THIS time of year we always feel a frisson of excitement when the new edition of the Dorset Year Book lands on the desk here at Looking Back.

The new edition of the Dorset Year Book is out now and for us here at Looking Back it's a real treat to delve into.

Editor Selwyn Williams has gathered a fascinating cornucopia of interesting articles about Dorset and Dorset people in this Society of Dorset Men-produced book.

This year's edition brings us a real variety of stories - tales of some special events in the past year such as Dippy visiting Dorchester; a look at the Dorset Trumps; a tribute to the Viscount Lord Trenchard and a glimpse at Dorset's Vikings past.

This week we want to highlight Looking Back regular Sue Hogben's contribution - New Year's Eve at the County Lunatic Asylum at Charlton Down, near Dorchester.

Sue has shared an 1866 article which appeared in the Sherborne Journal about the institution.

A reporter was invited to spend New Year's Eve at the the County Lunatic Asylum, which had only opened three years previously in 1863.

The reporter was invited to take part in the evening's festivities along with the staff and inmates.

Firstly a brass band entered the hall, with a couple of the band's members inmates of the asylum. - one an accomplished musician who played the cornopean - what latterly became known as the cornet. The leader of the band was physically carried in on another patient's back; because of paralysis of his feet he was unable to walk.

Sue fills us in: "He was a sailor, who, whilst on board his ship in the West Indies, fell from the rigging and seriously injured his back. Arriving back in Weymouth some time later, he settle there, set up a school and 'being a man of good abilities, did very well until he began to feel the effects of his accident, and it became necessary to send him where, kindly and humanely cared for, he might pass his days in peace."

Sue writes that the reporter discovered "his chief delusion, I understood, was that he was chief heir to some immense estates; beyond that he was harmless."

The report says the male patients looked 'clean, happy and contented' and then it was the turn of the women to enter the hall.

Sue writes: "A couple of rather grand ladies make their particularly stately entrances, their full skirts sweeping the floor as they stroll imperiously across the hall to take their seats. One believed herself to be a grand Duchess so I'm told, the other no less a person than Her Majesty, the ex-Queen of Spain."

The reporter wrote that he witnessed not 'the slightest manifestation of violence' and the patients behaved impeccably.

He was introduced to man who was given a pair of white kid gloves full of holes, which gave the man 'the greatest satisfaction' and he then proceeded to parade up and down the room as though in full evening attire. The newspaper man was also introduced to a woman from Cerne Abbas who said she was the Duchess of Sherborne and owned various estates around the country'.

Sue also mentions a report from earlier in 1866 which revealed details about the patients.

Three inmates were said to suffer from religious monomania and one from over-study. There were said to be 'no less than 12 lunatics, 156 idiots and 13 imbeciles...13 idiots and nine lunatics in the Weymouth Union.

Of the 397 patients at the start of that year, 41 belonged to the Weymouth Union. During 1866 the asylum employed 14 attendants, 10 nurses, three laundry maids and three kitchen maids. No-one was on the wards to supervise patients overnight.

*The Dorset Year Book 2019 costs £8 and can be bought from Books Afloat in Weymouth; Waterstones in Dorchester; The Tourist Information Centre at Dorchester Library and by post from Andy Hutchings by calling 01305 784332 at a cost of £10, which includes postage.