Link back to main ROSSBRET websiteYorkshire Asylums


West Riding Asylums
Meanwood Park Colony

Link back to main ROSSBRET websiteYorkshire Asylums


West Riding Asylums
Meanwood Park Colony

Asylums in Yorkshire

White's 1853 Directory
Commissioners Reports
Parliamentary Papers Vol IV


The West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum, on East Moor, is an extensive establishment, which was opened in 1818, & enlarged in 1830, 1837, & 1846-47. 

It is under the control of the West Riding Magistrates; & the land, buildings, & furniture cost about 100,000. C C Corsellis, M.D., is the resident physician & director & has often under his care about 450 lunatics.

The Dispensary, in Northgate, was founded in 1824; & the House of Recovery, on Westgate Common, in 1826. 
Submitted by Betty Longbottom 

Twenty Second Report of the Commissioners in Lunacy to the Lord Chancellor
From PP 1867/68 Vol XXXI pp 1-301
Submitted by Alan Longbottom
P 006 Yorkshire East Riding
The purchase of a site near Beverley for the erection of the proposed new Asylum for the East Riding has been sanctioned by the Secretary of State. Upon the site now chosen a well 340 ft deep has been sunk. Additional land is to be purchased bringing the size of the site from 63 acres to 96 acres. Plans for the building are in the course of preparation; the number to be at first accommodated being 250.

p 006 Yorkshire West Riding
Plans are still under consideration for the erection of the new asylum for the West Riding, which it is proposed to call the South Yorkshire, upon the site obtained at Wadsley Park near Sheffield, as described in our last Report. The numbers to be accommodated, as at present intended, are 310 males and 344 females.

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Parliamentary Papers 1814/15 Vol IV

11th July 1815 Madhouses in England Report No 296
Minutes of Evidence pp 809-
First Report of Minutes pp 001-130

Note :- This is a report on the York Lunatic Asylum, not to be confused with The Retreat which was run by the Quakers.

Godfrey Higgins esq Magistrate W Riding pp 001 811 Ist of May 1815 Rt Hon George Rose in the Chair.

Where do you live ?
At Skellow Grange near Doncaster in Yorkshire

You are a Governor of the York Asylum and a Magistrate of the West Riding of Yorkshire ?
I am.

Have you any knowledge of the state and condition of the York Lunatic Asylum, and the method of treatment of the patients in that Asylum ?
I have.

Have the goodness to state to the Committee, how you became possessed of that information ?
In the year 1813 application was made to me to grant a warrant against a man who had assaulted a poor woman; upon enquiry I found the man to be insane, and ordered him to be sent to the Asylum at York: Sometime afterwards he returned, and I was informed he had been extremely ill-used; (the name of the man was William Vickers;) in consequence of this I published several letters and other documents, upon which various meeting of the Governors were held from time to time for the course of 12 months, until the 27th of August last; upon which day all the servants and officers of the house were dismissed, or their places deemed vacant, except one. Not being perfectly satisfied with what was done, I thought it incumbent upon me to publish a letter to Lord Fitzwilliam, as Lord Lieutenant of that Riding, in which to the best of my knowledge I stated every thing that I knew relating to the Institution and to the abuses which had taken place in that house. The Appendix contains a Report of the Committee appointed to
investigate the abuses, and the New Rules and Regulations.

In what condition did you find the Asylum when you visited it in the Spring Assize week of 1814 ?
Having suspicions in my mind that there were some parts of the Asylum which had not been seen, I went early in the morning determined to examine every place; after ordering a great number of doors to be opened, I came to one which was in a retired situation in the kitchen apartments, and which was almost hid by
the opening of a door in the passage; I ordered this door to be opened; the keepers hesitated, and said the apartment belonged to the women, and they had not the key; I ordered them to get the key, but it was said it was mislaid, and could not be found at the moment; upon this I grew angry, and told them, I insisted upon its being found, and that if they would not find it, I could find a
key at the kitchen fire-side, namely, the poker; upon that the key was immediately brought. When the door was opened, I went into the passage and found four cells, I think, of about eight feet square, in a very horrid and filthy situation, the straw appeared to be almost saturated with urine and excrement; there was some bedding laid upon the straw in one cell, in the others
only loose straw; a man (a keeper) was in the passage doing something, but what I do not know; the walls were daubed with excrement; the air holes, of which there was one in each cell, were partly filled with it; in one cell there were two pewter chamber pots loose. I asked the keeper if these cells were inhabited by the patients ? he told me they were at night. I then desired him to take me up stairs and shew me the place of the women who came out of those cells that morning. I then went up stairs, and he shewed me into a room which I caused
him to measure, and the size of which he told me was 12 feet by 7 feet and 10 inches, and in there were 13 women, who he told me had all come out of those cells that morning.

