Monday 10 October 2016

Patient's "Drone" Survey of West Riding Lunatic Asylum

The visitor to the Mental Health Museum at Fieldhead, Wakefield will see among the many exhibits a mounted printed copy of an impressive drawing of the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum as it appeared in late 1861.
Mounted print at Mental Health Museum, Wakefield
The drawing is a bird’s eye view showing what the Asylum would have looked like from a point several hundred feet above the ground. The detail it shows is extraordinary and one can almost imagine walking around the buildings and grounds. Today we would perhaps expect that scene to have been captured using a camera mounted on a remotely controlled flying drone!

Asylum Superintendent John Davies Cleaton was responsible for “commissioning” the original drawing. In his annual report published early in 1862 Cleaton explained that because there had been so many new buildings added to the Asylum in recent years he felt it would be appropriate to provide the Committee of Visitors and the magistracy of the West Riding, his employers, with an up to date view of the Asylum and its grounds. He went on to explain what he had organised.

 A very faithful and clear isometrical drawing of the whole of the buildings, etc, upon a scale of 40 feet to the inch has been kindly made by one of the patients (Mr. W.) an architect, and having been examined as to its accuracy by Mr Bernard Hartley, the Riding Surveyor, it has been lithographed, and a copy is bound in with this report.
West Riding Lunatic Asylum from lithographic stone, Mental Health Museum
Just a few months earlier, in November, 1861, Mr W, 43 year old James WALKER from Carr Road, Leeds had been admitted to the Asylum. He had already spent three months as a private patient in Grove House, Acomb near York but presumably the money for his private care had run out leading to his removal to Wakefield. The Asylum physician or perhaps Superintendent Cleaton himself had written in James’ case notes later that month:

A case of mania, characterised by his excited conversation and manner though his conversation is generally coherent but of an exalted character. He is an intelligent man and can draw out plans neatly. He has a delusion “that the blood from his head and toes is being gradually concentrated in his lungs and in consequence his lungs are diseased”.

It is stated that excessive work has been the cause of his attack. He is now engaged in drawing out plans etc and conducts himself with propriety.

Not the usual pauper patient, James WALKER was a talented draughtsman and within just weeks of his admission Cleaton had persuaded him to put his skills to good use. Over his two year stay at the Asylum James' mental health continued to improve to the point where it was felt he should be allowed out on trial. As he had “continued well” during the trial period he was finally discharged, recovered, in September, 1863.

Lithographic stone, Mental Health Museum
Thanks to the curator of the Mental Health Museum, Cara Sutherland, I was given the opportunity to go behind the scenes to see the actual lithographic stone used to make the print of James WALKER’s drawing. Because of its size and weight it is housed on its own substantial trolley and protected by a perspex cover. Through the use of a digital photograph of the stone which has been enhanced by computer we are now able to fly past the scene captured in James WALKER’s drawing.

Original Asylum building
Scale model of original Asylum building, Mental Health Museum
The original Asylum building from 1818 can be readily identified by the two octagonal cupola flanking a central tower. They are seen very clearly in a scale model held by the Mental Health Museum. The view drawn by James WALKER was from the rear of that structure.

Accommodation for the Asylum Director and his family, seen to the rear between  the two cupola, was added to the main building in 1837.

Weather vane and group of women
The level of detail in James' drawing is impressive. Take a look at the weather vane on the tower to the left of the scene.

James was not content with merely capturing the buildings. He brought the scene to life by adding patients and staff across the site. In the top left quadrant there is a group of female patients who appear to be going for a supervised walk.

Cricket match in progress?
In a field towards the top of the drawing appears a group of men. I wonder if they were shown playing cricket or perhaps tending gardens. Even with the detail James put into the drawing one cannot be sure. What is clear is that in drawing his view of the Asylum James also had to use his imagination as the numerous trees would certainly not have been so heavy with leaves in December and cricket, if that is what is shown, is not a winter sport.

