The York Retreat asylum represents a very different institution from the county-run pauper asylums I have previously visited. York also had a county asylum, and it was the unfortunate death of a young Quaker woman there in 1790 that prompted the local Society of Friends to set up a private charitable institution, run on Quaker principles, and intended to provide individual care to a small number of patients. The Retreat is most famous for its dedication to ‘moral treatment’, under the influence of the Tuke family, who were instrumental in its foundation and throughout the nineteenth century. From the mid-nineteenth century it came to resemble more closely the practice of the County asylums, though catered for a combination of Quakers of all social classes, and middle class private patients from non-Quaker backgrounds.
Due to the Quaker principles and the small initial size of the asylum, music does not feature in early records. However, as more affluent and non-Quaker patients were admitted, pianos and musical entertainments became more common.
The West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum in Wakefield was set up in 1818, and became well-known for its advocacy of non-restraint on a large scale. The asylum made use of the model provided locally by the York Retreat, a much smaller and private institution, using the advice and experience of the Tuke family (who ran the Retreat) but implementing its principles on a much larger scale. As other public lunatic asylums were founded, they often made use of Wakefield as a model.
Work therapy was a central part of asylum management from the outset, and within a few years of its foundation almost all patients were able to participate in some kind of labour, whether outside in the cultivated gardens, or inside, helping with maintenance, cleaning and mending. The Asylum management recognised the importance of work for occupying the minds of the patients and providing a distraction from the melancholy and distress which characterised many patients.
Entertainments and recreations were much less quick to become part of moral treatment. In this case, the management were clear that ‘frivolous’ entertainment was usually not suitable for pauper patients. Not only would such activity provide only temporary relief from the trials of mental health problems (in contrast to the longer-lasting effects of regular employment), it was also morally problematic, given the low status and restricted means of pauper patients. In this case, re-creating life outside the asylum meant only careful use of music and other entertainments.
Music became more prominent under the medical director between 1866 and 1876, James Crichton Browne. As well as developing new approaches to the medical treatment of mental disorder, Brown encouraged music and theatre. A large detached hall was built for a variety of purposes, initially as a dining hall, but soon played host to visiting musicians and theatre companies as well as successful in-house groups.