Were they pauper women ?
I do not know; I was afraid that afterwards he should deny that, and therefore I went in and said to him "Now Sir, clap your hand upon the head of this woman" and I did so too; and I said "Is this one of the very women that were in those cells last night" and he said she was; I became very sick, and could not remain longer in the room, I vomited. In the course of an hour and a half after this, I procured Col Cooke of Owston and John Cooke esq of Camps Mount, to examine those cells; they had come to attend a special meeting which I had caused to be called that day at 12 o'clock; whilst I was standing
at the door of the cells waiting for the key, a young woman ran past me, amongst the men servants, decently dressed; I asked who she was, and was told by Atkinson, that she was a female patient of respectable connections. At the special meeting of the Governors which I had caused to be called, I told them what I had seen, and asked Atkinson, the apothecary, in their presence, if what I had said was not correctly true; and I told him, if he intended to deny any part of it, he must do it then, he bowed his assent, and acknowledged what I said was true. I then desired the Governors to come with me to see those cells; and then I discovered, for the first time that the cells were unknown to the Governors; several of the Committee, which consisted of fifteen, told me they had never seen them, that they had gone
round the house with His Grace the Archbishop of York, that they had understood that they were to see the whole house, and these cells had not been shewn to them.
We went through the cells, and at that time they had been cleaned as much as they could be in so short a space of time. I turned up the straw in one of them with my umbrella, and pointed out to the gentlemen, the chain and handcuff which were then concealed
beneath the straw, and which I then perceived had been fixed onto a board newly put down in the floor. I afterwards enquired of one of the Committee of five, who had been appointed to afford any temporary accommodations which they could find for a moderate sum of money to the patients, if those cells had been shewn to that committee, and I was told they had not.
Before I saw these cells, I had been repeatedly told by Atkinson the apothecary, and the keepers, that I had seen the whole house that was occupied by patients; I afterwards was told by a professional man, Mr Pritchett, That he had heard Mr Watson the architect, ask one of the keepers what those places were; Mr Watson was at that time looking out of the staircase window, and
he heard the keeper answer Mr Watson that they were cellars and other little offices. The day after my examination of these cells, I went again early in the morning to examine them, after I knew that the straw could have been used only one night; and I can
positively say, from this examination that the straw which I first found there must have been in use a very considerable time. Early in the investigation which took place into this Institution, several gentlemen came forward to state, that they had examined the house on purpose to form a judgement of it, but though several of
them were present when I stated the case of these cells, they did not state that they had seen them. When Colonel Cooke of Owston, was n one of the cells, he tried to make marks or letters in the excrement remaining upon the floor after it had been cleaned and fresh straw put into it, which he did without any difficulty, and which he will be ready to state to the Committee if required. The day after I saw these cells, I went up to the apartments of the upper class of female patients, with one of those men keepers as I should suppose to be about thirty years of age, one of those who were dismissed in August; and I asked him, when at the door
of the ward, if his key would not open those doors; I did not give him time to answer, but I seized the key from his hand, and with it opened the outer door of the ward, and then went and opened the bed-room doors of the upper class of female patients, and locked them again; I then gave him his key again. Mr Samuel Tuke, a Quaker, of York was standing by and saw me.

Source: Asylums in Yorkshire
From Alan Longbottom at Pudsey.

Parliamentary Papers 1814/15 Vol IV

11th July 1815 Madhouses in England Report No 296
Continuation of Report on York Lunatic Asylum.

Note this was not the Retreat the Quaker Asylum.

