I have a hobby: researching my family tree. It is a very addictive hobby which keeps me busy when I’m not writing about mental health. My two interests came together when I found where a very distant relative by marriage had died. She died in North Spring House in 1953 at the age of 75. She had survived her husband by 32 years and had one son who was a weaver by trade. She left her son £515 15s 4d, which in today’s money is about £8,900. In 1953 that would have been equivalent to nearly a years’ wages for a tradesman. Or two horses!

When I googled the address it came up under a different name – an asylum which later became a mental hospital.

North Spring House appears to have been half a mile from the main hospital building. The area is now partly used as a campus for students at the University of Huddersfield.

“Storthes Hall Mansion, built in about 1788 as a private house for the mill owning Horsefall family and located closer to Kirkburton centre, was converted into an asylum in 1904, renamed The Mansion Hospital and run independently as a hospital for people with learning disabilities. It closed in 1991 and was eventually converted back to a private residence.”

“In the early part of the 20th century, part of the Kirkburton hospital was devoted to treating shell-shocked World War One soldiers, but most of the patients were ‘pauper lunatics’ who were detained under the Lunacy Act 1890.”

“The hall was also home to women who were locked up for having children out of wedlock. Many had to spend the rest of their lives there.”

In 1967 and 1968 a committee appointed by the Leeds Hospital Board deliberated over accusations against staff at Storthes Hall and another hospital.

“The allegations which covered a thirty-two week period, were of serious violent assaults, with fists or weapons, against male patients of all ages, committed by four of the five named Male Nurses; and condonation, indifference and apathy on the part of the fifth Male Nurse; against unnamed Doctors and Charge Nurses, that they colluded and conspired to subject patients to physical violence; and against those responsible for the running of the Hospital—(the Medical Superintendent was specifically excluded on the fourth day of sittings at this Hospital)—that they had a mentality only slightly better than that of those responsible for Belsen Concentration Camp; that the Hospital was like Belsen because it was a “brutal, bestial, beastly place”—it was a “hell-hole”.”

Due to lack of evidence it was found that none of the accusations could be proved. The recommendation of the committee was:

“We recommend a review of the nursing staff establishment; and, in addition, the making of improvements in the methods of selection and early training of those recruited as Nursing Assistant. We further recommend that, wherever possible, bed-complements of wards should be reduced.”

This BBC documentary provides an interesting overview of mental health treatment in the UK:

Important Dates

“The first recorded Lunatic Asylum in Europe was the Bethlem Royal Hospital in London, it has been a part of London since 1247 when it was built as a priory. It became a hospital in 1330 and admitted its first mentally ill patients in 1407. Before the Madhouse Act of 1774, treatment of the Insane was carried out by non-licensed practitioners, who ran their Madhouses as a commercial enterprise and with little regard for the inmates. ”

Madhouse Act of 1774 established an initial framework for improving the regulation of private asylums. Firstly, the Act set limits on the number of patients who could be admitted into madhouses. Secondly, the Act created licenses and regular inspections for madhouse proprietors:

“A Parliamentary committee investigating in 1763, uncovered a disturbingly high number of sane people stowed away within private asylums for the financial or social benefit of their ‘friends’ and relatives. Notable cases included a wife imprisoned by her husband for lacking passion and acting ‘indifferently’ within the bedroom, and two young girls locked up to halt love affairs their parents did not approve of.”


The York Retreat was set up by William Tuke. This was the first establishment in the UK to treat their patients as human beings and offer a therapeutic setting for them. Mechanical restraints were discontinued and work and leisure became the main treatment.

County Asylums Act 1808

The act formed mental health law in England and Wales from 1808 to 1845. Notably, the Asylums Act established public mental asylums in Britain. It permitted, but did not compel, Justices of the Peace to provide establishments for the care of pauper lunatics, so that they could be removed from workhouses and prisons.

Lunacy Act 1845

The Lunacy Act’s most important provision was a change in the status of mentally ill people to patients.

