West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum

Yesterday afternoon, we took a drive to Bolton Abbey, realising when we got there we didn’t have any money to pay. We drove to Ilkley and stopped off on a walk to the Cow and Calf rock; it was so windy it nearly took Luke away! Charlie whined and Elizabeth lost her hat. We all laughed, it was hilarious, all of us staggering about holding onto our hoods. Then the cold rain, shot with hailstone, hit us with a vengeance and we rushed back to the car. Our faces were red and Luke hardly had any breath left. I suggested to drive to Menston, because I hadn’t been there for some time, in fact, for fifteen years.

When I was fourteen I went to Highroyd’s Psychiatric hospital as an inpatient on their adolescent unit called Linton House. You may know of it as West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum. I went online and discovered this: http://www.highroydshospital.com/insight/linton-house-adolescent-unit/

These pictures really reminded me, everything is so much bigger in my memory than those thin corridors. And it seems even sadder, as the place in the pictures, is so dilapidated and empty yet full of echoes of its troubled past. I remember the view of the girls’ dormitory well, I remember where I slept and how it felt not to be at home. I remember the view over the main hospital, great dark gothic buildings that struck fear in my heart, because nobody could possibly imagine the agony of the people within its walls. The shabby NHS sheets and curtains. I remember the wind whipping around the dormitory in the night and keeping me awake. I remember the crying and the screaming. I remember the blood and the scars. I remember Dr. Manny. I remember the two way mirror and the medical room where I went to get cleaned up after I cut my arms. I can even remember the way things smelled. I remember Debbie, Nikki, the two Sarahs, (Angie Jumanji). I remember suicide attempts and slashed wrists. This place, it was terrifying- the lengths we would go and the pain we were going through. We were just kids. I saw things there, experienced pain, that has virtually matched anything I have seen or experienced as an adult.

I sometimes, return there in my poems. It was a fascinating place. Self contained, its own little village. It got under my skin. Today I wanted to go there and say yes, I was here, it was real, it actually happened and everything you feel about it now is valid. When we arrived we found, to my amazement, it has been rebuilt or re-imagined (bizarrely, they have retained the clock tower and decorative roofs) into a residential park called ‘Royds Park.’ Children play happily in its grounds. I can’t imagine who would want to live there, with the permanent memory of the weight of unbearable human suffering. I think they should have let it stand, as a mark of respect for all those thousands of people who graced the doors and four walls (many who died there!) of the hospital through the ages. The forgotten. Nobody will ever know what things went on inside in the asylum. We know enough. We can imagine enough. But, people don’t want to remember. They need to demolish it, to be able to forget. They need to forget padded cells, confinement and ECT that went wrong, Insulin Shock Therapy, and psycho-surgery. They need to forget these things happened and that it was allowed for so many years.

I remember how I came to rely on the place. I needed it. I needed to be able to express myself, and there, at times, I could. I cut off all my hair. I painted and drew. I sang in front of people. I was not just withdrawn, not just crying, shut off, angry and desperately sad and alone. When I look back, I am sad, to think of the other ‘YP’s’. When I remember I feel so much pain and sadness. Children should never feel that way.

It was as though we had all been severed from reality, the real world held nothing for us, nothing but people treading on dreams. Nothing but that sharp, cold feeling of mortality and the razor edge of madness. It was the start of what was to be over a decade of hospital admissions for me, of feeling not there, of being dissociated and alienated and lost. It’s hard to come back to this; my memories seem so distant now, they’re barely memories at all.

I would love to know how the other girls went on in life. I don’t think I’ll ever know. I don’t think I could bear to hear bad news. Those girls are forever to me, forever in my heart and mind. In spirit, forever, free, wild, young.

It seems I’ve been tamed. I’ve been medicated. I’ve been sobered and now I have some control and it’s difficult to look back because it’s as though, I was a dozen different people, making dozens of different mistakes. I think of how young, naive and poorly I was and how nothing could have helped me. These days I barely get out, not with other people, I don’t see much of anyone, and I like it that way. I like to be in charge of my life and my moods, though I do feel as though the drugs control me, that they keep me down, but that if it weren’t for all the drugs I would be dead now, for sure. I gave it one more week, I was prepared to live one more week to see if the injections would work and I never thought they would. That one week was crucial. I am so glad I gave myself that last chance. I have survived. Many people did not.

http://www.highroydshospital.com/insight/the-mortuary/ This is the grim reality of mental illness. I have decided that people are so repulsed by mental illness because they recognise that if it ever happened to them, they would lose control, lose friends and family, lose dignity, become disempowered, misunderstood, broken. The thought of being locked up somewhere because you’ve lost your mind is a nightmare. It’s a very real nightmare for a lot of people. This is all about fear. Stigma is about fear, the absence of empathy or understanding and fear is contagious. It brings us closer to death. People don’t want to be confronted with the reality of it, that we’re not a nation of perfect, balanced, happy minds. Is the stigma lessening? I’m not sure. There’s literature out there, TV adverts, posters in waiting rooms. We’re obviously trying.

I recently went to an interview for a voluntary job working with people with, amongst other things, mental health problems. When pressed, I disclosed that I have a mental health problem and had been stable for a couple of years. The interviewer scoffed, there was ‘no way’ he would let me work with anyone with mental health problems ‘because I might know one of them.’ Because, we’re all best friends. I know all the mentally ill people because we’re a great big gang out to infect everyone with crazy. He was so rude to me, and I thought, this is a man who is supposed to be empowering people with mental illnesses. It took me a while to recover from that incident, I really felt torn up.

