The First Garden City? Environment and utopianism in an Edwardian institution for the insane poor

Gillian Allmond

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At Kingseat Asylum near Aberdeen, in 1901-4, asylum authorities constructed an asylum which appears to resemble Ebenezer Howard’s schematic diagram of a garden city ‘ward’. This paper asks whether Howard’s garden city could plausibly have been a model for the Kingseat Asylum layout. The historiographical orthodoxy, which claims that late nineteenth century asylums were little more than ‘warehouses’ to sequester the unwanted, is problematized and the existence is postulated of a distinct Scottish asylum culture which was alarmed by the tendency to asylum growth, overcrowding and disease in England and elsewhere. Garden city reformers and asylum builders faced similar problems in terms of overcrowding and disease, and were both concerned about the ‘aggregation’ of the poor and their consequent loss of individuality. Scottish asylum builders, in particular, rejected the increasingly large monolithic style of asylum, in favour of dispersed ‘village’ style settlements. Aberdeen asylum authorities may have sought to access the symbolic resonance of this layout and its utopian qualities as a ‘marriage’ of town and country, health and industry, variety and uniformity. The garden city asylum also points to a spectrum of opinion relating to the therapeutic role of environment in relation to mental illness and suggests that ‘hard hereditarian’ approaches were less influential, at least in Scotland, than is sometimes claimed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-112
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Historical Geography
Issue numberJan
Early online date31 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017


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