high royds hospital

High Royds Hospital

The former psychiatric hospital was originally opened in 1888 as the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum. Designed by J Vickers, it was built on a 300 acre estate, south to the village of Menston in Yorkshire. During the 155 years it was open, it served those deemed mentally ill. Many success stories come from High Royds Hospital, as do the stories of abuse and horror. The High Royds cemetery stands as a testament to all those who lived their last days behind bars, and the decades they spent there.

West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum

Opening on 8th October 1888 under the name West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum, 30 females were transferred from the overcrowded Wadsley Asylum in Sheffield. The first woman in this group to be admitted was Elizabeth Johnson, and she remained there until her death 16 years later, when she was buried in the asylum cemetery. A further 31 females were subsequently transferred several weeks later, once again, from the severely overcrowded Wadsley Asylum. The first male admitted to West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum arrived 7 November that same year, named Charles Pett, aged 39.

The main purpose of the asylum upon its opening was to contain and restrain patients. There was no known treatment for insanity, and so the asylum functioned more like a warehouse than a hospital. Patients often spent decades in the asylum, forgotten about by loved ones and left to live out their days imprisoned. The vast majority of patients from the early 20th century eventually died in the asylum, and were buried in the adjoining cemetery.

High Royds Chapel

Life in the asylum was often empty and repetitive, leaving the patients wondering aimlessly with very little care. Security was paramount in High Royds, along with many other British asylums in the late 19th century, and high walls were built to separate the mad from the sane. Records show that although many mentally ill people were housed in High Royds, the vast majority of patients had a wide range of illness which did not require such prolonged visits in the asylum. Such illnesses include: phobias including agoraphobia and claustrophobia, epilepsy, melancholy, panic attacks, anxiety and learning disabilities. 

Menston Mental Hospital

The 1920s saw a name change, from the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum, to the Menston Mental Hospital. It also brought with it a new era in psychiatry, as doctors attempted to cure the mentally ill, instead of simply storing them. The idea of a cure appealed to many patients, and their families, and the use of shock therapy was introduced. Shock therapy was particularly popular, and new Electro convulsive therapy wards were added. This enabled doctors to administer the shock therapy to large numbers of patients in a quicker period of time. No anaesthetic was used during the procedure, and many patients broke or fractured their limbs whilst fitting from the shock.


Insulin shock therapy was also introduced to patients at High Royds. Doctors informed patients that it would put them in state of mind that would allow “the mind to completely relax.” However, this was far from the truth, and sent many patients screaming in pain, or comatose. This form of shock therapy was quickly phased out, but others, such as the electro convulsive therapy are still in use today. The lobotomy was another popular treatment given to the patients of High Royds, and many of them would walk around the wards aimlessly with two holes at the sides of their heads. 

Nation Health Service and High Royds Hospital

The NHS ensured that health care was available to all walks of life, regardless of their social status. After much debate, it was decided that psychiatry would also be taken over by the NHS, allowing people to stay in High Royds free of charge. The hospital underwent a huge transformation, and the wards were decorated, with the emphasis being placed on treatment and care, as opposed to security. The high walls built around High Royds were shortened, and the wards were opened up. Although ECTs were in use, a new anaesthetic was being used, which stopped the patients fitting during the procedure.

During the 1950s, bio-chemist, Roy Hullin was offered a job at High Royds, where they handed him his own staff and laboratory to explore the benefits of the new mood stabiliser, Lithium. Hullin and his team discovered many other drugs, each dealing with a separate mental illness. Many patients appeared calmer and less agitated, and doctors across the country believed the drugs to be a complete success. However, this was not necessarily the case, as many patients were simply too sedated to do anything other than sit in silence or sleep.

The hospital was eventually given the name High Royds in 1963. At this time, the doctors and psychiatrists believed that unemployment was evil, and brought in occupational therapy to stop patients ‘brooding.’ Occupational therapy largely resulted in the patients working on the hospital grounds in various different roles, from sewing to working on the hospital farm. 

Design and Facilities

The hospital was initially designed to be self-sufficient, providing patients with a bakers, bank, library, farm, dispensary, sweetshop, cobblers, upholsters and a local shop. There was a railway station at the heart of the hospital, connecting to the Wharfedale line, but was closed in 1951.

The design of High Royds was based upon the broad arrow plan by J. Vickers, with the administration building being of a particular splendour. Now Grade II listed, the admin building featured an Italian mosaic floor in the main corridor which was decorated with the Yorkshire rose and black daises. The rest of the hospital was split up into a complex multitude of wards:

3 Askwith 1 Beamsley
4 Nesfield 2 Langbar
5 Barden 15 Aysgarth
6 Bolton 16 Hawes
7 Denton 17 Askrigg
8 Hazlewood 18 Buckden
9 Ribston 19 Masham
10 Lindley 20 Litton
11 Rigton 21 Ramsgill
12 Norwood 22 Kingsdale House
13 Burnsall 23A Deepdale
14 Clifton 23B Rylstone
30 Arncliffe House 24 Melbeck
31 Bon Accord 25 Woodale
32 Escroft (Men) 26 Birkdale
33 Escroft (Women) 27 Whernside
34 Fewston 28 Ingleborough
35 Kanner Unit 29 Day Room
36 Kilnsey House 38 Research Unit
37 Linton House  
39 Treatment Unit  






Closure and Demolition

By the late 1990s to early 2000, High Roads had become outdated. Enock Powell had called for an end of the asylum in 1961: “Now look and see what are the implications of these bold words. They imply nothing less than the elimination of by far the greater part of this country’s mental hospitals as they exist today.” Since this call to arms, the treatment of mental health became centered around community based care, and slowley, one-by-one, the asylums began to close. High Royds survived a further 42 years, but eventually the wards began closing down. In the late 1990s, no new patients were sent to High Royds, or any other asylum in Britain.

The severly ill patients were transferred to small mental health wards in NHS hospitals, whilst all other patients were discharged with the promise of community care. This promise was predominantly broken, as thousands of mentally ill people walked the streets with no treatment, money or place to live. The public opinion of the mentally ill was turning from sympathetic to fearsome, as more and more mentally ill people were arrested for violent offences. Eventually, the government agreed that community care had failed, and shifted the emphasis back on hospitalised care and pharmaceuticals.

Whilst the majority of the building has been converted into a small new village (still named High Royds,) some of the hospital’s original features have remained, such as the clock tower and the ballroom. Archaeologists and historians have begun the task of identifying all those who were buried in the asylum cemetery, and helping those in search of their deceased family members. Over 3,000 bodies were located, all buried in rows with four bodies to each plot which was marked with an iron stick. No gravestones were given to any of the patients who died at the asylum, and many living relatives and historians believe the patients were “used, abused and thrown away.”

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