Archives Awareness Campaign unearths harrowing mental health registers in Yorkshire

By Culture24 Staff | 03 June 2010
an old sepia toned photograph of an old woman

(Above) From the Archives of Broadgate Hospital. Mary Coultish (1871)

A series of 19th century mental health registers revealing the stark reality of mental health provision in Yorkshire 130 years ago have been catalogued as part of the Archives Awareness Campaign

Comprising case records of men and women admitted to Broadgate Hospital between 1871 and 1906, the records, held by East Riding of Yorkshire Archives, paint a harrowing picture of life for the mentally ill more than a century ago.

"Sadly, despite our modern preconceptions of mental hospitals, some of the patients admitted to Broadgate in its early days would not be diagnosed as insane today," says Ian Mason, Archives and Local Studies Manager.

"Cases such as epilepsy and depression, which we can treat relatively easily today, were not as well understood and were considered a form of 'idiocy' or 'stupidity'".

The case of William George Marsden, 56, a gardener from Pocklington was typical. Admitted to Broadgate on November 23 1905 suffering from what we would now call clinical depression, his case notes describe him as "dull, stupid, and lain in bed".

It also states that "he is suffering from Melancholia. He is depressed and morbidly emotional, becomes anxious at trifling circumstances and at times becomes greatly agitated and threatens suicide".

an old sepia toned photo of a man with a beard

Charles Burgess (1871)

Patient details include name, age, marital status as well as cause of insanity such as suicidal and depression. Also listed are notes on countenance, pulse rates, bowels and dated comments on the condition and progress of the patient.

As well as being a valuable resource for social historians, the archive could also be a valuable research tool for genealogists looking to put a bit of detail and colour into their family histories.

"The majority of family history researchers using our facility tend to focus on the census and microfilmed parish registers," says Collections Officer Sam Bartle. "Many of them are perhaps unaware that they also have the region;s archives at their fingertips."

The Archive Awareness Campaign is an ongoing celebration of all kinds of fascinating archive treasures. It celebrates and promotes local and national archives.

Throughout the year archives across the country open their doors to showcase history, hold open days and present workshops to help the public discover a piece of their own history. See for more details.

Find out more about the archives held by the East Riding Archives & Local Studies Service.

Archive Awareness is spearheaded by the National Council on Archives ( and funded by The National Archives ( and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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