Exploring A Deserted Mental Health Facility Locked For Four Decades
An 18th-century psychiatric hospital that remained untouched for more than four decades was recently explored, giving us a unique look into what life was like during that time. Hidden beneath what is now known as The Retreat in York lies a morgue and a number of rooms, which have accumulated unique items and equipment over it the past 400 years of operation.
The Hospital Was Originally Built to Treat the Quakers in 1796
The hospital was first set up by a retired team merchant by the name of William Tuke, who visited the original York Asylum during the time and was appalled by the conditions. This was the same asylum where Quaker Hannah Mills passed away.
Tuke and a number of Quaker friends decided to fundraise for the hospital, which would open its doors in 1796.
Hannah Mills Was Deeply Mistreated
Historians say that Mills was the reason the original hospital closed down. She was admitted to the York Asylum as a young Widow on March 15, 1970, suffering from what they referred to as “ melancholy.”
She was kept away from her relatives and ended up dying in private treatment on the grounds just over a month later, sparking Tuke’s motivation to build a more humane retreat.
Margaret Holt was the Hospital’s First Patient
The hospital’s very first patient was admitted in 1796, becoming officially operational. Margaret Holt, a woman from Bradford, was the very first patient, paying eight shillings per week to stay there.
In today’s U.S. dollars, that would be a few dollars a week. That’s a pretty good deal for getting to enjoy the Innovative equipment and fresh facilities of a brand-new hospital.
However, the Basement Was Closed Off for Four Decades
One of the first places people decided to explore was the basement, which had laid completely closed off from the outside world for more than four decades. Not only was the basement damp and dark, but it also contained a number of unique items coated in years of dust.
If basements weren’t already scary enough, just wait until you see what kind of items explores uncovered in this one.
Many Unsavory Items Were Discovered In the Abandoned Basement
One of the most fear inducing items explorers found down in the abandoned basement was an old monkey skull. The skull was incredibly well preserved and had likely been down there for hundreds of years.
Explorers also found an old blood pressure tester, which was more than likely from the late 19th century. The very first blood pressure testers hit the market in 1881, and this particular one looks strikingly similar
The Original Boilers Are Now Out of Commission
The Lancashire boilers were originally installed at the bottom of the basement in 1922, they have not been in use since the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The room contains a large coal boiler, which was originally used to heat the entirety of the building using a network of pipes and cogs that stretched from the lowest parts of the building to the roof. Now, they’re nothing but antiques.
A Poem from 1915 was Found On the Boiler Room Pin Boards
The explorers got to step into the mind of an original boiler room worker, thanks to a pin board that was dated 1915. The board features a poem that they believe was written by one of the former boiler room workers.
There was also a note on the board adjacent, reading, ‘Into this boiler room have walked the best people in the world, my friends.’
Uniquely Enough, the Morgue Lay Completely Preserved
One of the other rooms that was left well-preserved was the Retreat’s former morgue. The morgue was originally established in the Victorian era, they went out of commission in the 1960s, as during this time, undertakers were able to collect bodies faster than ever.
Even though the morgue had laid unused for 40 years, the main table and many other pieces of equipment were perfectly preserved with nothing but coats of dust.
Many Antique Items Were Found in the Room
The explorers were delighted to find tons of unique antique items, which are been beautifully preserved in the morgue.
Opening up dusty cupboards, they were able to find several medicine bottles and plasters, which showcase the uncanny designs of yesteryear. To the left, you can see a bottle of Cooper’s Fresh-Air, which was basically the Febreeze of the 1920s. To the right, you can see a traditional medicine bottle, which uses a cork rather than a twisty cap.
One of Those Items was a CVT Machine
The most prominent item found in the morgue was the ECT machine, also known as an electroconvulsive therapy machine, cased in a wooden box.
These machines were originally created to treat patients with severe mental afflictions, such as bipolar disorder or depression, especially when they weren’t responding to other treatments. They provided electrical stimulation to the brain while the patient was under anesthesia. Today, these types of machines are far less archaic.
Silver Serving Ware Was Also Discovered
They also discovered silver serving ware in the room, which was found in the cupboards. In fact, there happened to be quite a lot of it, and the people who found it believed that it was likely used every day.
As for the use, they’re not sure, though they think it was perhaps used to dispense water or medicine to patients. The serving ware could be worth quite a bit at this point!
The Paint Cans Were a Sure Sign of the Times
A true sign of the times was the collection of paint cans found in the basement storage rooms, many of which contained lead.
Lead-based paints were banned for residential use in 1978 here in the United States, though just about any home or building built before then likely has some semblance of lead paint in it. When not managed properly, it can be quite dangerous to your family and the surrounding soil.
Perhaps the Most Exciting Discovery was the Film Reel Set
There’s nothing that gives us a look into the past quite like film, so naturally, one of the most exciting discoveries was the trolley containing an old film reel.
While there was no documentation as to what the film reel was used for, they speculate that it was for patient training ads around the early 1950s.
And the Spookiest, the Incinerator
The spookiest find of all was likely the morgue’s incinerator, which had laid completely unused for many decades.
Incinerators were initially built to provide for the cremation and or disposal of pathological human remains. Looking at this incinerator compared to those you find in modern crematoriums, it’s easy to see that technology has changed quite a bit over the past century.
Ostrich Egg, Anyone?
