Mental Hospital

Oulton Hall, the grand home of the Calverley family in the 19th century, was used as a hospital for adults and children with mental illnesses and conditions for over 50 years from shortly before the end of the First World War until the early 1970s. During that time thousands of mainly male patients passed through its doors, some allowed to return home, many others living out their life there.

For over a decade, after the death of John Selwin Calverley in 1901, the hall had stood empty managed by a live-in caretaker and gardeners who took care of the grounds. Ownership had passed to John Selwin’s brother, Horace Walter Calverley, but he had also inherited Down Hall near Harlow in Essex from an uncle and spent most of his time there or at a house in London’s Belgravia.

A couple of months after the outset of the war in 1914 Horace, a retired major in the 5th Dragoon Guards, made the hall available to Belgian refugees, the first group arriving in a wagonette from Leeds on Friday 2 October. They aroused much local interest and after they’d been to the Catholic church at Joseph Street in Hunslet on the following Sunday morning a number of people went into Oulton Park to try and get a glimpse of them. A notice was quickly posted on the park gates stating that it was closed.

As Christmas approached the ladies of the Oulton and Woodlesford Working Party were busy making flannel clothing and knitting socks and scarves for soldiers and sailors. They also made garments for the Belgian women and girls at the hall and Major Calverley paid for the material for sheets, towels and pillowcases.

Despite the donations, however, the Belgians didn’t stay long and were only resident for a few months. It’s not known when they left or precisely why. Maybe the hall was too big and draughty for them or, more likely, they found it easier to get work if they moved closer to the centre of Leeds.

It was after the Belgians left and the hall was vacant again that the idea of it being used as a hospital seems to have taken hold. As the war progressed many other similar grand houses owned by the aristocracy and wealthy, occupied or empty, were offered to the government to be used by sick and wounded servicemen. Major Calverley must have made a similar offer but the wheels of the War Department’s bureaucracy were slow and it took them until 1916 to make an inspection and compile what was referred to as a “Schedule of Plight.” It clearly showed the hall had become delapidated and the premises were in “bad condition.”

Perhaps because of a lack of funding it took a further two years before anything could be done but then at the end of July 1918 it was announced that through Major Calverley’s “generosity” a hospital was about to be opened “for officers suffering from neurasthenia and shell shock, which would be entirely devoted to the treatment of such cases.” Neurasthenia had long been defined as a condition with symptoms of fatigue, anxiety, headache and depression and combined with shell shock it would nowadays be called post traumatic stress disorder.

The hospital came under the control of the army’s Northern Command and was to be partly staffed by volunteers from the Red Cross Society. The press release announcing its opening came from the County Director of the Voluntary Aid Detachment services, Colonel C.W.E. Dunscombe, C.B.E., of the Territorial Headquarters in York. The military didn’t have to pay any rent but £2,000 had come from the government for “certain necessary alterations and repairs” resulting in ” a splendid hospital” capable of accommodating 70 patients.

A ground floor plan of the military hospital.

A 32 year old officer in the Territorial section of the Royal Army Medical Corps, Captain Eric Alfred Charles Fazan, was made Commandant and Medical Officer-in-charge. He had been awarded the Military Cross in France in 1915 and had recently been at the Abram Peel Hospital in Bradford. Gwendolen Money, who had also worked in the city, at Field House Hospital, became the first matron. One of the nursing sisters was May Treleaven from Camborne in Cornwall. A frequent visitor was consulting neurologist Lieutenant Colonel John Guthrie Blandford. A Derbyshire man he’d trained initially at St. Bartholemew’s Hospital Medical College in London and before the war had been a medical officer at the London County Asylum at Banstead in Surrey before moving to the largest asylum in the country at Whittingham near Preston.

Most of the furniture and equipment was provided by the government but other items were “urgently” needed and an appeal was made in the pages of the Yorkshire Post and locally in the Rothwell Courier and Times. Top of the list was an ambulance for carrying patients and their luggage from Woodlesford station. It was suggested a modern car of about 20 horse power, not being used because of the shortage of petrol, “would be gratefully accepted.” Red Cross funds were available to convert such a vehicle and give it an ambulance body.

A piano and a full-size billiard table were also required. “The West Riding and its inhabitants have never yet been appealed to, during the war, for anything required at a military hospital, without the best results. It is believed that the provision of recreation for neurasthenic officers will readily commend itself to their generous sympathy,” said the paper.

As it turned out the war ended on “11th day of the 11th month” 1918 within a few weeks of the first patients arriving. Just after the Armistice a journalist from the Yorkshire Post was despatched to Oulton and from his report, published on Wednesday 20 November, a more detailed picture emerges of the facilities and the understanding of shell shock as it then stood.

There were already over 50 officers at the hall which had been fitted up to accommodate 71 patients. Some of the beds were for men transferred from other hospitals in the Northern Command and the rest were for cases sent from clearing hospitals overseas. There were two wards in ten rooms – the Calverley Ward, and the Bedford Ward, named after Major-General Sir W. G. A. Bedford, the Deputy Director Medical Services of Northern Command.

As well as the officers about a dozen other ranks, who were being cared for at the Bradford Neurological Department, were sent in turn every month to Oulton to help run the the hospital and “simultaneously to obtain all the advantages of the treatment.”

The first floor wards.

The man from the Yorkshire Post was obviously impressed with the what he described as a stately mansion in the Grecian style of architecture. “The rooms are lofty, airy, well-lighted, and well ventilated, most of them commanding a fine view of the extensive wooded park,” he wrote. Clearly conveying the thoughts of the medical officers in charge he continued: “Beautiful surroundings, invigorating air, and suitable physical exercises, combined with the occupation of the mind in congenial tasks and recreations, play a large part in promoting the recovery of the patients and helping them to regain the full use of faculties which have been partly in abeyance.”