Built onto the original building the East Wing, opened in 1831, was the first major extension providing accommodation for 70 more patients. The demand for places would continue to grow driving further expansion of the Asylum over the next 30 years. The West Wing, adjoining the original building, opened in 1841 and provided a further 60 beds. The Gate House to the top right corner of this view would have been on what is today Aberford Road.
East Wing

George PENNY, 1871. Courtesy WYAS.
In the bottom right hand quadrant of the above scene there is the new Green House. What are believed to be fruit trees are shown here trained up some outbuilding walls. These may be the same trees that would appear again ten years later as the background to a significant number of patients’ photographs taken in 1871.

Chapel of St Faith
The Chapel of St Faith, opened in 1861, appears in the bottom right hand corner of James’ drawing. Sadly, the chapel fell into disrepair on closure of the Asylum and following an arson attack it has had to be demolished. Today the site has been redeveloped for private housing.

Ivy House, 1861
Ivy House is frequently mentioned in the Asylum case notes. Located in nearby East Moor it was purchased in 1857 and used as an annexe to house 40 well behaved male patients. No other image of Ivy House has been found in any of the other Wakefield repositories.

Farm buildings, Engine House, Gas Works and various workshops
The Asylum aimed to be largely self sufficient by producing most of its own food. James has drawn the Asylum farm to include some buildings, top right hand quadrant, which were still under construction at that time. In the foreground you can see the chimney of the engine house which sits close to the gas works. The buildings to the right of the gasometer were used as workshops.

Gate House, Female Ward, Laundry, Bake House and Brew House
In the bottom left hand corner sits a gate house. Moving diagonally upwards from there we find a ward built in 1857 to house 70 of the female patients who worked next door in the Laundry, fulfilling what must have been an enormous daily task. The circular structure behind the Laundry is believed to be for water storage. Adjoining the Laundry there are two more places of work being the Bake House and Brew House. 

"New Building" and Dining Hall
The period 1846 to 1849 had seen a significant building programme with the creation of the "New Building" capable of housing 400 additional patients. By the date of this drawing it had become  dedicated to the reception of female patients. In the upper right quadrant can be seen the Dining Hall, a comparatively recent addition to the Asylum. It would also be used for dances and concerts. Throughout James' drawing you will have seen extensive open areas. These "airing courts" were secure walled gardens where the patients could take exercise. There would have been separate courts for men and women.

There is no doubt that James WALKER had a special talent for drawing plans but was he an “architect” as we understand the term today?  A conversation with the Royal Institute of British Architects confirms that in 1861 one did not need to have studied for years and passed many exams to be able to call yourself an architect so there is no register to consult. So did James earn his living as an architect? Knowing his home address from the Asylum case notes it was easy to find James in the 1861 census. To my surprise his occupation was “Proprietor of House”. Ten years later the 1871 census has James at the same address and his occupation shows “No trade – Income from houses”. Note the plural, so perhaps he was a landlord or even a property developer.

For now let’s celebrate the fact that through James' excellent drawing we have been able to fly back in time to see exactly how the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum looked 155 years ago.

Tuesday 5 July 2016

Searching Online for Early Asylum Ancestors

Ancestry offers an online database “UK, Lunacy Patient’s Admission Registers, 1846 – 1912”, available by subscription, which is based on mandatory returns made by every institution housing lunatics to the Commissioners in Lunacy from 1st January 1846. Throughout the case notes of the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum reference is made to these returns which appear to have been accomplished through the simple expedient of forwarding a handwritten copy of the reception order received by the Asylum. The records are quite simple, providing name, whether a private or pauper patient, gender, date of admission, place of asylum, whether the patient was discharged or died, a date for that event and if died, cause of death if known.

I have assessed Ancestry’s database by the simple method of searching for 40 patients who I know with absolute certainty were admitted to the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum between 1850 and 1859, all of them featuring in my book Proper People. Early Asylum Life in the Words of Those Who Were There. This gave me the advantage of knowing that they should appear in the Ancestry database. Someone doing a general search for an individual might not have that knowledge.

