Sir George Paul. Sir George Onesiphorus Paul was High Sheriff of Gloucester. He was a respected magistrate and worked to reform prisons. He was a humanist and followed the ideas of Jeremy Bentham, believing in reason and order and hating confusion and mess. He is famous for getting the law changed so that the government would pay for asylums for the mentally ill.
The visit of King George III to Gloucester affected Paul. The king was mentally ill and was visiting the area as part of his treatment. Paul became interested in the treatment of the insane. At that time there were very few asylums for the mentally ill. Paul visited the ones in Liverpool, York and Manchester. Meanwhile a new prison was built in Gloucester: it was influenced by the ideas of John Howard with new systems of discipline and design.
Sir George pushed the idea of building a new asylum in Gloucester. The idea was the rich inmates would pay enough to pay for the poor inmates.
In 1806 Sir George Paul wrote to the government about the situation faced by ‘criminal and pauper lunatics’. He wrote:
“(In every parish there is found) some unfortunate creature of this description, who is chained in a cellar or garret of a workhouse, fastened to the leg of a table, tied to a post in an outhouse, or perhaps shut up in uninhabited ruin; or left to ramble half naked and half starved through the streets and highways, teased by the vulgar, ignorant and unfeeling.”
Thanks to his efforts, a Parliamentary Select Committee was set up which recommended that the state should pay for the care and treatment of the mentally ill. This led to a new law – the County Asylum Act – which was passed by Parliament in 1808.
Under this Act, the first two County Asylums built were in Bedford and Nottingham in 1812. Soon afterwards an asylum was built in Gloucester under Sir George Paul’s direction. It was built in beautiful countryside not far from the city, to house 24 rich patients and 86 poorer ones. Problems with architects and building meant it wasn’t finished until 1823.