By then it had come to be recognised that those with shell-shock had been “lost in the crowd of sufferers” and should be treated separately from those with physical injuries, although there was still a great deal of ignorance amongst the public. Noting this the reporter must have again been paraphrasing the doctors he had met when he wrote: “The victim does not always receive the sympathy that is bestowed upon the warrior who has lost limb or who has been otherwise physically injured, for the reason that the damage he has sustained in fighting for his country is not so apparent, though for the time being it is often far more distressing.”

The treatment was based on the idea that the patients could be “re-educated’ by providing them with suitable occupations and recreation along with confidential talks with one of the doctors designed to “show the sufferer how he can to large extent help in his own recovery.”

The first step was to work out the special interests and skills of a patient by finding out about his work before or during the war. If he was really keen on a particular subject he was encouraged to pursue it. Map-drawing, modelling, carpentry and gardening were among the activities. Free classes were arranged at colleges in Leeds in art, architecture, languages, chemistry, and sanitation.

There was also outdoor sporting activity and indoor entertainment where a grand piano had indeed been provided by Sir George Armytage of Kirklees Park. It was placed in the “the large spacious entrance hall” and the reporter found patients there preparing for a concert. A billiard-room with a full-sized table had been lent by Major Chadwick from the officers’ mess at the Territorial Force Depot in Leeds. It was in frequent use as was the library, containing hundreds of volumes, and a drawing-room. Dances were “welcomed equally by officers, nurses, and sisters.” Major Calverley had left behind various items of furniture and the family portraits and other works of art were still on view.

As well as the piano a motor ambulance had also found its way to the hall donated by Joseph Pearson Craven from Menston-in Wharfedale, the owner of a Bradford clothing mill. Other articles were still needed though such as pictures, easy chairs, sofas, rugs. mats, cushions, plants, books, magazines, and a piano for the nurses.

“Combined with the essentials of employment and recreation there is a measure of freedom that is highly beneficial, giving the patients confidence in themselves as well those who minister to their needs,” the article continued. “It is less than two months since the hospital was opened, yet it has already proved its value in a way that is eminently satisfactory to all concerned.”

Despite the glowing report, from files in the National Archives, it appears that not long after the war ended the Red Cross personnel left the hall and so much of the effort that had gone in to setting up the hospital must have been wasted. Many of the patients were sent home or, if they still needed treatment, they went to other hospitals. Furniture and equipment supplied by the Army Council was removed. Almost immediately Horace Calverley started negotiations with government officials so that, at a nominal yearly rent of just £1, the facilities could continue to be used as a neurological hospital to treat all ranks of discharged disabled men.

With accommodation for 80 patients it was to be run by the Ministry of Pensions Medical Service Mission but the physical structure and grounds of the estate were to be managed by the Ministry of Works, so in the first few months of 1919 their officials in London had to investigate and approve the arrangements.

An architect was sent to make an inspection and he reported that the interior was generally in good repair but noted some damage to the ceilings and door frames with repairs needed for the roof slating. New water closets, urinals and baths had been plumbed in along with hot water supplied from a cylinder in the cellar. As well as the town water and gas supply, electric lighting, powered by a gas engine and dynamo, had recently been installed by the military. “In consideration of the accommodation afforded, its suitability for the purpose required and the premises being practically rent free, even if the sum of £250 were expended each year upon the general maintenance, the terms would still be advantageous,” he reported.

After letters went back and forth between John Hirst at John Farrer & Company – the Calverley estate’s land agent in Oulton, Dibb & Company – the family’s solictors in Leeds, and the government officials, a 14 year lease for the hall and 5 acres surrounding it, was drawn up to run from 1 June 1919 with the possibility of breaks at 3, 5, 7 and 10 years. All royalty rights to the coal and other minerals beneath the surface were kept by Horace Calverley.

As all this was going on the hall found some use as the South East Leeds Boy Scouts, including those from Oulton, held their 4th annual sports and gala day in the grounds on Saturday 28 June 1919. The opening ceremony, at 3 p.m., was conducted by the Earl of Mexborough and in the evening there was dancing with refreshments at “moderate prices.” The entrance fee for adults was 4d., children paid 3d.

There was further delay for the hospital as Treasury approval had to be sought for £3,500 for decoration and for new furniture and equipment. This caused some frustration to Horace Calverley as he was still employing a caretaker to keep an eye on the building and he in turn was accommodating an electrician to look after the lighting. Eventually, after a stiff letter from his solicitors, Calverley and the trustees of the estate signed the lease on 8 November 1919 allowing the Ministry of Pensions to take control and begin to move patients in. Surplus furniture and effects from the hall’s days as a family home, kept in two storerooms throughout the war, were then sold at auction and the caretaker was let go.

Part of a map showing the areas of the two leases negotiated with the Ministry of Works.

By the summer of 1920 thirteen patients had been admitted and one document suggests there were plans to accommodate up to 200. Yet more negotiations were underway to formulate a similar lease of the kitchen garden, vineries, greenhouses, peach house and potting sheds which stood on just over 7 acres of land adjacent to the hall. The government was also to retain and pay the wages of three gardeners who had been employed on the estate.

