Nellie Chambers was aged eight when she was taken from her home to the Berrywood Asylum on 31 January 1896. She was diagnosed as an idiot, a disability which she had lived with since birth, and it was noted on her casefile, in a rare instance of emotion, that ‘she had sufficient intelligence to feel the parting from her mother’.1 For this young child it must have seemed inconceivable that she would never live with her family again, and that she would remain in the asylum until she died, at the age of thirty, some twenty-two years later. Three years earlier, Arthur Morecock, also aged eight, had been admitted to the Birmingham Borough Asylum described as a congenital imbecile.2 Unlike Nellie Chambers, Arthur Morecock had experience of institutional confinement and was transferred to the Birmingham Asylum from the Warwickshire County Asylum at Hatton. He did not, however, share the same fate and found himself discharged back to the Birmingham Poor Law Union Workhouse only five months after admission. Following this transfer we lose sight of Arthur Morecock, but it is difficult to imagine that he had a future where he was not in near contact with state institutions and public assistance. These stories can be seen as particularly emotive, and they invoke our sympathies as a modern observer for a variety of reasons: we see a young girl removed from her family, a boy kept and moved between institutions, an uncertain future, and a death in isolation. However, beyond these emotional connections Chambers and Morecock serve as emblematic examples of the different approaches taken to children by institutions in the nineteenth century.