Wednesday, November 24, 2010

For Nurse Garton : A Tale Of Two Buildings



To : Nurse Garton, Main West Riding Asylum, Wakefield
Dear E, A P.C.to let you know that we are both well. Thanks for your letter. I have got over my fall very nicely. We had Robert yesterday and Hilda. They are both well and wish to be remembered to you. Been walking today. Will write in a few days. Love from Francis and Mother.

An old 1913 postcard I bought few a few pence from an antique market stall. People are pictured enjoying the sands and the sea at the popular Yorkshire resort of Scarborough. But, to me, the card serves to focus attention on two iconic buildings. The first is the truly magnificent Grand Hotel which can be seen in the centre of the above view. When it was built in 1867 it was, with its 365 rooms, one of the largest and the finest hotels anywhere in the world : a veritable palace of pleasure, comfort and relaxation.

The second building cannot be seen, but its presence is there, in the shadows, like some ever-damned twin. Look at the address on the card and put together your own picture of the West Riding Asylum for Pauper Lunatics at Stanley Royd, Wakefield. No palace of pleasure or comfort this, but a grim and dark sanctuary for those whom society would rather forget. Built in 1818 for the insane-poor (a phrase which manages to allow cause and effect to cohabit) at a cost of £36,448.4s.9d : here is a building that never saw the sea, the sands nor carefree laughter.

13 comments:

  1. Oh my...what a contrast in the two! My, we have some a long way in caring for people with special needs, haven't we. Still work to be done, but we have come so far. My great grandmother and great aunt were put in places like this!

    The postcard is beautiful! Wouldn't you love to know who Nurse Garton was...she was obvisouly loved by the writer.

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  2. Great post Alan. Of all the postcards I have of Scarborough, only one of them shows the hotel in the very background. Didn't even realise it was there until I read this post.

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  3. Erie that second photo...Makes me glad many such places have closed. I love the postcard. Nurse Garten must have been at least nice to inspire this writer's words.

    Amy is correct about my cat!

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  4. My God! £36k wouldn't buy you an extension on a semi these days.

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  5. One place lush, one place grim. What a contrast!

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  6. Alan, this is fascinating and puzzling in so many ways. I wonder about the crowds of people on the beach, most fully clothed. How fun would that be? Then I also wonder about locating a lunatic pauper asylum in such a desirable area. You would think they would find a less desirable location for them, if for no other reason than not to offend the upscale resort visitors. Finally, I wonder if the paupers were ever allowed to go to the beach. I'm guessing not.

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  7. Interesting..insane poor..different wording that I have never heard before. It is a great beach scene, I suppose the insane never made it there:(

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  8. I was struck by the density of people on the shore and the thoughts of the Grand Hotel; then I read about the asylum and thought of Dickens' writings and others and how terribly sad it must have been. We've had a great deal of focus on a similar type of place, here in New Hampshire. It was a home for boys and a terrible one at that. It lasted well into the 1970s and is the subject of much scrutiny now. So sad.

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  9. Alice1:45 PM

    I'd like to point out that actually, in other areas, although i've found no trace of it in the West Riding as yet, but there were innitiatives to send the insane poor to the seaside- a psychiatrist called Bucknill pionered it in Devon! It worked quite nicely too.
    There was actually quite a lot of laughter at Stanley Royds, they often had plays and dances, life was bad for the insane poor, but maybe not as bad as been left to fend for themselves in the outside world?

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  10. I would like to point out that the 'west riding paupers insane asylum' was actually Hatfield House, in the village of Stanley; a stately home that became a hospital then a pub and is now Normanton Golf Club. The confusion with Stanley Royd is understandable as there are three mental institution sites very close together on the outskirts of Stanley and Wakefield (Field Head Secure Hospital is still there). When the building was derelict (for most of my childhood, I am 36), the ruin was a popular playground, though not many ventured into the cellar more than once, as pairs of manacles hung from the whitewashed brick walls. An elderly friend of mine who lived on the estate nearby remembers seeing women dressed in white nightgowns running amok at night in the marshland nearby (now Stanley Nature Reserve). As children my friend and other children thought the female 'patients' (most were merely single mothers) were ghosts.

    Jim Sheasby

    bigbudgies@gmail.com

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  11. PS - Stanley Royd was still a hospital until very recently, I found this post looking for articles and pictures concerning the imminent demolition of Stanley St. Peters Church, of which the founding stone was laid in 1824 by the (then) barrister who lived in Hatfield Hall. A wealth of this history is about to be lost!

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  12. PPS - Am I correct in assuming that the second photo is for 'dramatic' purposes only? It certainly isn't Hatfield Hall.

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