Do you know of any unfit practices with respect to the female patients ?
Yes : I have been informed that they have been got with child; and I have now in my hand a copy of a warrant granted by Frederick L'Oste of the County of Lincoln, to apprehend James Backhouse the head keeper, who was charged with having got with child Elizabeth
West, a female pauper, sent to this Asylum by the Overseers of the Township of Louth; the warrant appears to have been backed on the 17th of June 1797 by R Metcalfe. I am informed that he was taken by the authority of the Warrant to Louth, where Elizabeth
West fathered the child upon him. Elizabeth West was admitted into the Asylum August the 17th 1796, was removed May the 8th 1797, and was delivered of a male child on August the 19th 1797; the keeper Backhouse, paid 30 to the Overseers of the Poor of the Parish of Louth for the maintenance of the bastard; he paid it by three instalments; it appears in the town books, that the overseers of the poor have made themselves debtors in these sums to the township. I am informed that Elizabeth West was a young woman of exceedingly good character before she went to the Asylum; and she is now a woman of exceedingly good character, and has been living some years in a respectable family. Sometime after this the head keeper retired from this house, upon which occasion a piece of plate was voted to him as a mark of approbation of his conduct during a service of 26 years; I have not the most distant suspicion, that any one of the Governors who voted for this piece of plate, had any knowledge whatever of the transaction between Backhouse and West, except the physician, Hunter.

In what line of life is Backhouse at present ?
He now keeps a private Madhouse in York.

Do you know of any case more recent, of the same nature ?
Yes : the case of Dorothy Exilby of Kirby Malzeard; she was admitted February 8th 1801, she was discharged cured February 20th 1802, delivered of Male child the 21st September 1802, the father of this child was said to have been one of the patients. I have heard also, and believe from the respectable authority from which I received it, that a woman in a superior situation in life who was there as an insane patient, was got with child
by some person within the house..

Another case which I laid before the Governors, was that of the Rev Mr Shorey; he was a clergyman reduced to indigence I believe in consequence of his mental complaint; he had at times, and for considerable periods intervals of reason; in those intervals he was perfectly capable of understanding every thing that was done to him, repeatedly in the presence of his wife, he was exposed to personal indignity; and on one occasion he was inhumanly kicked down stairs by the keepers and told, in the presence of his wife, that he was looked upon no better than a dog; his person
swarmed with vermin. And to complete this poor man's misery, the keepers insulted his wife with indecent ribaldry, in order to deter her from visiting him in his unfortunate situation, his wife occasionally visited him to bring him such little comforts as she could procure by the labour of her hands, for she worked to support
him during the time that he was in the Asylum. He had a gold watch, which was lost there, and which his wife could never recover.

How long ago was this case ?
I should think not more than three years ago.

Do you know any thing of the cases of two persons of the name of Thirkell ?

Were they relations ?

Have the goodness to state to the Committee what you know about them ?
One of them, a labouring man, was sent to the Asylum on the recommendation of Miss Place of York; after some time he disappeared and has never been heard of from that time to this.

In what way was his disappearance entered in the books ?
He was entered as "removed". When Miss Place called to enquire after his state of health, as she told me, she asked Atkinson the apothecary, how he did, and Atkinson said he was gone away well. I have asked the father of this young man, if he knew whether hand
bills were published, or any means taken to discover him; he said, he never heard of any, and he never could get a sight of a hand-bill

Did Atkinson or any one belonging to the Asylum, say that hand-bills were issued offering a reward for his discovery ?
Yes: the Steward said so; and on the day when I discovered the concealed cells, I asked Mr Surr, the Steward, to produce to me the printer's bill for that quarter of the year in which the hand-bill must have been entered, if any had been printed by the printer of the Asylum, and he told me that after a long search,
that he had lost the bill.

How long ago was this ?
About two years ago ; the other Thirkell was a relation of the former and came from Sherborn in Yorkshire and was killed some time after he was in the Asylum by another patient; his death was entered in the book of the Institution where accounts are kept of what becomes of patients under the word "died"

There are references to an increase in the death rate per annum after a Dr Hunter had died.
Total admitted 1771 to 1811 2,346
Admitted 1811-1812 99

Died 210

Dr Hunter was physician for 32 years and there was an average death rate of 8 per annum
Since his death the average has risen to 25 per year.

