire's first county asylum. Constructed in 1816, it eventually housed several thousand patients. The Hospital dropped its designation of an ‘Asylum’ in 1923, becoming officially named a County Mental Hospital. The Hospital closed in 1999, when the site was redeveloped.

Access Information

Available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the manuscript can be supplied for private research and study purposes only, depending on the condition of the manuscript.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the manuscript. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, The John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The item was donated to the Manchester Medical Library by Miss Mabel Harrison in October 1943. It was initially found and kept by her father, Dr James Bower Harrison (1814-1890), who was a doctor at the Asylum during Elizabeth Hitchcock’s confinement. Dr Harrison is mentioned in the diary.

Related Material

Records of the Hospital (HRL are largely held at Lancashire Record Office, which holds an extensive and varied collection on the institution.


Patricia Garside and Bruce Jackson Model guide to Lancashire mental hospital records (University of Salford n.d.).