The results reflect my experience of using online sources on Ancestry and the other genealogical websites over many years.

The admissions of 37 of the 40 patients were correctly recorded.  

Probably through a clerical error in 1850, George FLOCKTON had been incorrectly recorded as George FLOCKINGTON and correctly transcribed as such but he took some finding.
William ROBERTS. Courtesy  WYAS. 
William ROBERTS, admitted in 1852, was in the records as Wm ROBERTS so also took a bit of finding. He was removed to the South Yorkshire Asylum in 1872 and that too was correctly recorded.

Charles WILCOX. Courtesy WYAS.

Charles WILCOX was correctly recorded on admission to the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum in 1857 but his later removal and admission to the South Yorkshire Asylum in 1890 could not be found.

Thomas FORREST. Courtesy WYAS.

There was no sign at all of Thomas FORREST, admitted in 1857, in the records. If his record is there I could not find it.

Curiously the dates for both Matthew NIXON’s admission, 1858, and death, 1861, had been transcribed as being exactly a year earlier than those shown in the record image.
Extract from UK, Lunacy Patient’s Admission Registers, 1846 – 1912. Courtesy Ancestry

George NORMINGTON admitted in 1859 cannot be found in the records.
While Stephen BENTHAM’s admission to Wakefield in 1859 is correctly recorded, what happened afterwards is not made clear in the record image as there is no mark in any of the discharge categories - recovered, relieved, not improved - or death.

Extract from UK, Lunacy Patient’s Admission Registers, 1846 – 1912. Courtesy Ancestry.

 My research and the following concise extract from his case notes tells us what happened.

Made his escape on the 9th April, 1860 and was not retaken within the time prescribed by law.

So finding a patient with no marks in “discharged” or “died” suggests that they may well have escaped.
The entry for David REYNARD correctly records his admission in February, 1858 but the transcription incorrectly records his death on 17th March that same year. He did not die, but was released as my research tells us that he had been wrongly committed.
Extract from UK, Lunacy Patient’s Admission Registers, 1846 – 1912. Courtesy Ancestry.

The comment shown in the image "removed by order of C L" does not tell the whole story but it is certainly not recording his death.

This brief study reminds us that in any online database there will be contemporary clerical errors, modern transcription errors and flaws in interpretation so always check the image of the original source if available.

If your ancestor is found to have spent time in an asylum I do hope that the asylum records have survived in a local archive for you to review as you should find a wealth of additional information, clues to other family members and perhaps even photographs.
Good luck.





Friday 1 July 2016

Early Asylum Death - Coroner's Warrants

The West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield holds a very interesting book which tells us more about early asylum life, or in this case, death. The Coroner’s Warrant Book (C85/1117) is a small pre-printed book used to record the conclusion reached in a Coroner’s inquest as to the cause of death of Asylum patients and, possibly, Asylum staff. That inquest was held in front of a jury and as today was required in the event of the sudden death of an otherwise apparently healthy individual or where there was any suspicion of foul play. From reading the causes of death, inquests at the Asylum were commonly held for deaths by suicide, epileptic fits, apoplexy, syncope and accident. The entry made in the book also served as the warrant for the release of the body of the deceased for burial. 
The Coroner’s Warrant Book will be of interest to researchers as it can add to our knowledge of the circumstances surrounding a death. For example, the warrant for Christiana HOWSON of Ecclesall Bierlow tells us that her death was “suddenly whilst walking in one of the wards, from a disease of the heart and not from any hurt injury or violence from any person or persons to the knowledge of the said Jurors”. 
Two hundred and forty five entries exist in date sequence between 1834 and 1879.  The first entry is for 76 year old widow Ann BUTLER from Wakefield.  Admitted to the Asylum on 12th August 1834 she had died only a few weeks later on 2nd September 1834. Coroner Thomas Lee recorded:

Whereas I, with my Inquest, have taken a View of the Body of Ann Butler late of the Township of Wakefield now lying dead at the Pauper Lunatic Asylum, in the above Riding, and find that she has come to her death there by the visitation of God.
These are therefore, by virtue of my office, to authorise and empower you to bury the Body of the said Ann Butler.
For which this is your Warrant.

