Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Menston - "You're a loony you are"

We'll be tip-toeing around the subject today being well aware that Dan of All That Comes With It works in Mental Health, but there was a time, not so long ago, that the phrase "You're from Menston you are" was flung around the school playgrounds and pub taprooms as an insult, being that it referred to the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum at Menston, or to give it its more modern name, High Royds Hospital.

Its been in the news again this week as someone was criticising the developers who purchased the old hospital (above) from the Health Care Trust in 2003, accusing them of not providing enough security on site to prevent the theft of lead from its roofs which is allegedly destroying irreplaceable Victorian plasterwork and marble floors.

The huge site - it was a originally its own self contained village complete with four farms for its inmates sustenance and rehabilitation - is being redeveloped in a four year plan to include housing, new apartment blocks, and the jewel in its crown, the conversion of its original admin buildings with their fine decor into prestigious apartments.

Which is a far cry from its original use which was very simple - to shut away the mentally ill, far enough away from the city for no-one to care anymore, making it self contained so that the "lunatics" did not have to venture forth and mix with the public - rich folk shut away their mentally ill in their own houses, hired governesses to care for them but locked them away from visitors, the rest of the country sent their mentally ill to the asylums and tried to forget that they ever existed.

The history of Menston (the word Menston has now been reclaimed by the village on the hospitals doorstep and a very well heeled village it is too, but I still cannot think of that word without thinking "mental", sorry Dan), is much better told in this short document (pdf document), so I shan't bother with the fascinating story of the place.

Instead I shall recount the story of the bloke who used to own our last house, and in doing so illustrate how the mentally ill were treated right up to our own modern day world...

The last house that we owned was built in 1932 and owned by one married couple right up until 1992, the people who bought it from them then refurbished it and sold it to us, we were the third owners of the house and unusually after we had moved in we were sent a whole bundle of papers which included the deeds to the property and some legal papers, the reading of which engrossed me for several hours.

The chap who had originally bought the house in 1932 worked for the local Gas Board and purchased the place with the aid of a mortgage which in todays money must have been colossal, but to be honest I have carried far more than that amount around in my wallet on many occasions, sometimes for just one night out.

He lived there with his wife until just after WWII when, and there is no explanation why, but I'm guessing that perhaps the war had something to do with it, he was admitted to Menston Hospital (as it was known then).

How do I know this ?

Because he never returned and when his wife was finally assessed as being in the final stages of Alzheimer's and could not be held responsible for her estate, their niece had to sign an affidavit to prove that she was who she said she was, part of which included the whole history of her uncle and aunt, describing in some detail of how her understanding was that her uncle had had a "nervous breakdown".

He was an "inmate" at Menston from 1948 to 1968, 20 years in which he never returned home, 20 years in which his wife, who could not drive, could visit only occasionally as Menston is a difficult place to visit on public transport, its only three or four miles as the crow flies but I wouldn't have a clue which buses (and there will be several) to catch to get there.

The old chap, who I imagine would have been treated in his home with drugs these days, was locked away with up to a thousand similarly affected people until one day in 1968 he hung himself in a barn on Home Farm, one of the farms that was owned by the Hospital Trust, its a fate that I imagine many of the inmates chose - they have their own graveyard on the estate.

You might successfully argue that the former owner of my former house had his nervous breakdown at the wrong time in the wrong place, theres no doubt that no Government likes to be reminded that its soldiers often return home with mentally inflicted wounds but the harsh answer to the problem, even in our parents lifetime was to have these problems shut away and not spoken of, "Send him to Menston love and lets forget about him, start again love", luckily, according to the documents I had, he had repaid the mortgage on the house just one year prior to him being committed or else his wife probably would not have been able to live the rest of her natural life in the house of their dreams.


Anonymous said...

Lighten it up.. fairy tales of new-york please.

Here our nutters place was called Bagthorpe 'the work house' There is a village called that too. lol

Gary said...

Nah, you need mellow reflection at christmas.

Fairytale of New York is simply the best xmas song ever.


It will appear tomorrow as I'm away Sat - Santa will be leaving a message on Sunday.

Anonymous said...

If you visit

You'll see pictures of this place and a number of narratives on the vandalism of this fine building and the surrounding area.

You'll find menston on the asylums tab, but thtas obvious really... enjoy

ladykpk said...

the last one twasn't me :)

Gary said...

Its ok, I don't know who anyone is anymore :)

I like that 28dayslater web site, its sort of not quite illegal but not quite legal either :)

ladykpk said...

I'll stay as this.. then you'll know who I am :)

Whit said...

In the states we just put our mentally ill in Congress.

Dan said...

I'm not particularly politically correct over stuff like this.

I used to work in the next door asylum to High roydes. Scailbrough park (or spelt something like that) which was five miles down the road in Burley and Warfedale.

It was just over the border and so catered for the mentally ill of bradford rather than Leeds. I worked on the last ward left of a once huge institution - the rehab ward. the rest of the building had been torn down for flats about a year before i started, but for a long time it was just a lonely ward in a huge empty building. there were ballrooms with sprung floors, social clubs, extensive gardens, sports halls, the whole lot.

And there were lots of "ghosts" for superstitious nurses on night shift to worry about.

They must have been horrendous places to live in, and I know people even now who were committed for mental illnesses such as having a baby out of wedlock and were so damaged by the system they never escaped it.

I must blog about it at some point.

ladykpk said...

Dan! I worked in social care a few yrs ago- remember when the 'White Paper' was implemented, then thrown out? (Community Care for the Mentally ill) basically they closed most of the Institutions and tried to integrate people back into the Community. I think the Torbay area was the first to try it, with Drop In Centres for the said 'people' I tried to do a Simplified version of the Paper for learning/training purposes. No could Do, it was far too complex.. They then threw it out 'It just Didn't work' Where are all these people who used to live in the said Institutions? Out in the Community somewhere..need I say more?

Gary! sorry for using your comment box,for this reply to dan...
I'll throw my soap box away now!

Anonymous said...

Talking of High Royds, this is a website I have created.