As the number of people living in cities increased, there became an increasingly large population of mentally ill people. Generally speaking, in rural areas the mentally ill had been able to rely on local support of the people around them, or managed to simply go unnoticed amongst the rest of the population. However, under the demands of larger cities they faced a higher degree of difficulty and had a much greater chance of causing disruption or simply being a nuisance. This led to the building of the early asylums.
In England the Middlesex County Court Judges pressured the UK Government resulting in an act of parliament – The Madhouse Act 1828, allowing the building of purpose-built asylums, the first of which the 1st Middlesex County Asylum was at Hanwell in West London and opened its doors in late 1831. (Src. Museums of Madness, Andrew T. Scull, Penguin 1979)
Initially these early asylums were little more than repositories for the mentally ill – removing them from mainstream society in the same manner as a jail would for criminals. Conditions were often extremely poor and serious treatment was not yet an option.