The head gardener was Richard Jowitt, born in Oulton in 1859. It’s believed he’d started working for the Calverleys, first as a domestic servant and then as a gardener, in the 1870s. After his marriage to Ada Beatrice Clarkson in 1892 the couple had lived with her widowed mother at the Nookin before moving to the head gardener’s quarters in the “old” lodge opposite the junction to Methley Lane. George William Jackson was nine years younger than Richard and in 1911, at the age of 43, was still living with his elderly parents, Samuel and Fanny, at 13 Oulton Lane on the Rothwell side of the estate. Sam had been an estate labourer. The youngest of the three was Wood Higgins, born in 1874, eldest son of Benjamin Wood Higgins, Oulton architect and surveyor who had lost two other sons in the war.

Initially the Ministry of Works was reluctant to pay for repairs to the greenhouses, which had fallen into disrepair, but after much wrangling Dr. Philip Gordon Phillips, now in charge as medical superintendent, came up with a compromise. As long as tools were provided, one of the greenhouses would be demolished and patients would renovate the others as they were given therapeutic training in gardening and other skills. Probably to protect market gardeners, tenants of his elsewhere in Oulton and Rothwell, Horace Calverley wanted a clause inserted in the lease preventing the hospital selling produce on the open market, but in the end he had to give way and the lease was finally signed in April 1923.

Dr. Phillips didn’t stay for much longer than a year and records indicate he left to become a general practitioner living first at Cottingham Bridge before moving to Wetherby. By 1923 Frank Percival Sissons headed the list of voters on the electoral register living at the hall. There were 13 other names of male wardens or attendants, female nurses, and a resident cook. The unmarried son of a policeman, Sissons grew up in Chapel Allerton and was 40 years old. Before the war he had worked as a warehouseman for a druggist, possibly at one of the Leeds hospitals. A medal record indicates he served with the 5th Wiltshire Regiment.

Although they now came from all levels of society, life and treatment for the patients was probably very similar to that enjoyed by the officers at the end of the war. One glimpse of the activities comes from a report of a meeting of the Leeds Wounded Warriors’ Welfare Committee in October 1923. Twice weekly cinema shows were due to be started at Oulton following on from their success at the Becket’s Park hospital. With the Armistice Day commemorations approaching it was proposed that the wounded men in the various hospitals should be given an opportunity to take part.

So far no figures have come to light as to how many patients passed through the doors of Oulton Hall in the early 1920s. Medical files on individuals which may exist are kept closed for 100 years. What we do know is that the figure of 200 patients was never reached and by the summer of 1925 the Ministry of Pensions had decided to close the hospital citing falling patient numbers.

On 2 July a formal letter from the Director of Medical Services at the Ministry of Pensions was sent to the Ministry of Works stating that closure was to take place at the end of the month. By then the cat was out of the bag and William Lunn, the Labour M.P. for the Rothwell constituency, had got wind of the decision, probably on returning home from London the previous weekend, and was asking questions in the House of Commons.

Reported in the Wakefield Express on Friday 4 July 1925 Lunn asked the Minster of Pensions, Major G. C. Tryon, if the hospital was closing and for what reason. The minister replied: “In view of the continuous decline in the number of pensioners requiring the kind of treatment provided at Oulton Hall it has been decided, after a careful review of the position throughout the country, to close this hospital – where there are at present 84 patients, only 42 of whom are drawn from the county of York – at or about the end of this month.” It was clear Oulton was being closed to save money and the patients would be sent elsewhere.

Lunn asked where could they be treated more economically. “Was he aware that there was considerable feeling among the people of the district, who believed that these patients were being extremely well treated at the hospital?” he asked.

Major Tryon agreed that Oulton had been of great advantage to all concerned. He said patient numbers had declined over a number of years and “it was quite impossible to keep all their hospitals open.” He understood the facilities provided would be as good as those available now and refused to answer a question about what would happen to the grounds of the hall when the hospital closed.

In the event a plan was quickly conceived to sell the hall, the home farm, three cottages, and 315 acres of park land, to the West Riding County Council which would continue to use it to accommodate mentally deficient patients in their area. Under the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913 it was their responsibility to provide the necessary facilities which were supervised from London by a government department called the Board of Control for Lunacy and Mental Deficiency. Originally part of the Home Office it was transferred to Ministry of Health in the early 1920s. Medical and legal commissioners went around the country seeing that those detained were legally in custody, care was proper, and money and other property belonging to the patients was not being misused or stolen.

In 1925 Horace Calverley was 62 and nearing the end of his life – he died in 1929 – and appears not to have wanted, or needed, to hang on to Oulton Hall with the potential for large expenses for its upkeep. Without a son he knew that on his death the conditions of previous family wills meant the estate would pass to his younger brother who also had no need for Oulton as his family was now living in Canada. The sale, however, would not include ownership of the coal seams underneath the estate where there was the still the potential for a substantial income from royalties from the deeper seams despite the shallower one having already been worked out.

In fact it was coal, or rather the lack of it and the potential for damaging subsidence of the land and buildings, which led to a long delay before the county council could finalise the purchase. Their immediate objective was to use the existing hospital for about 150 patients but projections showed that space would eventually be needed for over 2,000. The idea was that a “colony” was to be established at Oulton. Identical ward blocks would be built on the land over a number of years each housing about 80 patients and the colony would grow over time.

All this had to be investigated by civil servants in various departments in London before approval by the Ministry of Health could be given to the council to borrow the money. It came to a total of nearly £30,000 for the initial purchase of the hall itself, as well as the surrounding park, and new and existing equipment, fixtures, fittings and furniture.

