Author explores the lives of Wakefield asylum patients 200 years ago

David's Scrimgeour's great grandmother Elizabeth Scrimgeour pictured in   1909. Picture: NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archives.
David's Scrimgeour's great grandmother Elizabeth Scrimgeour pictured in 1909. Picture: NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archives.

Real life tales of murder, delusion and despair are featured in a new book which shines a light on the patients held in a Wakefield mental asylum 200 years ago.

Author David Scrimgeour, of Stanley, has put the experiences of patients at the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum under the spotlight in ‘Proper People’.

Author David Scrimgeour will talk about his book during a mental health education event at Wakefield One from 5pm on Friday, May 20

Author David Scrimgeour will talk about his book during a mental health education event at Wakefield One from 5pm on Friday, May 20

He wrote it after discovering his great grandma was held in a similar institution in Scotland.

It reveals how the ‘pauper lunatics’ came to be incarcerated, and describes some of the treatment methods of the time, which included swinging patients from the ceiling and the use of mechanical restraint chairs and straightjackets.

Mr Scrimgeour, 59, said: “Some of the cases make very sad reading but although some of the treatment of the patients there may seem barbaric by modern standards, the asylum actually led the way in terms of the ethical treatment of mental health patients. For example, they were encouraged to do some type of work as part of their rehabilitation, which included cleaning the wards and labouring on the farm.”

West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum later became Stanley Royd Hospital, which closed in 1995 and was converted into housing.

Stanley Royd Hospital in 1818. Picture courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service.

Stanley Royd Hospital in 1818. Picture courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service.

The book uses extracts from hand written historical case notes and newspaper reports to paint a picture of what life was like for the people admitted to the asylum between 1818 and 1869, the first 50 years of its existence.

Mr Scrimgeour, originally from Scotland, began researching his family history after retiring from his job in IT sales in 2012. He discovered his great grandmother Elizabeth Scrimgeour had been held in an asylum near Glasgow.

With a growing interest in social history, he began to wonder what could also be discovered about the people held in the asylum in his adopted home town of Wakefield.

Mr Scrimgeour said: “The research of this book has been a real labour of love. Although it was tough going at times trawling through realms of hand written doctors notes, I’m pleased that people are able to find out more about the lives of those held at the asylum.”

Mr Scrimgeour will showcase his book at an educational event on Friday to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week.

He will be discuss ‘Proper People’ at the Wakefield One on Burton Street on Friday, May 20.

The free event starts at 5pm and will include a talk by Cara Sutherland, curator at the Mental Health Museum in Wakefield.

She will discuss how the stories in the museum’s archives collection contribute to modern day debates about mental health, and helped inform the book.

Mr Scrimgeour will close the event by exploring how the relationships of those held in the asylum aided their recovery.

His book costs £14.99. You can buy it via www.ypdbooks.com and by ringing 01904 431213.