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.