Dated this 3rd day of September 1834

“Death by the visitation of God” is the early phrase used for “natural causes”. Later the records tend to add further detail, as in the case of Sarah HILLAM whose death in 1835 is recorded as “by the visitation of God to wit of consumption”. Sarah provides us with a mystery as she does not appear anywhere else in the patients’ records suggesting that she must either have been admitted with no paperwork or that she was possibly a member of the Asylum staff. The cause of her death, consumption, does not suggest a sudden death, yet an inquest was held. A puzzle to be solved.
The Coroner’s inquest, in taking evidence surrounding the circumstances of a death, also sought to establish if any blame for the death should be attributed to one or more individuals. The inquest into the accidental death of George GILL in 1835 tells us that “he has come to his death there by being accidentally suffocated in the drying house and that no blame attaches to the Keepers or any other persons”. The death of Thomas WILD in 1857 was caused by “being put into hot water by Timothy Waite an Idiot and scalded”. 
Sadly, despite the best efforts of the staff, some inmates were able to take their own lives. The warrant for James KAYE from Quick tells us that he came to his death “by hanging himself”. Human error did however contribute to Matthew BROWN being able to hang himself “with a sinew bandage in the Closet at the end of the Refractory in George Palfreyman’s ward. That the deceased got into the closet by the Keeper inadvertently leaving open the doors in his hurry to attend upon Mr Marshall the Surgeon.”
The suicide of Susy LUMB from Bradford in 1854, by hanging herself on a bar of a window with a neckerchief whilst labouring under melancholia, carries the additional note “The Jury requests that Mary Hebden should be reprimanded for neglecting to obey orders”. Mary Hebden was a nurse who in 1856 would also be mentioned in the case notes of Ellen KENDALL. On that occasion she had not followed the physicians orders regarding the correct positioning of leeches being used to treat Ellen. (See Proper People page 236.)
A tragic accident occurred in 1859 as a group of patients were returning from working in the fields. Two patients, Dominic KAVANAGH from Sheffield and William RAMSBOTTOM of Wakefield died. John D Cleaton, Resident Medical Officer and Director of the Asylum, described the accident in his Annual Report.
Two deaths were unfortunately due to an accident – the falling in of a portion of the tunnel, underneath the women’s wing, and which is used as a thoroughfare communicating between the farm-yard and the land in front of the asylum.
Owing to the excavations for the new domestic offices, one wall of the tunnel was deprived of adequate support, although stoutly propped, and believed by the contractor and clerk of the works to be perfectly secure. A heavy fall of rain during the preceeding night is believed, by disturbing the props, to have caused the accident. A number of patients were wheeling manure through the tunnel at the time, and the two last of the party were buried and instantaneously killed, by the falling through of the arch, and superincumbent earth.
Several of the Visiting Magistrates , who had come to attend a Committee Meeting, were upon the spot within a few minutes of the accident, and assisted in the investigation of all the circumstances, but no culpable neglect could be attributed to those who had the management of the excavations.
The Coroner also held an inquest the same evening when a verdict of “accidental death” was returned.
The Coroner’s inquest was also in a position to bring matters to the attention of the authorities. The death of George PALMER in Mar 1864 “by the visitation of God in a natural way from phthisis, pneumonia and pleurisy” is accompanied by a note stating that “A representation to be made to the Lunacy Commissioners of the defective state of the Law in allowing patients to be removed to an Asylum in an improper state of bodily health”. (See Proper People page 358.)
Coroner's Warrant for George PALMER. Courtesy West Yorkshire Archive Service.
In September 1868, John MITCHELL committed suicide “by cutting his throat with a Butcher’s Knife when labouring under Hypochondriasis” and the following year the suicide of James BREARLEY “by stabbing himself through the heart with a shoemaker’s knife while labouring under Mania” illustrate the dangers inherent in having mentally ill persons working with sharp tools which could so easily become weapons. 
There is a strange sequence of deaths recorded in 1871. In January, Thomas FIRTH of Dewsbury died from “suffocation from having while in an Epileptic Fit got on his face in bed”. The very same circumstances were blamed for the deaths of Horatio Oulton EDWARDS, James Vickers STACEY and John HASTIE later the same year. It is puzzling that no comments are made by the Coroner that the four deaths were caused by the same circumstances and today we would certainly expect to see an enquiry. Further deaths of the same nature were being brought before the Coroner as late as November 1878. Earlier in the century, epileptic patients were strapped to their beds at night to prevent just such danger but that practice was probably discontinued with the trend towards non-restraint.
In the 245 warrants, there is only one where the conclusion reached was that a criminal act had resulted in the death of a patient. The death of William BURRAN of North Bierley in November 1865 was caused by “loss of blood and shock to the system caused by injuries feloniously wilfully and of malice aforethought inflicted by Jonathan Waite”. The killer would spend 39 years in Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. (See Proper People page 331 and 374.)

