Friday 26 January 2018

Escape from South Yorkshire Asylum, Wadsley

Fifty one-year-old widower Gregory Moffatt was admitted to the West Riding Asylum, Wakefield on 24th October, 1889 from the nearby HM Prison, Wakefield. Earlier that month Moffatt had been tried for stealing a wheel-barrow, fifteen flower pots and a bread pot. Having been found “insane and unfit to plead” he was ordered to be detained “until Her Majesty’s pleasure be known”, so indefinitely.

While in prison after his trial he had been very destructive, dirty in his habits and at times violent.  The prison authorities must have been delighted to have him removed across the newly created city of Wakefield to the Asylum.

Gregory Moffat had history. In December, 1881 he had been admitted to the South Yorkshire Asylum, Wadsley near Sheffield. Detailed case note records do not survive for his time there so it was a surprise to discover in his later Wakefield case notes an intriguing account of how he had escaped from Wadsley. His case notes even go on to explain the reason for his bad behaviour while in prison.

South Yorkshire Asylum, Wadsley later known as Middlewood Hospital

Present Mental State. Patient shows no excitement whatever beyond the fact that he is garrulous. He gives a consistent account of his life and his memory and consciousness seem unimpaired. He describes his doings and his mode of escape from Wadsley Asylum. He conducted himself well till he was sent to wash up for the ward, he then took the opportunity of smashing every piece of crockery in the scullery. He excused his act by saying that they were all cracked but he admits that this was untrue. He was sent to sleep in a single room on the top floor, third storey; he obtained a strong spoon of which he made a turnscrew, he occupied several days in stealing sheets from others beds & making them into ropes which he hid in his pillow. When his plans were complete he waited till after the night watchman’s first visit, then he broke down the shutter with his improvised turnscrew and took out the window frame and let himself down.

Running away with only a shirt on he met a policeman whom he frightened nearly to death, and then explained to him that he had been robbed of his clothes in a brothel. He told the same story to a stable-man and innkeeper’s wife who supplied him with clothes and money out of sympathy. He afterwards stole [??u?s] which he consumed and various things which he pawned.

He was discharged a month after his recapture. He says he was Superintendent of Police and magistrate in New Zealand for 16 years for which he has a pension of £350 a year. He says he is worth about £10,000. He maintains that he has been severely ill treated by police and by warders in Armley and Wakefield Prisons. He describes with glee his atrociously filthy and destructive habits in the latter prison. He acted so “out of revenge”.

On 25th January, 1890 Gregory Moffatt was transferred to the State Criminal Lunatic Asylum at Broadmoor, Berkshire, where he passed away in August, 1901.

This is a great example of the need to look “outside the box” when researching the stories of our ancestors. Wadsley Asylum’s records from that time are limited to simple admission registers, yet here in the archives of a related asylum, they both being in the West Riding of Yorkshire, was found a very colourful story that most of us would have been delighted to have uncovered.

Happy archivology!