In 1796, Quaker businessman and philanthropist William Tuke opened the Retreat in York, England, for the care of the mentally ill. Prior to this, those with mental health or behavioral issues were treated worse than the most heinous criminal—they were usually locked-up in bedlams, imprisoned in cells or chained to walls in workhouses. As a Quaker Tuke believed in the sanctity of life and of behaving kindly and morally to all humanity. This led him to build a hospital for the care of those suffering from mental health problems. At first, the Retreat was only open to fellow Quakers, but it soon opened its doors to all.
The Retreat changed the way mental health was treated in England, and in 1818 the first of four hospitals, the Stanley Royd Hospital in Wakefield, was built under the aegis of the West Riding General Asylums Committee. A further three hospitals were built between 1872 and 1904—the South Yorkshire Asylum built in Sheffield, the High Royds Hospital in Menston and the Storthes Hall built in Kirkburton—which became villages for patients and all four hospital together formed the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum.
Inspired by the Retreat, the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum pioneered the care and treatment of the mentally ill during the Victorian and Edwardian era. Gone were days of brutality and fear. Patients were cared for as best as was then able and according to the available medical advice. It may seem strange and harsh to us today—especially the use of confinement cells to hold some violent, paranoid and delusional patients—but in relative terms, our treatment of the mentally ill will no doubt be seen as harsh by future generations.
These hospitals were open to all who needed treatment, and by the late 1800s, the demand for support from the impoverished and mentally ill outstripped the number of places available, leading to more hospitals built. By the turn of the 1900s, with the rise of psychiatry and the “tendency to herding and regimentation” asylums “lost much of their early high ideal of individual concern and care.” Standards basically fell, as the patients greatly outnumbered staff, leading to inadequate care, which didn’t change until later in the 20th century and the beginning of the National Health Service.
This selection of portraits show patients of varying ages from the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum in 1869. Some of the pictures detail the patient’s illness—“organic dementia,” “general paralysis of the insane,” “imbecility,” “simple mania,” “consecutive dementia,” “mono-mania of pride,” “mania of suspicion,” “chronic mania,” “mono-mania of pride,” “acute melancholia” and “senile dementia”—but each photograph tells its own sad tale.
More inmate portraits, after the jump…