Coroner's warrant for William BURRAN. Courtesy West Yorkshire Archive Service.

I you get the chance to visit WYAS in Wakefield when it reopens its doors later this year, it will only take you an hour to browse through the Coroner's Warrant Book. Enjoy!

The Stethoscope - first recorded use at the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum

Looking through early Asylum case notes from 1829, my attention was caught by an unusual entry in the notes for George WATSON a 36 year old married butcher from Attercliffe near Sheffield admitted to the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum on 21st October 1829. He had been ill about one month suffering from only his first attack of mania for which no explanation had been put forward.
The entries in his case notes would have been made by either William Ellis, Asylum Superintendent or one of the visiting physicians. Here is what was being said about George.

Bowels regular. Temper extremely irritable and implacable. Habits previous to the attack extremely temperate but since it has been with great difficulty he has been restrained from the immoderate use of ardent spirits. Has shown no tendency to suicide, has been bled with Blisters and Cathartics.
23rd October 1829. Has been very maniacal and has gnawed two of the thick leather straps thro’ which fasten the Sleeves. Head hot bowels costive. Let his head be covered with a wet cloth. Low diet.

25th October 1829. Was freely purged and was greatly better yesterday. He is rather more maniacal this morning. Continue remedy.
26th October 1829. Much quieter.

30th October 1829. Better in every respect.
4th November 1829. Continues to improve but still rambles in his mind.

6th November 1829. Has become very maniacal again. Head hot. Bowels loose. Appl Hirudines No viii Temp. [Apply eight leeches to his temple.] Let his head be covered with a wet cloth again.
7th November 1829. Better. But to have a few more Leeches.

9th November 1829. Is much better again. His head and face which were flushed and very hot are quite settled and cool again. Bowels open.
10th November 1829. Has been on low diet the last few days and he now seems a good deal reduced in strength. His pulse is quick and irritable. Seems quieter.

Let him have some good broth twice or three times a day.

For the next few weeks George was monitored and treated with medicines: magnesium sulphate, hyoscyamine, antimony, camphor. He was to have a cold shower bath every second Monday.

1st December 1829. Pulse very irregular and excessively quick, had no rest last two nights.
Just a few days later appears the entry which had caught my eye.

5th December 1829. The Stethoscope indicates some great and tumultuous action of the Heart, the pulsation of the Corotid is even heard very loudly.
It was the use of “The Stethoscope” which surprised me as today we would probably refer to “a stethoscope” given that one is carried around by most physicians. Is there perhaps some element of surprise and wonder conveyed in “the pulsation of the Corotid is even heard very loudly”?
Some research into the history of the stethoscope was needed so I turned to the web. Wikipedia explains that Rene Laennec at the Necker-Enfants Malades Hospital in Paris had been the first to realise that a hollow tube could be used to listen to heart and lung sounds rather than placing his ear against the patient’s body. By 1819 he had machined a hollow wooden tube with a small hole at one end and a conical hollow at the other. He named this instrument stetho + scope, meaning “chest scope”.
Monaural stethoscope; Laennec type, c 1825. Wellcome Library, London
Ten years later, perhaps William Ellis had only recently obtained one of these new instruments and it was being used on George WATSON for what is certainly the first time recorded in any of the Asylum case books.

