Picturing the The West Riding Asylum, Menston, Yorkshire, 1901

We have a further addition to Visual Collections items that have been catalogued as part of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. Our latest set of prints to be fully catalogued and available through Library Search and fully digitised and available to view in our online image collections is a fascinating album of the facilities at West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum from 1901. In fact the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum referred not a single establishment, but to four hospitals under the West Riding General Asylums Committee, the oldest of these being Stanley Royd Hospital, Wakefield established in 1818, with three more hospitals being opened in the following years, the South Yorkshire Asylum, Sheffield, (1872), High Royds Hospital, Menston, (1888) and Storthes Hall, Kirkburton (1904). This album of prints is of the Menston Asylum, sometimes referred to as The Third West Riding County Lunatic Asylum and later known as High Royds Hospital.

Image of the front elevation of Menston asylum, c.1901

The Menston asylum was designed by the architect J. Vickers Edwards and completed in 1888, laid out in echelon arrangement to form a broad arrow plan, a device which had only been developed in the previous few years [1]. It was set in a 300-acre estate within the metropolitan borough of Leeds.  The album is of 32 gelatin silver or collodion printing-out-paper prints, each approximately 16.5 x 11.4 cm mounted side-by-side in pre-cut grey mounts, all fully titled in ink. We also have some provenance information as the inscription at the front of the album reads ‘Dr T O’Conor Donelan, Menston Asylum, Leeds Nov. 19. 1901’. Dr Thomas O’Conor Donelan, worked at the asylum until 1905 before being appointed Senior Medical Officer at Middlesex County Asylum. He was in post there until his death in 1914 from pneumonia [2].

The Cricket XI at Menston , including Dr Thomas o’Conor Donelan, third from right, front row, c.1901

The photographs in the album are of both the exterior and interior of the asylum, including studies showing the male and female inmates working in the tailors shop and the bookbinding workshop. Some show the inmates engaged in recreational activities; such as sitting in the day rooms or in the extensive grounds. Another image shows a fire practice with men training hoses against an outside wall.

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Interestingly, there is also a print of the asylum photography studio, which is a room with large windows, filled with daylight and featuring a large camera set upon tripod. The fact of their being a studio in the asylum is perhaps not so surprising, as the connection between photography and psychiatry had been explored as early as the 1850’s by Hugh Welch Diamond. In a paper read to the Royal Society in 1856, outlining his theories of the use of photography in psychiatry, ‘On the application of photography to the physiognomy and mental phenomena of insanity’, Diamond argued that photography had three important functions in the treatment of the insane: as a method of recording physiognomies of the mentally ill for study, of treating the mentally ill through the presentation of an accurate self-image, and of documenting the faces of patients to facilitate identification for later readmission and treatment [3].


Above left: Caricature portrait of Sir James Crichton-Browne, courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London [n.d.]

Above right: Print of the photography studio at Menston c.1901

Like Welch, another pioneer of the practice of ‘neuropsychiatric photography’ was Sir James Crichton-Browne. Chrichton-Browne spent almost ten years, from 1866 until 1875, at the earliest of the West Riding Asylums, Stanley Royd Hospital, Wakefield, as the Physician-Superintendent. He collaborated with Charles Darwin on The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals and he himself took many photographs of inmates. There are certainly some distressing images from the West Riding asylums from this period; The Wellcome Library has a set of portraits from the Wakefield asylum, some of which have been taken by Crichton-Browne, that do not make for comfortable viewing. However, like Welch, these images may not have been taken simply for the purpose of classification but perhaps also for the therapeutic use of the photographic medium. Maybe it was Crichton-Browne’s legacy that influenced the inclusion of a studio in the later Menston Asylum.

In fact, the thing that struck me most whilst cataloguing the prints was how sensitively the photographs which include the patients have been shot. Undoubtedly the images have been staged to some degree, as one colleague remarked, it almost looks like a brochure advertising the asylum. Whatever the motivation, it seems as though there has been some trouble taken to show the patients with care and to represent them in a dignified manner. Also evident is that the facilities there were extensive and impressive. There was even a railway, originally laid down to transport building materials in the mid-1880s and retained to transport goods to the hospital; it joined the Otley and Ilkley extension of the main LMSR railway line.

View of the electric motor, Menston Asylum

The institution was later to become known as High Royds Hospital, a psychiatric hospital which closed its doors in 2003. The area has since been redeveloped as a village, retaining the name High Royds.

Coming next – Francis Frith’s images of Manchester c.1870’s.  Meanwhile, follow Library Tammy on IG for updates on what goes on in the Visual Collections office here are The John Rylands Library.

[1]Historic England Listing for High Royds Hospital

[2] The British Journal of Psychiatry

[3] The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

All images unless otherwise stated are copyright of the University of Manchester and can be used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike Licence. With thanks to the Heritage Imaging team.


8 comments on “Picturing the The West Riding Asylum, Menston, Yorkshire, 1901

  1. Pingback: FOURTOESThe West Riding Asylum, Menston, Yorkshire. 1901 - FOURTOES

  2. Thanks for the mention!

  3. Fascinating material – is there any plan to put these photographs on public display? I went to school opposite High Royds and I’ve been fascinated by the site ever since.

    • aanderton

      Dear Francesca, it would be lovely to exhibit the album itself at some point. However, for now, you can see a complete digital version of the album and all the individual photographs in it through our online digital collections. The link to the set of images is here:
      If you click on any of the images you will see a larger ‘zoomable’ version of it and a description of the photograph down the left hand side of the screen. I hope that this helps!

      • Thanks – I’ll forward this on to a friend who is researching letters written by patients at Menston and other asylums that were never sent by staff. I think the collection would be relevant!

  4. Pingback: High Royds: Hopes and Realities in Menston’s County Asylum – HIT THE NORTH

  5. aanderton

    Dear Francesca, that’s very interesting! yes, please do share the link to our album.

  6. Pingback: The West Riding Asylum, Menston, Yorkshire. 1901 - FOURTOES

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