The main problem was that the officials at the Board of Control were extremely nervous as they had already had their fingers burnt with a similar scheme in Wales. Drymma Hall near Neath in Glamorganshire had been bought for use as a hospital in 1920 but mining subsidence meant it couldn’t be expanded. As L.G. Brock at the Ministry of Health put it, he was “once bitten, twice shy,” the mentioning of subsidence bringing back “horrid recollections” of Drymma.

As an alternative it was proposed siting the new colony on land in the West Riding “not above the coal measures” and the grounds of the existing mental asylum at Menston near Ilkley were suggested. It turned out, however, that it was against Board of Control policy to build a colony for mental defectives close to such an asylum for more seriously ill patients.

The civil servants were also worried about the sewage facilities and they could point to the case of Rawcliffe Hall near Goole, acquired by the county council in 1920 but unable to be expanded because of drainage and sewage issues.

As memos and letters circulated in the ministries and between Wakefield and London, the hall was described, structurally, as being in a good condition but internally it was “very dilapidated.” There there was also a suggestion that, even if approval for a colony was given, the hall should be demolished.

Clearly sceptical one official wrote: “The hall itself is likely to prove an encumbrance. These large country-house estates may in some cases be well fitted for development as mental deficiency colonies; but there are a great number of properties of this sort on the market just now, and I think we need to be on our guard against unsuitable places being “dumped” on the local authorities who are in urgent need of accommodation and are, therefore, liable to be tempted by offers of large properties at apparently rather low prices.”

Meanwhile, as architects and surveyors were sent to Oulton to compile reports, there was a long correspondence between John Hirst and the Ministry of Works about the fittings and medical equipment left behind in the empty hall. Horace Calverley had an option to purchase some of it but he wanted to pass it on for use by the county council and there were months of wrangling about its value and whether it should be put up for an auction.

In the end it stayed in place but then another dispute arose about who would be liable when the Ministry of Works gave up the lease on 1 July 1926 and dismissed an orderley, a Mr. Wood, who had been looking after it. As a result, until the county council could take over, a new caretaker was temporarily taken on by Hirst as were the same three gardeners who had been at the hall in 1920. Internally it was found that the use of distemper on the walls and the painting of hardwood doors and finishings had “largely destroyed” the premises for use as a mansion house. Under the terms of the lease Horace Calverley received £1490 for repairs which he passed on to the new owners.

Towards the end of 1926 the conclusions of reports by mining engineers Childe & Rowand and two West Riding council architects, who had long experience of designing and building in areas where there was subsidence, were accepted.

The mining engineers gave a complete survey of 11 coal beds or seams ranging from 36 yards under the surface to 540 yards, although the deepest three, all under 2 feet in thickness, were unlikely ever to be worked. The shallowest seam, known as the Warren House bed, was too close to the surface to be mined effectively and was to be included in the sale.

The crucial geological fact was a fault, with a 60 yard upthrow, running diagonally across the property from the south west to the north east with the hall and its outbuildings situated just on the north side. To the north of the fault the Middleton Little coal, at a depth of 210 yards, and the Eleven yard seam, at 260 yards, were due to be worked by J. & J. Charlesworth’s Rothwell Haigh colliery. The hall itself was protected by a 30 acre pillar of coal left in place in all seams by the miners but elsewhere there would be up to 4 feet of subsidence so no new building to the north of the fault was recommended.

South of the fault the Haigh Moor bed, at 110 yards, and the Silkstone seam, at 294 yards, had both been worked out and the land had settled accordingly. The main potential problem was from the settling of the 4 feet 4 inch high Beeston bed where miners from Water Haigh colliery had just started removing coal from the under the estate. It was estimated it would take up to ten years to extract the coal but at a depth of 410 yards the engineers were confident that any new buildings would settle slowly and there would be only minor damage from subsidence.

The architects concurred and argued that as long as the small units planned for the colony were built on the south side of the fault, using their tried and tested technique of a strong concrete bases, there was little chance “of serious damage to the buildings.” Care would have to be taken to make water pipes and drains accessible so that any potential damage from subsidence could easily be rectified.

When it came to the question of the sewage it was accepted that a new disposal works at Lemonroyd would have sufficient capacity to cope with the increasing numbers forecast for the Oulton Hall colony. It was a joint enterprise between the Rothwell council and Hunslet rural council, responsible for Oulton and Woodlesford, and at the time was being planned and waiting for government funding.

Eventually giving his approval Sir Frederick Willis, chairman of the Board of Control, noted that the county council had looked at over 30 other sites but Oulton offered more advantages than the others. “One very important point is that this site is midway between Leeds and Wakefield and is very accessible. Experience shows that it is very important to establish these colonies in accessible positions. In addition the Leeds water is available and the drains are connected to the public sewer,” he wrote.

“My own views therefore are that we should accept this site and face whatever difficulties there may be in consequence of the risk of subsidence. After considering the experts’ reports these difficulties seem to be to be of a trivial character and I feel that the other great advantages of the Oulton Hall site more than make up for the mining difficulty.”

With that all that was needed was a signature from the Minister of Health in Stanley Baldwin’s Tory government approving the county council’s loan. Future prime minister Neville Chamberlain duly wielded his pen at the end of November 1926.

It then took until the following May for all the conveyancing paperwork to be completed and for the transfer of ownership to take place. Several more months were required for repairs and decoration. New staff had to be appointed so it wasn’t until 3 April 1928 that 33 patients were moved in, a gap in occupation of nearly three years.