Over the next few months George was bled and  steamed with the hot air machine till he got into a perspiration. Opiate pills were tried to help him sleep but to no effect. Tincture of digitalis was prescribed, discontinued in early February.

9th February 1830. Is purged from the Digitalis pulse only 84 and much less full.

The tincture of digitalis was prescribed again in early March. By mid March George had begun to suffer from oedema for which pulverised jalap was prescribed.

19th March 1830. He sat up yesterday upon which the swelling reappeared in lower extremities to considerable extent.

20th March 1830. Swelled legs and face. Countenance sallow. Urine rather less.

The same medicines continued to be prescribed. It is notable that since 6th November the previous year his case notes hold no mention of his mania and the physicians were focussed on treating George's physical symptoms. His spell in the Asylum ended on 8th April 1830 when he was discharged into the care of his family. Nothing further is known about George.


Friday 24 June 2016

How Patients Were "Sectioned" in Early 19th Century Yorkshire

The West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum in Wakefield opened for the admission of its first patients in late 1818. At that time, to have a person committed to the Asylum the Overseer of the Poor of a township produced to one of His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace (JP) a certificate in writing from a Medical Person – Physician, Surgeon or Apothecary - that an individual being a lunatic pauper, belonging to the said township was “dangerous and not fit to go at large, and a proper object to be admitted into the Asylum”. The JP, presumably satisfied by the evidence in front of him, would then authorise the committal, signing and sealing a Reception Order. Today we would call that being “sectioned”.
Within the vast array of records held by West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS) there are bundles of the original Reception Orders which are often a small “file” of legal paperwork authorising and ordering the committal of a person to the Asylum. Researchers can expect to find medical certificates, magistrates’ orders and patient details in each “file”, often on a multi-page pre-printed form but sometimes loosely held together.
Reception Order for Thomas ARUNDEL, 1818.


The WYAS collection of Reception Orders for the period 1818–1868 is nearly complete, with the exception of orders for 1837-1839 and 1848-1852. Some of the missing documents are present in the collection of the Mental Health Museum, Fieldhead, Wakefield but unfortunately others have disappeared into the hands of persons unknown. 

The content and format of Reception Orders evolved through time reflecting changes in the law governing the conduct and administration of the asylums and the committal of persons to those asylums. They tell the story of the evolution of medical treatment of the insane outside the Asylum, the rise in admission numbers as the Asylum became recognised as the most appropriate place of safety, the interaction between Asylum authorities and those providing local provision for the insane poor and many other aspects of social history.
Reception Orders even provide glimpses of the attitudes of officials who, before the opening of the Asylum, had responsibility for the care of the mentally ill poor. In response to the question ”What remedies have been used?” ahead of the admission of Joseph BAXTER from Aston cum Aughton in 1819, JP William Alderson wrote:  
"We have reason to believe that a Whip would be the best remedy, for he used to work regularly until he was removed into the Poor House about a year and half ago, since which time he has done nothing." 
Today, one might expect that such important legal documentation capable of curtailing the freedom of an individual, frequently against their will, would have had to have been completed in full in a thorough and timely manner but in the early 19th century that was certainly not always the case. A distinct lack of thoroughness can be seen in the level of completion of many of the early Reception Orders. The worst examples provide little more than the name and abode of the pauper and which parish or township would be paying for their confinement in the Asylum. 
One gets a sense of almost indecent haste in the admission of many pauper lunatics. Checking dates it quickly becomes clear that many Reception Orders or medical certificates accompanying them were only authorised after the patient had been “admitted”. Even that is eclipsed by the fact that for Mary IBBERSON and Lydia WHITTAM, admitted in 1826 and 1828 respectively, the numbering system used in the files tells us that no reception order was ever received.
In many instances, the medical certificate was simply overlooked, whether accidentally or deliberately. Revisiting the reception order for Joseph BAXTER you will find that William Alderson, JP also stated:
"I have not thought it necessary to apply to a Surgeon as Baxter’s case is so well known."
So although the process required production of a medical certificate, a blind eye was turned to this absence. One cannot imagine that happening today.
Within the WYAS collection will be found a cornucopia of different styles and colours of reception paperwork, to varying levels of completeness. Change in legislation seems to have been the key driver for the emergence of new styles, but it is very clear that the poor law authorities, with an eye on the public purse, wanted to use up remaining stocks of older forms before adopting the latest style. This was Yorkshire after all.
Styles of Reception Order accepted by the Asylum varied considerably. Some townships, for example, Leeds and Sheffield, went to the lengths of having their own customised forms printed, perhaps in anticipation of lots of form filling to come. Other townships, presumably without access to pre-printed forms, penned the JPs’ orders in full. At least one patient, William HARRISON of Mitton, was admitted when the JPs used a form pre-printed for use in committing persons to the County Lunatic Asylum at Lancaster.
One Reception Order from 1844 is even nameless as the man found wandering in Huddersfield, refused to provide his name. In contrast, properly completed documents provided a wealth of background for the medical staff at the Asylum, and so also for today’s researcher.

