Twelfth Night at Hanwell Asylum

L0000640 The twelth night entertainment
The Twelfth Night entertainment at the Hanwell Lunatic Asylum. Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images from the Illustrated London News, 15 Jan 1848 reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Twelfth Night for many people is now just the date in the calendar when we take the Christmas decorations down. Marking the end of the twelve days of Christmas and the coming of Epiphany, it was part of the festivities and often celebrated with a feast. The illustration above shows a dance and a feast that took place in celebration of Twelfth Night on January 6th 1848 at Hanwell Asylum (the county pauper lunatic asylum for Middlesex, at Hanwell, to the west of London). The entertainment was just for the male patients, the women had been given a similar festivity on New Year’s Eve.

The Twelfth Night party was held in the gallery of ward 9, and about 250 patients, staff and guests were assembled. The Gallery was decorated with evergreens, devices and mottoes, with coloured lamps hanging from the ceiling, while the gas-burners that usually lit the gallery were altered to ‘appear like ornamental fan-lights’. The entertainment began with coffee and cake at about 4.30pm, after which there was music making by some and games played by others – cards, draughts, dominoes and bagatelle. Supper was served at 8pm and comprised roast beef and vegetables, ‘with an allowance of beer and tobacco’. [1]

In the foreground of the illustration were the dancers, and the right hand figure was a portrait of William Rayner, a former actor best known for his role as Harlequin which he played at Covent Garden opposite his wife’s Columbine. After his wife died he ‘took to fretting’ and was committed to the asylum.  By 1848 he had been a patient at Hanwell for about seventeen years. He was always ready to cut a caper for the amusement of his fellow patients: a ‘fine old jovial-looking man, dressed in a mixed costume, crowned with a motley cap, bedizened with various coloured ribands’.  [2]

William Rayner is easily confused with his better-known contemporary Lionel Benjamin Rayner, who played at Covent Garden at the same time.

[1] Illustrated London News, 15 Jan 1848, p.27
[2] London Evening Standard, 18 May 1843, p.2

One thought on “Twelfth Night at Hanwell Asylum

  1. Pingback: La Duodécima Noche en el Manicomio Hanwell | El palacio en mis entrañas

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