Kitchen staff one Christmas in the 1950s. From left to right standing behind the counter are Dora Taylor, Lily Baxter, Charlie Taylor, and then the man with the suit stirring the pudding is believed to be Ben Dawson. He had a long association with the hospital as a member of the overseeing committee from 1928. Next comes Frances Wilson and looking over her shoulder is Winnie Clapham. The names of the other man and ladies are unknown apart from Winifred McAvoy who is behind Ben Dawson’s left shoulder.

The first quarterly visit by seven members of the Mental Deficiency Act Committee of the West Riding County Council took place on 28 April 1928 led by its chairman Sir James Hinchcliffe. He was also the chairman of the full council. His committee deputy, William Howgate, was there as was Sir James’ daughter, Mabel, who had followed him into local politics. One of the other members, Ben “Tots” Dawson, was to become a regular visitor long into the 1950s. Taking notes was W. H. Brown, the council’s executive officer. He had played a key role in the protracted negotiations with the government.

Their report, now in the West Yorkshire Archives, said the patients “all appear to have settled happily in their new surroundings. They have been usefully employed in and about the park and gardens since their arrival and preparations are in progress to provide useful employment for each patient however small his capacity.”

In charge was a husband and wife team. Sydney John Towill was 47, the son of a Devon schoolmaster, and had married Alice Louisa Mayer, from Leytonstone, in 1907. They had been working at one of Lancashire’s largest asylums at Rainhill, between Manchester and Liverpool, where, before the war, Sydney was described as a storekeeper and organist. “Mr. and Mrs. Towill have already won the confidence of patients and staff and we view with sympathy their efforts to make Oulton Hall a first class home for those who are entrusted to their care,” noted the committee. Sadly, at the age of 52, Mrs. Towill passed away in November 1931 and was buried at Oulton.

The committee’s second visit was on 13 July when they found 100 patients, a majority of them “usefully employed” in newly built workshops. Most progress had been made in gardening, shoemaking and tailoring. The committee approved rules for visits by relatives and friends and for the patients’ own correspondence.

A more detailed picture emerges from a report compiled by J. Falconer Hall, an inspector from the Board of Control, when he visited the following December. Since April 125 patients had been admitted, 5 had been discharged and 5 were living away “on licence,” leaving 115 actually at the hall. There had been no deaths. He was clearly impressed by some of the facilities and less so by others. “The main door leads into a beautiful hall, and on the left is the library which is now used as a tailor’s shop at one end and a basket and rafia shop at the other,” he wrote. “12 of the 15 usually employed at tailoring were busy making decorations for Christmas; whilst fourteen were engaged in making nice fancy baskets.”

He went on to describe three day-rooms on the ground floor next to the library. The first had a grand piano in it, the second was for “epileptic low grade patients,” whilst next to it was a third for other low grade patients. “All the day-rooms are nice, bright and well ventilated,” he reported. The kitchen was “very nice” whilst the dining room had seating for 90. A dormitory next to it had 18 beds in it but wasn’t being used because it was too cold.

Near the dining room were two water closets and two lavatories, one with 11 basins and the other with 5 basins and 4 urinals. It was the “outside” toilets he wasn’t too happy about. They were over 60 yards from the dining room along a dark passage past the kitchen door. “It was a wet day when I paid my visit and the lavatories were very cold and damp. There is no means of heating this part of the building. I would advise that the two water closets near the dining hall should be reserved for the use of the low grade cases only.”

Also outside the main hall was the laundry where dirty patients’ clothes were washed. Bedding and other items were sent off site to a contractor. Upstairs the first and second floors were used for dormitory and staff accommodation. On the first floor 12 dormitories, with a total of 89 beds, opened off a gallery looking down on to the ground floor. On the second floor there were only 5 dormitories with 27 beds and then 5 staff rooms with 2 beds each. More beds than had been planned had been squeezed into the dormitories and the inspector recommended reorganising the staff rooms to make more space for patients. A sick room had 4 beds in it. If there was a fire, water could be had from a hydrant or from the lake in the grounds and the Leeds Fire Brigade would have to be sent for.

Referring to all the patients as “boys,” despite their ages, the numbers being trained in various skills were given: carpentry 12, tailoring 15, shoe making 15, mat making 15, basket making 14, gardening 14, stoking the boilers 2, odd jobs and ward work 22. Six out of the 115 were unable to do anything. The carpenter’s and shoe maker’s shops were in the old stables and “excellent work” was being done in both. “I saw all the boys who were neatly dressed and in good health. All were looking forward to their Christmas entertainments. I saw one boy who in time might be considered for licence,” he wrote.

Apart from the superintendent and the matron there were 17 staff, although their names weren’t given. The head attendant was resident on the estate but the night attendant lived offsite. There were four resident attendants, one of whom was a carpenter. A handyman and a gardener were residents but the tailor and shoe maker lived elsewhere. The cook had an assistant and a kitchenmaid and there were two housemaids, a seamstress and a charwoman for dealing with the sheets.

Calling for another attendant to be employed to take into account that there were 12 epileptics, including “six dirty cases and two cot cases who have to be carried about, as well as six boys who have run away from other institutions,” the inspector concluded: “Taking into consideration that this establishment was only started in April this year I consider that the superintendent and the matron have done excellent work in bringing it to its present state of efficiency, especially as they have had to practically train all their attendants to deal with defectives.”

Despite the favourable reports it wasn’t all plan sailing and looking after a large group of male patients, with many of them behaving like lively children, must have been hard work for the inexperienced team. An indication of the problems they encountered comes a few months later when the council visitors found that three of the the patients been injured in accidents. One had broken a leg, another broke a collar bone and the third had severe concussion.