PS. Joseph BAXTER was never whipped in the Asylum. He passed away there on 4th November 1828.


Friday 20 May 2016

Surprises from the archives

The Case Notes for former patients of the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum continue to throw up surprises.

Last week, the final week of public access to the records ahead of the transfer of the archives to their new building in Kirkgate, Wakefield, I was browsing through some early 1870s admission registers.

The mental illness of Sarah Jane RAWNSLEY admitted in 1873 was attributed to an "overtaxed brain". The cause of John SHEPPARD's illness in 1872 was succinctly put as "women".

The biggest surprise was an entry for Margaret Bryan BELL admitted to the Asylum in April 1872. She was only three years old.  Earnest SHEARD admitted in 1873 was a seven year old.

Perhaps more about them in a later post.

Thursday 11 February 2016

Pauper Lunatic Asylum, Wakefield - Explore Early Asylum Life

Proper People - Early Asylum Life enables the reader to travel back to the early nineteenth century to meet some of the mentally ill patients who passed through Yorkshire’s West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum in Wakefield during the first 50 years of its existence. 
The patients’ stories are told using the actual words of those who were there at that time.


While many excellent books have been published about the nineteenth century county asylums in England, comparatively little has been written about the tens of thousands of real people, mostly “pauper lunatics”, who passed through their doors. Social historians starved of material providing a deep insight into the lives of patients have many questions to answer. 

  • Why were they in an asylum?
  • What was their life really like?
  • How were they treated?
  • What happened to them?
  • What was the impact on their families?

Proper People - Early Asylum Life shines a powerful light on the lives of some 150 of the patients admitted to the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum latterly known as Stanley Royd Hospital, in Wakefield, Yorkshire between 1818 and 1869. Using transcribed extracts from the celebrated collection of surviving patients’ case notes, other original asylum records and contemporary newspaper reports a picture of early asylum life is painted using the actual words of the asylum physicians, attendants, poor law officials, magistrates, asylum visitors, press reporters, patients’ families and, on occasions, the patients themselves.

The result is a fascinating collection of personal sketches allowing the curious historian to patch together life as an asylum patient.

Over 60 images include rare patient photographs, samples of documentation from the archives and other complementary material sourced mainly from West Yorkshire Archive Service, the Mental Health and Thackray Medical Museums and Wellcome Library. The primary content is split into five chapters, each covering a decade since the opening of the Asylum and containing material relating to the patients admitted during that period. A glossary of medical terms and treatments helps the reader to better understand the unfamiliar medication prescribed in the case notes.