While the explorers found plenty of unique items throughout the dozens of dusty cupboards in the abandoned rooms, such as aprons, boots, tools, baby powder, and oxide plaster, one of the most peculiar, even beyond the cannonball, was the ostrich egg.
Were they planning on using it for an experiment, or could it have been someone’s breakfast? Unfortunately, we may never know the answer.
A Bunk Room In Complete Disarray
Another one of the locked rooms the explorers got a chance to see was the old bunk room, which was meant to accommodate male trainees. The bunk room was initially established in 1927, though was abandoned around the same time as the rest of the rooms in the building.
The room was in complete disarray, with dust and grime on the floorboards and wallpaper peeling off the ceiling and walls.
Inside the Rooms Were 1930s Time Records
Luckily, the time records found in the abandoned were still in pristine condition.
These records were thought to have been completed in the 1930s, as one of them is labeled “School Religious Certificate 1935.” These records provide the names of potential employees or patients, with markings regarding their status. We have to say that handwriting from back then was pretty impressive.
They Even Found a Ledger with Records of Paint Work
Of course, if the handwriting on the time records wasn’t impressive enough, then the paintwork records ledger is sure to impress.
This old ledger was found next to the abandoned paint cans among the dusty cupboards in the old rooms, which provided information regarding when the rooms were painted and with what kind of paint. It’s not often that you see beautiful cursive written on paper like this anymore.
Most Items Had Been Untouched for Decades
The craziest thing about this whole exploration is that many of these items had gone completely untouched for many decades, though they were still in excellent condition.
One recognizable item was the bottle of Johnson’s baby powder, with its iconic logo and orange design. It’s crazy to think that people not only abandoned the building but all of the items inside of it as well.
Many of These Items Were Likely Used Daily
What’s most interesting is that many of these items were likely used daily. Some of the equipment included an old blood pressure taker, which was beautifully preserved inside a wooden box, and a set of rustless stainless steel table cutlery, which still had some sheathing over the stainless steel.
Of course, they were also more eccentric items left in the rooms, such as an 1800s vase.
One Eerie Item was the Old Syringe
Though there were many odd items found throughout the hull of the old Retreat, one of the eeriest was the ancient syringe.
This vintage syringe came from a company called Thackray, which was once one of the leading manufacturers of medical syringes from the mid-1920s to around 1940. While the medical syringe was still intact, it had clearly rusted and lost its use.
Some Rooms Are Still Under Lock and Key
Many of the rooms throughout the hospital have completely fallen out of use, and are now kept under lock and key. Martyn Ferguson, who currently works at The Retreat, says that there are some rooms that people have not been allowed inside, even after the recent exploration.
If so many treasures have been found in the rooms that have already been uncovered, who knows what could lie in the ones still kept secret.
Multiple Wings Were Built Throughout the 1800s
Though the initial portion of the hospital was built in 1796, opening its doors to its first patient, multiple other wings were built throughout the 1800s.
In 1812, the North East wing was built, and in 1827, the North West wing was built. The hospital was made even more popular when the York to Scarborough railway line opened up, bringing excursions out to the sea side. In 1855, a burial ground was opened up. In fact, both Tuke and his grandson are buried on the site grounds.
The Hospital Even Built a Cricket Pitch
Fortunately, the hospital wasn’t all bad news. In fact, a cricket pitch was laid down in 1896, and it is still in use to this day. Cricket is one of the most popular domestic sports in England, and many citizens follow it closely. Similar to the way we have junior baseball leagues in the states, everyday people in the UK have cricket leagues they enjoy with friends and colleagues. Many Hospitals Were Abandoned During the 19th Century
In the early 19th century, there was very little distinction between mental health facilities, lunatic asylums, and prisons. People who weren’t able to fit in with the rest of society were often shut away into these awful facilities to live out their entire lives. When the mid-19th century rolled around, psychiatric institutions began taking a more Humane approach to treatment and care rather than acting as simple containment centers.
The Kirkbride Plan Was the Big Reason for This Change
The Kirkbride plan was introduced by Thomas Story Kirkbride in the mid-19th century to open buildings that could provide rehabilitative programs for those with mental illness. While it improved on the conditions of older psychiatric facilities, these facilities were often overpopulated and understaffed, falling into the same trap as their predecessors.
Hundreds of these types of psychiatric facilities open between 1850 and 1920, and many of them were left to die during deinstitutionalization.
The Retreat Is One of the Many Hospitals Standing Today
There are many hospital ruins still around, though others have been converted into museums, schools, or condos. In some cases, these buildings were slated for demolition, and others are preparing for demolition in the future.
For those that still stand, they offer a dark look into medical histories past.
However, Martyn Says There Was Light In The Retreat’s Past
Fortunately, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, Martyn Ferguson noted that the history of the Retreat was actually quite wonderful.
As the Head of Facilities Management, Ferguson knows a good deal about the hospital’s past, and notes that it was one of the few great places for mental health patience during the time.
The Hospital Is Still In Use Today
The hospital is still in operation today, and the reason many of the rooms were never demolished is that the site was and still is a conservation area. When certain rooms we’re not required anymore, the hospital would close the doors and leave them as they were, upgrading other portions of the hospital to fit with modern health standards.
The very last room that was built was an occupational therapy unit in 1968.
It Has Become a Cornerstone for Innovation
Throughout the years, many different buildings have come onto the site for different uses. The hospital is vastly bigger than it was when it first opened.
Many experts say it is now a place of innovation in the UK’s mental health sector.