The register of electors published on 1 May 1929 gives names, though not occupations, for 13 staff living at the hall. As well as the Towills there were 6 men and 5 women. They were Herbert Stones, Norman Woodhead, Ralph Storey, Arthur William Wrigglesworth, William Ostick, George William Franks, Rose Tamlin, Elizabeth North, Jane Atkinson, Elizabeth Stead and Annie Vaux. Sydney Towill and three of the original male wardens were still there in 1933 but the female staff had changed completely.

Sir James Peach Hinchliffe. His portrait was painted by Richard Jack.

After getting the new institution underway the county council turned their attention to acquiring funding for their ambitious plan to house more than 2000 patients at Oulton. A report of their “preliminary” plans, under the headline: “Great County Scheme For The Care of Mental Defectives,” appeared in the Wakefield Express on Friday 19 January 1929. It said Oulton was currently capable of accommodating 160 patients but with difficulties in finding suitable places elsewhere it anticipated development of the Oulton estate to “accommodate at least 2,030 patients.”

As previously discussed they would live in a number of small blocks constructed in the grounds. 80 adult males and 80 adult females would be in two blocks, each with 80 beds; and there was to be a hospital for 160 patients, with equal accommodation for the sexes. Then there would be nine blocks, described as children’s homes, each with 50 beds for a total of 200 boys and 250 girls. Finally 600 men and 660 women would be accommodated in 21 homes, each with 60 beds. Presumably the planning that had gone into this represented the current medical thinking on the types and numbers of conditions and illnesses that were prevalent at the time.

As well as the accommodation there was an impressive list of other buildings including a “centrally situated” administrative block, an assembly hall, a hall for religious services, a boiler house and a laundry. Then there would be new workshops for both male and female patients, a school, hostels for male and female staff, a house for the medical superintendent, houses for hospital workers, and stores. Given that the new buildings were to be constructed south of the geological fault this suggests the hall itself may no longer have been needed and would be demolished or sold off.

The report made it clear that the scheme would be built in phases, as and when finance became available, but the initial design work meant that when it was finished it would work as an integrated whole.

All of these plans came with quite a price tag and had to be looked at in detail and approved by the Board of Control. Earlier a cost £500,000 had been estimated to accommodate 1,500 patients, with an annual bill for maintenance of £82,500, but the county council seemed to be unwilling to put a figure on the plan for over 2,000 patients.

Their reluctance was probably understandable given the prevailing economic and political conditions of the time. Ramsey Macdonald’s minority Labour government took office in June 1929 but, despite passing several pieces of progressive and reforming legislation, it was dogged by the global financial crisis of the Great Depression which caused mass unemployment. Unable to agree on cuts to the “dole,” to satisfy American bankers before they agreed to loans, many ministers resigned and the government finally fell in August 1931, with Macdonald forming a coalition National Government, a decision which resonates in the modern Labour movement today.

As the key figure pushing for the expansion of the Oulton Hall colony Sir James Hinchcliffe was well aware of all this. Along with the mayors of Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield he was on the West Riding committee of the Coalfields Relief Fund, which distributed food vouchers to destitute families, and he would have seen the construction of the colony as a way of providing much needed employment. Knighted in 1920 for his war work and noted for his frankness he was in his late 60s and had been on the county council for over thirty years, becoming chairman in 1916. From Denby Dale, where his family ran a long established woollen and worsted spinning mill, he had made his name on the education authority spearheading a school building programme. Politically he was an old fashioned Liberal but appears to have been respected by, and worked closely with, “socialist” Labour colleagues on the council where no party was in overall control between the wars.

Despite winning support from the Board of Control at the Ministry of Health the Oulton Hall scheme foundered when it went before the government’s Unemployment Grants Committee. It had suggested an application would be well received for the relief of unemployment but then turned it down in October 1930. The members gave as their reason the Local Government Act of 1929 which stipulated that “the provision and maintenance of sanatoria was the normal duty of the local authority” and expansion should be funded out of the rates. By this time the scheme had been scaled back to a total of 610 beds at a cost of £225,650.

Sir James Hinchliffe appears to have been caught out by the provisions of the 1929 act. Unhappy at the “inequitable” decision he quickly organised a meeting with the Minister of Health, Arthur Greenwood, who he may have thought would have some sympathy as he had been born in Hunslet, would have been familiar with Oulton, and the unemployment situation locally. No support was forthcoming, however, and the minutes of the meeting show that Greenwood heeded advice from his civil servants who claimed that the West Riding had already benefited from the act and other local authorities were already building colonies without the need for special grants.

Another attempt was made to sway the government with a deputation, including William Lunn and a dozen or so other Yorkshire Members of Parliament, to the Lord Privy Seal, the Welsh trade unionist Vernon Hartshorn. He was told that, out of an estimated total of over 3,700, there were only 659 mentally defective patients being cared for in institutions in the West Riding.

The Yorkshire Post, Friday 14 November 1930.

The deputation protested that when the 1929 act was being discussed it was “never contemplated” that extensions of the mental deficiency services would be provided by local authorities without special financial assistance from central government. New town halls and other projects, they said, were being funded by the Unemployment Grants Committee, which had “no more claim on the funds than the provision of the colony.” Why was money being freely applied to “less urgent and beneficial public services?” they asked.

All of this was backed up with a resolution by MPs in the House of Commons a few days later but despite Vernon Hartshorn promising to consult with the Ministers of Health and Labour and to give the application for a grant the “fullest and fairest consideration” it all came to nothing and in January 1931 Sir James Hinchcliffe and the West Riding County Council had to admit defeat. Oulton Hall had become a victim of the austerity politics of the 1930s and would not be expanded with government funding.

