Prestigious award for West Yorkshire Archive Service!

The records of the West Riding Pauper Asylum, Stanley Royd 1814-1991, held by WYAS, Wakefield, have been nationally recognised by inscription on the UK National Register of Documentary Heritage, part of the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme. The awards were given out at The Mound, Edinburgh, headquarters of the LLoyds Banking Group at a ceremony on Thursday 19th June.

This collection has been recognised as being of unique significance, being an irreplaceable source for the medical and social heritage of the United Kingdom. The records are a complete source for the study of all aspects of a renowned hospital which was at the forefront of medical and scientific progress in the treatment of the mentally ill in the United Kingdom, and in the way patients were viewed generally by society. Pioneering treatments were tested and implemented and a new informed way of understanding mental illness was developed.

At the heart of the collection, however, are the patients’ records themselves recording, in intimate and extensive detail, the admission, family and social background, illnesses, treatment, and ultimate fate of the thousands of men, women and children who passed through the doors of Stanley Royd over the course of 173 years. The collection includes over 5000 photographs of patients from the late 1860s onwards, literally putting a human face on a patient number. Each case file, whether for an adult or a child, shows the range of ailments and problems for which people were admitted. Mary Manning, a Bradford domestic servant was admitted in 1880. She claimed to be the “Queen of heaven, possessed of great wealth and had been crowned”.

Others were suffering from general health problems such as symptoms which would be recognised today as post-natal depression. Sarah Drabble of Wortley was admitted in 1832, aged 37 after having 18 children. She was not surprisingly “feeling in a low desponding state ever since her confinement”. Other women were suffering from social problems. Mary Ellen Yates, a Leeds housewife, was admitted in 1887 due to insufficient food and mistreatment by her husband.

Ann Humphreys of Dewsbury, admitted after trying to drown herself in 1871

Ann Humphreys of Dewsbury, admitted after trying to drown herself in 1871

Children were admitted into the hospital from as early as 1820 and until the opening of the separate Stanley Hall facility in 1901, their cases are among the adult case books and files, many with photographs of the children. Examples from the Stanley Hall era are in separate volumes and include Alfred Todd of Wakefield with a diagnosis of “imbecility with epilepsy”. The remarks made on his treatment include – in answer to questions put as to name and age “he replies broken window” and on asking him names of surrounding objects replies “Alfey”. Another mother of an 11 year old Leeds boy says in 1911 “I cannot manage him. He is destructive, breaks and tears everything he can get to lay his hands on. I am obliged to keep knives out of his way and all windows closed…..Children in the neighbourhood are afraid of him”.

The UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register is an online catalogue created to help promote the UK’s documentary heritage across the UK and the world. The award for ‘Best of UK Heritage’ recognises the outstanding but lesser-known heritage of the UK. Only nine UK collections have been successful this year and this is the 2nd WYAS collection to be honoured, the first being the diaries of Anne Lister in 2011.

To find out more about the Stanley Royd records and other collections, visit http://www.archives.wyjs.org.uk

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