Blue Plaque to St Albans mental health pioneer unveiled in city

Stacey Turner unveils a blue plaque to Dr Nathaniel Cotton alongside Professor Tim Boatswain

It's OK To Say founder Stacey Turner unveils a blue plaque to Dr Nathaniel Cotton alongside Professor Tim Boatswain, Chairman of Blue Plaques St Albans. - Credit: Blue Plaques St Albans

A blue plaque recognising a local pioneer in mental health treatment has been unveiled in St Albans.

Nathaniel Cotton was an 18th century poet and doctor who developed a form of clinical psychology at a time when many with mental illnesses were being locked up in appalling institutions like the notorious "Bedlam", London's Bethlem Royal Hospital.

Nathaniel established a sympathetic asylum, 'Collegium Insanorum', literally "a college for the insane", on the corner of what is now College Street - named after his institution - and Lower Dagnall Street, St Albans.

An intensely private person, there is little information on his personal life but we know he was married twice, first to Anne Pembroke and then after her death to Hannah Everett. He died in St Albans on August 2 1788 and is buried in St Peter's Churchyard alongside his wives.

Stacey Turner, founder of the St Albans mental health awareness charity It's OK to Say, unveiled a blue plaque on the site of Dr Cotton's college on behalf of Blue Plaques St Albans to a sizeable gathering last Friday.

She said: "Words cannot express how truly grateful and honoured I am to unveil this special plaque commemorating Dr Nathaniel Cotton. Throughout my research, I have discovered we share a love for community and those encompassed within our work, leading with kindness and diligence.

"What's beautiful about Dr Cotton's care and attention is unlike any other for in those days, when a more abrupt, inhumane and abusive treatment typically ensued for mental health inpatients. It's baffling to think this sort of treatment occurred on top of one's existing sufferings.

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"Dr Cotton was already ahead of his time offering an enlightened approach to the care of the mind and helping to pave the way forward."

"Little is known about the character of Dr Nathaniel Cotton, being a man of reticent nature, yet there is much to respect and admire, and to me, he was an educated man of strength with an intuitive understanding of human nature."

The blue plaques initiative will be unveiling more memorials to famous citizens who have lived and worked in St Albans over the months to come.