Idiots Act 1886 

It was intended to give “… facilities for the care, education, and training of Idiots and Imbeciles”.

The Act made, for the first time, the distinction between “lunatics”, “idiots”, and “imbeciles” for the purpose of making entry into education establishments easier and for defining the ways they were cared for.

Before the Act, learning institutions for idiots and imbeciles were seen as either “licensed houses” or “registered hospitals” for lunatics, for which the parents of children hoping to enter would have to complete a form stating that they were “a lunatic, an idiot, or a person of unsound mind”. Additionally, they were required to answer irrelevant questions and present two medical certificates

a) Idiots. Those so deeply defective as to be unable to guard themselves against common physical dangers.
b) Imbeciles. Whose defectiveness does not amount to idiocy, but is so pronounced that they are incapable of managing themselves or their affairs, or, in the case of children, of being taught to do so.
c) Feeble-minded persons. Whose weakness does not amount to imbecility, yet who require care, supervision, or control, for their protection or for the protection of others, or, in the case of children, are incapable of receiving benefit from the instruction in ordinary schools.
d) Moral Imbeciles. Displaying mental weakness coupled with strong vicious or criminal propensities, and on whom punishment has little or no deterrent effect.

Mental Deficiency Act 1913

This act made provisions for the institutional treatment of people deemed to be “feeble-minded” and “moral defectives”. “It proposed an institutional separation so that mental defectives should be taken out of Poor Law institutions and prisons into newly established colonies

Mental Health Act 1959

Its main objectives were to abolish the distinction between psychiatric hospitals and other types of hospitals and to deinstituitionalise mental health patients and see them treated more by community care.

It also defined the term mental disorder for the first time: “mental illness as distinct from learning disability. The definition was “mental illness; arrest or incomplete development of mind; psychopathic disorder; and any other disorder or disability of mind”.

Mental Health Act 1983 

It covers the reception, care and treatment of mentally disordered persons, the management of their property and other related matters. In particular, it provides the legislation by which people diagnosed with a mental disorder can be detained in hospital or police custody and have their disorder assessed or treated against their wishes, unofficially known as “sectioning“.

The Mental Health Act 2007 

It amended the Mental Health Act 1983 and the Mental Capacity Act 2005. It applies to people in England and Wales. Most of the Act was implemented on 3 November 2008.

It introduced significant changes which included:

  • Introduction of Supervised Community Treatment, including Community Treatment Orders (CTOs). This new power replaces supervised discharge with a power to return the patient to hospital, where the person may be forcibly medicated, if the medication regime is not being complied with in the community.
  • Redefining professional roles: broadening the range of mental health professionals who can be responsible for the treatment of patients without their consent.
  • Creating the role of approved clinician, which is a registered healthcare professional (social worker, nurse, psychologist or occupational therapist) approved by the appropriate authority to act for purposes of the Mental Health Act 1983 (as amended).
  • Replacing the role of approved social worker by the role of approved mental health professional; the person fulfilling this role need not be a social worker.
  • Nearest relative: making it possible for some patients to appoint a civil partner as nearest relative.
  • Definition of mental disorder: introduce a new definition of mental disorder throughout the Act, abolishing previous categories
  • Criteria for Involuntary commitment: introduce a requirement that someone cannot be detained for treatment unless appropriate treatment is available and remove the treatability test.
  • Mental Health Review Tribunal (MHRT): improve patient safeguards by taking an order-making power which will allow the current time limit to be varied and for automatic referral by hospital managers to the MHRT.
  • Introduction of independent mental health advocates (IMHAs) for ‘qualifying patients’.
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy may not be given to a patient who has capacity to refuse consent to it, and may only be given to an incapacitated patient where it does not conflict with any advance directive, decision of a donee or deputy or decision of the Court of Protection

Further Reading

Storthes Hall newspaper article

County Asylum history

List of Asylums





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