Maybe this sensitivity is a blessing not a curse, but as I grow and develop as a writer, I become even more introspective, even more isolated. In the asylum, we were in it together. Often I can’t relate to people anymore. I don’t think there is a happy ending to this blog, I’m not going to succumb to the pressure of a happy ending. I think that above everything else, people are afraid to feel bad and admit it. It’s a tough thing to do in a society, where we are always looking for the antidote to despair in consumerism and in ‘being positive’ about everything. We are weak or self-pitying, if we feel anything other than in control, buoyant, accepting, ‘happy’…some people can’t handle another person’s feelings but then some people can’t handle their own feelings. It’s about being real. It’s about being honest. Next time someone asks you how you are, don’t lie.

Somebody committed suicide down the road from here by the cemetery a couple of weeks ago. There was half a dozen police cars on the scene that morning, people had found him and were obviously distressed. It didn’t make the papers that day or the next. He was the dad of one of the children in my daughter’s school. There seems to have been a number of high profile suicide attempts and of course, Gary Speed’s untimely death, over the past year. I can’t help but feel that this is a price we pay, as a society that hides it away. I’m not saying we should all adopt the Jeremy Kyle soap opera confessional as cure, but we have to go some of the way to addressing our desensitization.  I know that at times people will and have thought of me as someone self-pitying or weak. And I tend not to do any more than be honest. All those times I have felt I should lie when someone says are you ok? I try not to do that any more, for sanity’s sake.


13 thoughts on “West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum

  1. It was really interesting to read your words and understand something of the camaraderie (perhaps not quite the right word?) of the asylum. I can empathise with much of this. There is still a huge stigma surrounding issues of Mental Health and the services available to provide counselling and asylum (in the sense of a safe haven environment) on the NHS continue to dwindle. I know what you mean about the imprint on places by people’s emotional memories. It can be toxic and a lot of human behaviour seems to instinctively avoid such places, whether conscious or unconscious of their history. The pictures too are a stark reminder of a place that appears to have been abandoned and left to decay until such time as it fell into a sufficiently dilapidated state to be recycled and reinvented as something else. They tell their own story with similar eloquence.

  2. Thank you for writing, Katherine. Mental health services as far as I’m concerned are in crisis. There aren’t enough beds on wards, the NHS were kidding themselves when they decided to go for the cheaper option. People are being forced out of services so that they go on to relapse and suffer where somebody should have been keeping an eye on them. It feels like a backwards step to me. I’m glad you enjoyed looking at the pictures- they certainly are a stark reminder aren’t they? Fascinating too, but terrible.


  3. Thank you very much for putting what i feel into words what i feel about that place, so many similarities its spooky. God i hated it so much!

  4. I’m absolutely fascinated with this place and its being. the history and the ins and outs of Highroyds is amazing and the story by Melissa was well worth the read i really liked it. I think more people should share stories like that and how they’ve moved on in life. I’ve been to the grounds myself in the shell of the building and even though it was empty it had some sort of feeling just bouncing off the walls you could sense it. Mental health fascinates me and i hope to be a mental health nurse one day.

    • thank you for reading, Charlotte. I think that a mental health nurse is a very worthwhile occupation and I hope you achieve your goal. I’m glad you find it fascinating, I find it all fascinating too, there are so many untold stories, so many secrets, so many people without a voice. I often think if you can speak out or tell these stories, you should. Thanks again for visiting the blog. I’m a little inactive at the moment but hope to write more soon x

  5. I was in Linton house when I was 14, I believe it was around the end of the summer holidays in 1997. I thought I’d forgotten most of my memories of my time there but reading this helped remind me. I was there for just over a month, I should really of been in there for at least 6, I remember my doctor being furious and complaining.

    I don’t remember any of the other kids names from when I was there but that’s probably because I never spoke, so I never said their names. When I saw those pictures I found myself crying, I didn’t think it would have that effect on me.

    I too want to know what happened to the others I was there with even though I can’t remember their names I still remember some of their faces. I don’t know if the place is still standing now but if it is I would like to see the place and confront my memories of it.

  6. I was in the kanna unit age 7/8 and Linton House age 14/15. I have some memories but time has faded them. … it’s not until recently I have managed to get in contact with one or two yp from my time there,that talking to them have brought back so much i tried to forget. I need answers and I keep hitting brick walls…. where are my files and where do i start….. love to hear from anyone that can help please get in touch. I wish you all well.

    • You can get your files from your GP. You might have to pay to view them. Follow the link it give you some information about accessing your records.

  7. Thank you for sharing, was very well put. I was in Linton House for about around a year I think, at age 13 in 1985, was horrific and I think I came out worse than when I went in.. I was called Jane back then…I think Ive blanked/buried most my memories from there, still dealing with them and mental health issues now age 45 but have come a long way… sending love 💚

  8. I was in Linton House at the age of 15 in 1976 I believe. I had no schooling there. I remember being medicated on Clorpromazine and it made me feel drunk. I would like to hear from people that were there at that time. I remember someone called Karl and somebody called Mark Peddie I believe his name is. I also remember the charge nurse was called Kevin Mullen. I was very depressed when I was there and ran away but was returned there. W.e all slept in the girls dormitory. I can remember sitting around for hours on end being bored out of my mind. I remember a large room at the end of the corridor that had a juke box in it. I also remember a long corridor with lots of glass windows on both sides where I used to sit and stare at the night. I like to visit the bird garden and wonder if anyone else remembers it? The bird garden was down the long drive way.

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