Any chance the scheme could be paid for out of the rates were scotched by Sir James at a meeting of the county council on Wednesday 21January 1931 when he announced that partially vacant workhouses would be urgently used to accommodate up to 200 additional patients. Sir James’ died, at his home at Inkerman Hall in Denby Dale, in September 1933 and, as the driving force behind the plan, it appears the expansion of Oulton died with him.

In January 1934 a newly elected county council, under the leadership of Alderman Lomas-Walker, made a further appeal to the coalition government for a grant. Alderman W.B. Cartwright was indignant that the borough of Leeds had been given “nigh on” a quarter of a million pounds for a new civic hall. “They could easily give the county council not half, but a very much larger portion than half, of the cost of the erection of accommodation for the colony,” he said.

Another councillor, Sir Percy Jackson, said nothing could be done until reforms were made to the way grants were made and it wouldn’t be dignified for the council to be “knocking at the door” of the government knowing all the time that they would get nothing. “It was not dignified and it was not good business.” His prediction was correct and no grant was forthcoming.

An interesting insight into local politics during this period comes from the correspondence over plans to extend the Oulton St. John’s church cemetery. The churchwardens and the vicar, Lewis Pervical Milnes, put in a request to the county council in October 1932 to annexe an acre of land from the estate. The council were willing to grant it and even offered two acres so long as patients of all denominations, who died at the hall, could be be buried in the new plot. Approval had to be sought all the way from the Minister of Health but as letters were exchanged the Rothwell Joint Cemetery Board got wind of the idea and objected.

The board were responsible for the large public cemetery on Haigh Road in Rothwell which had been opened in 1918. Reading between the lines, it looks as the Labour members in control didn’t want the potentially lucrative business of burials from the hall going to the church. In the end they won but a clever official came up with the idea of granting an acre for the enlarged church cemetery in exchange for 1255 square yards on the other side of the building for the planned widening of Leeds Road. The agreement was finalised in January 1935 by Horace Calverley’s younger brother, Edmund Leveson Calverley, who had inherited what remained of the family’s property locally and who was still patron of the church.

Meanwhile life at Oulton Hall continued for those who had been admitted. Central heating was installed towards the end of 1931 and classified ads began to appear in the Leeds and Wakefield newspapers connected with the maintenance and running of the institution. One of the first was in December 1931 inviting offers for a battery of 110 volt accumulators with 280 ampere hours capacity which were surplus to requirements. These may have been used to power early radio receivers for listening to the B.B.C. or as overnight storage for electricity generated by the equipment installed by the military in 1919.

Nurses and children in Lake View in the 1950s. Constructed in 1932 it was one of two “temporary” buildings in use at the hospital until it closed. Pauline Lewis, later to become Mrs. Hayden is standing in the middle.

All tenders for work and provisions had to go through the clerk to the county council, J. Charles Mcgrath, and in August 1932 he was inviting bids for the construction of two “temporary buildings” on the site which would need builders, joiners, plumbers, heating engineers and electricians. They were nearly finished by the following May when tenders for them to be painted and decorated were put out with specifications from the county architect. Most likely these are the two huts, described officially as “villas,” to the east of the main hall. They became known as Lake View and Beech View and would become homes to successive generations of children and teenage boys.

Contracts for food supplies for the patients and staff at both Oulton and Rawcliffe were re-advertised every six months. On the list were bread, groceries, jam, margarine, meat, milk and tea. Poultry food was bought in to feed egg laying chickens.

Resident and non-resident staff at the hall changed often and there were frequent ads for new recruits, the higher grades sought through the pages of the Yorkshire Post with the kitchenmaids and other workers via its more downmarket evening stablemate. One early vacancy was caused by the arrest of 30 year old Edith Moss, a domestic worker at the hall, who was sentenced to three years in prison for stealing ten £1 notes, a handbag and other articles. At her trail in Leeds it was said she had led “a life of systematic crime.’

Despite the slip up with Miss Moss both the superintendent and the matron were given a free hand in choosing new applicants who had to supply written testimonials, turn up for an interview and pass a medical. Curiously, in December 1931, a nursing sister called Grimm was reported to have left the Barr Colony at Walsall for Oulton but her name is missing as a resident locally in subsequent electoral registers.

With the completion of the temporary huts at the end of May 1933 a number of new positions needed to be filled. Male attendants were needed to supervise and train the patients. Those with skills in painting and paint-mixing, tailoring, estate work, physical drill, brush-making, basketry and music, were especially needed. The salary was according to experience ranging from £70 to £90 per year for residents, who got their board, food and laundry free, to non-residents who were paid from £130 to £150.

At that time the women staff were paid significantly less than the men. For the children a resident charge nurse was needed on a salary between £60 and £75. Non-resident female nurses and probationers were also required. They were to be paid between £80 and £110 and like the charge nurse it would be an advantage if they “had experience of the methods of training of low-grade mentally defective children.” The appointments were subject to the Asylums and Certified Institutions (Officers Pensions) Act of 1918.

Another “experienced” kitchenmaid was need in July 1933 with a starting salary of £30 a year, free board and lodging, and the “use of a uniform.” Particularly hard to find was a nurse who could play the piano to accompany the children in singing and for concerts. An ad first appeared April 1934 and the matron was still searching for a suitable applicant the following August.

In March 1934 the West Riding were looking after a total of 827 mentally defective patients in their certified institutions throughout the county. 10 patients were under guardianship and another 1,102 were living in the community under what was known as “statutory supervision” where they were visited regularly.

