Many people lived in asylums back then. These were like crowded hospitals. Some of the people had a learning disability. Some of them had mental health problems. They were stuck in asylums. Most people could not leave the asylums.This picture shows where people slept.
It was very noisy to live here. There was no privacy and nowhere to keep your stuff safe.
Earlswood asylum was a large building with lots of windows. This picture was taken in the early 1900s.
This is Earlswood Asylum. It was in Redhill, in Surrey.


In 1870, the Education Act was passed. This act sent children aged 5-12 to school.

In 1886, the ‘Idiots’ Act was passed. This act said there was a difference between learning disabilities and mental health problems. The Act wanted better care and education for disabled people.

In 1899, the Elementary Education (epileptic and defective children) Act was passed. This Act set up new schools for disabled children. If children lived near these schools, they had to attend.


Grace wanted disabled people to have more freedom. Lots of people did not agree back then. These people believed in eugenics. Eugenics is the idea that only people with good qualities are allowed to have children. For example, if two parents are smart their children might be smart.

The problem with eugenics is it says some people are better than others. This means other people have their rights taken away. Sadly, this happened to disabled people.


A group was set up. The group was called the national association of welfare for the promoting of welfare for the feeble-minded. This is a long name. We will call them the Victorian welfare group.

Anne Kirby and Ellen Pinsent were members of the Victorian welfare group. They went to some of the Guardianship’s first meetings. This group did not agree with Grace. They wanted disabled people to live away from the rest of society.

Ellen Pinsent, National Association for Promoting the Welfare of the Feeble-Minded

Westminster Gazette – Friday 10 June 1898


These ideas were popular. Important people like Winston Churchill agreed with them.

Churchill wanted to stop people with learning disabilities having children. He said it was “a very terrible danger to the race“.

Grace and her friends did not agree. They helped many disabled people to live in the community.


In 1913, The Mental Deficiency Act was passed. This act set up the Board of Control. The Board of Control decided what happened to people with learning disabilities and mental health problems. Groups who helped these people had to register with the Board of Control. This meant Grace had to set up a group.

They sent many people with learning disabilities away from their homes. Some of them went to asylums. Some of them went to colonies. A colony was like a village you could not leave. They could not leave unless the Board of Control said they could. Men and women were separated. This was to stop them having babies. Some colonies were still open in the 1990s.

Other people stayed in the community. They were observed closely. Grace’s charity filled in lots of forms. Here is a form they had to fill in.


We do not use the words they used now. This is because they are hurtful.

The first type was idiot. Now we say severe learning disability.

The second type was imbecile. Now we say moderate learning disability.

The third type was feeble-minded. Now we say mild learning disability.

The fourth type was moral imbecile. This was people who had done crimes. It also meant people who had sex but weren’t married. This shows the act viewed disabled people negatively. This is because they thought people who had done crimes were disabled.


Some of the men who helped the Guardianship Society went to fight in the war. This made it hard to find carers for people to live with.

Some men with learning disabilities from the Guardianship Society went to fight in the war. We do not know if they survived.

Copied from the Guardianship’s 1915 Annual Report

Grace’s charity looked after children during the war. Some parents were fighting in the war. This meant they could not look after their children. Grace’s charity found homes for the children.

Grace’s charity was given money by the government and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Association. The money helped Grace find homes for children.

Also copied from the Guardianship’s Annual Report 1915

Children from the Guardianship helped make supplies for the troops. Here is a ‘War certificate’ from 1917.

The First World War ended on 11th November 1918.

The front page of the Yorkshire Telegraph & Star (Sheffield) from Monday 11th November 1918.


In 1927, the Mental Deficiency (Amendment) Act was passed. It included people who became disabled through an injury or illness. It meant more disabled people had to do what the Board of Control said.

The Wood Report came out in 1929. It said there were too many people with learning disabilities.

In 1929, a new Mental Deficiency Act was passed. This changed things for the Guardianship. They had to report to the local council now. This changed the way the Guardianship Society was funded. They were afraid their grant would be stopped.


The Second World War starts on 1st September 1939. It ends on 2nd September 1945. This affects the Guardianship Society.

When the war started people were afraid of bombs. The Government helped find homes for children out of the cities. This kept children safe from the bombs.

The Guardianship Society was asked to find homes for children with disabilities or other needs. In 1939, they placed 102 children with foster parents. Their names were kept in books like this.

The war had a big impact on the Guardianship. People were worried about being bombed. The Occupation Centres were closed. People had classes at home instead.

Some of the girls knitted blankets and other supplies. They sent these to hospitals and the armed forces. They were given a certificate by the Red Cross to say thank you.

Brighton & Hove Herald, 15th June 1940

Victory in Europe Day was 8th May 1945. The Second World War ended on 2nd September 1945 when Japan surrendered.

THE VE DAY, 8 MAY 1945 (H 41849) Churchill waves to crowds in Whitehall on the day he broadcast to the nation that the war with Germany had been won, 8 May 1945. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205206153

The Brighton Day Centre opened after the war. It reopened in 61 Dyke Road, Brighton next to the Dials Congregation Church. The church isn’t there today.
They also opened new centres in Hastings and Tunbridge Wells.

Copyright – B&H City Council


The Disabled Persons’ Employment Act was passed. It said people should employ disabled people. This meant 3% of people working in big companies should be disabled.

The government offered more training to help people find jobs. Sadly the new law did not help. This is because it was not enforced.

The Education Act was passed. It said children should have free education until they were 15. This law did not include children with learning disabilities.

Some people with learning disabilities were told they could not go to school. This was because some people believed they could not learn.

Other children with disabilities went to special schools. This meant they went to different schools away from other children.