Do you know the mortality that took place in the Institution called The Retreat at York, by which the Committee can be made acquainted with the ratio of deaths to the number of patients ?
I believe that deaths at the Asylum in the 1st 36 years were 365 the average number of patients in the Asylum about 98. In the Retreat in 16 years they were 26 the average number of patients in the Retreat 46.

Dr Best the Physician has resigned has he not ?
He has.

Have you any reason to believe that the food of the patients was bad ?
Yes : Mary Beckwith, who was examined in the case of Martha Kidd, one of the cases of abuse laid before the Governors, told me that she was faint for want of something to eat, when attending as a witness, and she was ordered some bread and cheese, that the bread was of the vilest and worst description she ever saw in
her life.

What has become of Mr Atkinson since he was discharged from the Institution ?
He has set up a private Madhouse of his own in York.

In the PRO Catalogue under Class C211 Chancery Petty Bag Office Commissions and Inquisitions of Lunacy There are records of 3,964 cases 133 pages dating from 1853 to 1932

These show the dates and Ref Number the name of the Person and the Asylum. It is then possible to obtain via a London researcher a copy of the papers for the Inquisition.

Among the Yorkshire Asylums mentioned near York are

Acomb House Asylum York c 1855-58
Claxton Grange Asylum Bossall c 1853-61
Dunnington House Asylum c 1856-76
Grove House Asylum Acomb c 1867-87
Lawrence House Asylum York c 1870-93
Lime Tree House Asylum Acomb c 1877
N & E Riding Asylum at Clifton c 1859-78
The Retreat York (Quakers) c 1855-80
York Lunatic Asylum Bootham c 1855-97

Other Information Re Asylums in the York Area taken from Census Statistical Information . These show the numbers of Total occupants which includes staff and the totals for inmates both divided into male and female.

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Page 1 Census Statistics Re Prisons Etc

AREA York RD61 515.20 PARISH York
LOCATION York Clifton North Riding Lunatic Asylum TYPE
TT61 - 540 TM61 - 283 TF61 - 257 IT61 - 486 IM61 - 258
IF61 - 228
TT71 - 621 TM71 - 310 TF71 - 311 IT71 - 560 IM71 - 282
IF71 - 278

AREA York RD61 515.20 PARISH St Giles
LOCATION York Lunatic Hospital TYPE
TT61 - 176 TM61 - 94 TF61 - 82 IT61 -133 IM61 -76
IF61 -57
TT71 - 224 TM71 - 110 TF71 - 114 IT71 - 175 IM71 - 94
IF71 - 81

AREA York RD61 515.40 PARISH Gate Fulford
LOCATION York Friends Retreat Lunatic Hospital TYPE
TT61 -173 TM61 - 59 TF61 -114 IT61 -120 IM61- 46
IF61 -74
TT71 -195 TM71 - 69 TF71 - 126 IT71 - 138 IM71 - 51
IF71 - 87
For 1901
TT91 - 265 TM91 - 87 TF91 - 178 IT91 - 153 IM91 - 62
IF91 - 91

AREA York RD61 515.40 PARISH Osbaldwick
LOCATION Terrace House Private Lunatic Asylum (Not in 1871/81) TYPE
TT61 -13 TM61 -1 TF61 -12 IT61 - 8 IM61 - 0
IF61 - 8

AREA York RD61 515.60 PARISH Dunnington
LOCATION Dunnington House Retreat Lunatic Asylum (Not in 1881) TYPE
TT61 - 46 TM61- 26 TF61- 20 IT61- 34 IM61- 21
IF61 -13
TT71 - 44 TM71- 25 TF71- 19 IT71- 37 IM71- 22
IF71 - 15

AREA York RD61 515.70 PARISH Claxton
LOCATION Claxton Grange Retreat Lunatic Asylum (Not in 1871/81) TYPE
TT61 - 23 TM61 - 11 TF61 - 12 IT61 - 9 IM61 - 5
IF61 - 4

It would therefore appear that it was easy to set up a Private Asylum in the 19th Century and note from the previous posts that some of those dismissed from the Lunatic Asylum at York immediately set up their own establishments.

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Page last updated 12 March, 2008 by Rossbret