Bootham Park Hospital (formerly York Lunatic Asylum)
1772AD - 1777AD
Just a short stroll out of the city walls through Bootham Bar and along the road called Bootham will be rewarded with a vista of many beautiful Georgian buildings. A few hundred yards along, set back off the road in its own grounds stands what you might mistake for a country house. It is in fact, Bootham Park Hospital, formerly the notorious York Lunatic Asylum.
In 1772 at a meeting at York Castle, the Archbishop of York called together gentlemen of the three ridings of Yorkshire, along with Dr Alexander Hunter and architect John Carr. His intention was to create a lunatic asylum to prevent the mentally ill from being placed in unsuitable institutions like prisons.
Carr’s practice was at its peak and the grand building was completed by 1777. With its applied Tuscan columns, pediment and fashionable Venetian windows, it was reported in the press as ‘an elegant and expensive affair’, but it didn’t please everyone. William Mason, a Precentor at the Minster, wrote that its extravagant design was a waste of public money and suggested it should instead be advertised as ‘a lunatic hotel’.
It was later discovered that despite its grandiose exterior some patients were held in terrible squalor. Indeed the conditions at the asylum were the stimulus for the foundation of the The Retreat at York which became world renowned for its pioneering treatment of the mentally ill.
The abuses at the York Asylum later became the centre of a great controversy. A national investigation in 1813-14 led to questions in Parliament. Some of the asylum records were burned in a suspiciously timed fire and two different sets of financial accounts were discovered. The resulting scandal led to substantial reforms in the way the hospital was run.