In 1946, Judy Fryd started the National Association of Parents of Backwards Children. She was the parent of a disabled child. Today, this is called MENCAP.

MENCAP started as local groups of parents and family members. They wanted better services for their children.

In 1955, they were renamed ”The National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children”. In 1969, they were renamed MENCAP.

To read more about MENCAP’s work, click here.

In 1950, the UK National Council for Civil Liberties wanted better treatment of disabled people. They were called the NCCL for short.

Their campaign was called 50,000 Outside The Law. They said there were 50,000 people in large asylums. They said it was worse than prison. This is because people did not know if they would ever get out.

This began a movement to change the ‘Mental Deficiency’ Acts passed in 1913 and 1927.

They are called Liberty today.

To read more about Liberty’s work, click here.


In 1951 Alan and Anne Clarke did some research. It was called ‘Mental Deficiency: The Changing Outlook’. The research showed that people with learning disabilities can learn.

In 1952 Tizard and O’Connor did some research. It said asylums should train people for the outside world. They said people with learning disabilities should not be locked away for life.

From 1954 to 1957, The Percy Commission did some research. They wanted to improve disabled people’s support. MENCAP helped them do this.


The Mental Health Act was passed in 1959. For the first time the law said that a mental illness is different from a learning disability.

The Mental Health Act said people should leave big asylums and be cared for in the community.

It took a long time to close the asylums and big institutions. Some only closed in the early 2000s.

Here are photos of Caterham Asylum in Surrey, also known as St Lawrence’s Hospital. These were taken in the early 1900s & the early 2000s.

There are people still alive who spent most of their lives in asylums like this. Tommy spent some of his early life at St Lawrence’s. You can watch his story here.


In 1970, the Education Act was passed. It said all children have the right to go to school. This included children with learning disabilities. This meant the Guardianship had to become a school if it wanted to support children. The Guardianship decided they did not want to do this.

Extract from a letter to the Guardianship from the Department of Education and Science, 17th March 1971.

In 1981, a new Education Act was passed. It said children should be educated in mainstream schools as much as possible. This meant more disabled children went to mainstream schools.


In 1971, the government wrote a paper. It was called ‘Better Services for the Mentally Handicapped’. They wrote this paper because of the abuse at Ely Hospital near Cardiff. They wanted care in the community for most people with learning disabilities. They said local councils should help adults with learning disabilities instead of the NHS. They wanted lots of training centres.

In 1972, a report came out. It was called ‘The Principle of Normalisation in Human Services’. The report wanted people with learning disabilities to have paid jobs. They wanted disabled people to be more included. They wanted disabled people to have friends who are not disabled.

In 1989, a paper came out. It was called Caring For People. It helped move people from hospitals into community care.


This was the beginning of the self advocacy movement in this country. This movement helped people learn to speak up for their rights. To learn about the work they do today, click here.


Star Cross was the first large asylum to close.

Many people lived in asylums back then. These were like crowded hospitals. Some of the people had a learning disability. Some of them had mental health problems. They were stuck in hospital. Most people could not leave the asylums.

It was good that Star Cross closed. This is because it meant more people with learning disabilities left the hospital.


In 1995, the Disability Discrimination Act was passed. It said disabled people should be treated equally. This is the first time the law said this.

It introduced Direct Payments. This meant disabled people could manage their care money. Many people used Direct Payments to employ personal assistants. This was good. This is because it meant disabled people had more choice over their care.

This act was passed because many disabled people protested. They wanted more rights. You can read about it here.

In 2001, the SENDA act was passed. It gave disabled people rights in education. This means disabled people can not be left out in education. People can not treat them negatively because of their disability.

In 2005, the Mental Capacity Act was passed. It said people with learning disabilities have the right to make their own decisions if they are able to.

In 2007, the Putting People First Act is passed. It said anyone can choose to have their own budget and buy their own services.


In 2001, a paper was written. It was called Valuing People. It was the first ever Government document written with people with learning disabilities. It was produced in an Easy Read format. It wanted people with learning disabilities to have more choice and control. It also wanted better housing, better care and paid work.

In 2002, the government set up a new group. It was called the National Care Standards Commission. They were set up to make sure that people receive good quality care. Later on it became the Care Quality Commission.
Grace Eyre’s Shared Lives scheme is inspected regularly.

You can read more about CQC here.

In 2007, the United Nations decided on a convention. This was about protecting the rights and dignity of disabled people. Lots of countries signed it. The UK signed it in 2009. This means the UK Government must make sure people have these rights.

You can read more about it here.

In 2008, the government published a report. It was called Healthcare for All. This said the NHS needed to improve their care for people with learning disabilities. The goverment set up health checks for people with learning disabilities. The health checks were every year.

In 2001, a paper was written. It was called Valuing People Now. Valuing People Now repeated the ideas in Valuing People. It said things needed to improve soon. This shows that it is still hard for people with learning disabilities sometimes. People have to keep pushing for change.


In 2008, there was a financial crisis. This led to the government cutting lots of funding. This affected lots of councils and charities. This included Grace Eyre.

Disabled people were given less money. In 2013, a report came out. It found that disabled people lost 9 times more money than other people. This was because of cuts the government made.


The new Equality Act aimed to make sure that everyone is treated equally in society. It brung lots of laws together into one act. This made it easier for people to understand. The act protects disabled people from unfair treatment at work.

The Equality Act has better disability equality than the older acts. It said some disabled people need more support to have an equal chance. Giving disabled people more support means they have better access to services.


The BBC’s Panorama programme showed it on television. This meant lots of people heard about it. The government said places like this must close.

People from Grace Eyre protested about this. They said no to abuse. You can read about it here.


The report was called Death By Indifference. It came out in 2012. You can read it here.