The mythology of 19th-century asylums portrays them as dark and inhuman gothic institutions. Historical research is beginning to shed new light onto this world, however, forcing us to re-examine long-held beliefs. Case note analyses have consistently shown high levels of psychiatric morbidity in the patients admitted to these institutions (Turner, 1992; Beveridge, 1995; Doody et al, 1996). Patients' letters have been examined and confirm high levels of florid psychopathology (Beveridge, 1997), they also reveal some aspects of the rich social and cultural life available to patients at the Royal Edinburgh Asylum. Such studies add to our understanding of the culture of mental hospitals described by Jones (1991).