By then there was no further accommodation for adult male patients available at Oulton. New and urgent cases were occurring all the time so the managing committee decided to reorganise patients to make best use of its facilities. A dozen or so junior male patients housed at Settle were sent to an institution at Lancaster. Other juniors moved to one of the new huts at Oulton freeing up the Settle institution for “low grade” adult male patients. The hall itself was painted internally and externally after a tender in October 1934.

Some indication of the lives of the patients and the reasons they were sent to Oulton can be gleaned from the pages of the regional press throughout the 1930s.

Under the headline “Mind Of a Child” the first comes from the Yorkshire Evening Post on Friday 22 May 1931. That morning a 22 year old man from Birkenshaw had appeared at Dewsbury charged with “a serious offence.” The man’s name wasn’t published nor were any details of what he had done but, given the paper’s apparent reluctance to say, it was probably of a sexual nature.

The assistant medical officer for the West Riding, Dr. R. Lawrence, told the court the man’s mental development was that a child of 7 and a half. A solicitor for his stepmother said he should be placed under guardianship and stay living with his family where a 19 year old brother would help to look after him. The stepmother was anxious to keep a promise she had made to the man’s father on his deathbed that she would “never lose sight of him.”

A solicitor for the West Riding said that if he stayed with his stepmother a medical officer would have to visit at least once every three months. He said the charge against the man was “of a serious nature, and was an offence all too common among mental defectives.” “There is a possibility,” he said, “that unless absolute control is exercised, and the mother has her eye on the boy the whole of the time, some similar offence may be committed.” The magistrates agreed and he was committed to Oulton.

A year later there was news of a much more serious case of an Oulton patient who had managed to escape from there and from another secure hospital.

Fred Foster was 27 and had originally been sentenced to three years in prison at Leeds Assizes in May 1930 for a sexual offence against a woman at Burnley. He had been sent to Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight but in October 1931 it was decided he was mentally defective and transferred to Oulton. After escaping he was recaptured and taken to the government run institution at Rampton near Retford but escaped twice from there in January and then February 1932.

Whilst on the run he managed to commit a sexual offence against a young woman at Scarborough and an indecent assault at Stalybridge. He obviously had enough intelligence to travel and reading between the lines he seems to have had access to money.

Mr. Justice Hawke was not convinced that Foster was mentally defective although he agreed with a prison doctor who gave evidence saying he “lacked control” and was “impulsive.” Sentencing him to a further five years “penal servitude” he remarked that a “perfectly innocent and respectable young woman had been most horribly outraged, and he did not know what the position of women in this country would be if steps were not taken to keep such men under close control. As a great judge once said, we sit on the bench to check such impulses,” he said.

In December 1933 there was the first of several unnatural deaths at Oulton Hall which had to be investigated and subsequently made public. The victim of this first incident was 16 year old Arnold Leach from Askern near Doncaster who had been mentally deficient since birth and placed in other institutions before Oulton. He became ill and died after drinking corrosive poison. At an inquest held in Leeds, Norman Woodhead, one of the attendants, gave evidence saying he couldn’t explain how Leach had got hold of the bottle as all the poisons at the hospital were kept under lock and key.

Three months later another boy died after being badly scalded in a bath of hot water. Coincidentally 8 year old William Alexander Barwick, the son of a miner, was also from Askern. The inquest for his death was held at the hall itself with the main witness being nurse Lucy Wheeler. She said the boys in her care ranged up to the age of 16 and one of them, about 12 years old, had been standing next to Barwick’s bed saying he was “dirty.” She told him to go back to his own bed but then had to go to another ward to lock up her tray of medicines which contained methylated spirits and poisonous lotions.

No doubt keenly aware of the previous incident nurse Wheeler’s priority was a hospital regulation to deal with her tray rather than the unruly boy. When she got back, after a couple of minutes, she heard scream coming from the bathroom.

“I went at once. I saw Barwick standing in a bath full of hot water and the other boy standing by the bath. I asked him why he had brought Barwick down and he did not reply. I noticed Barwick was scalded, and called the charge nurse.” A verdict of misadventure was recorded with no blame attached to any of the staff.

As noted with the case of Fred Foster it was possible to escape from Oulton Hall. There were no high fences and the wards were only locked at night. In October 1934 two unnamed men got as far as Ilkley where they carried out a series of robberies before they were caught the following night. Appearing before Otley magistrates they were said to have broken into two shops where they stole cigarettes and chocolate before breaking into a lock-up and taking away a raincoat. Perhaps because of their obvious conditions they were discharged and sent back to Oulton.

A few years later another man managed to evade capture for more than a year but was caught after exposing himself to a woman in West Hartlepool. Edwin Lowis was 35 and had been sent to Oulton from Bedford prison about five years previously.

According to a reporter from the Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail he was “a little man whose manner and speech in the dock seemed quite normal.” He pleaded guilty to the charge of indecent exposure and the woman who reported it was complimented by the chairman of the magistrates who said “she had carried out a duty which very few people would have cared to undertake.” Lowis was remanded in custody to await an escort to take him back to Oulton.

In the 1930s many of the inmates were detained for what now seem to be quite petty offences. For instance Fred Johnson, aged 21, a labourer from Brierley near Barnsley, pleaded guilty in December 1935 to the theft of a pony. Medical evidence was accepted that he was “certifiable as a feeble-minded person,” and the judge at Sheffield committed him to the hall.

A slightly more serious case was heard at Leeds a couple of weeks later when 20 year old labourer George Hairsine, from Clifford near Boston Spa, was found guilty of setting fire to a haystack in the village. The jury added a rider to their verdict saying “they were not satisfied regarding his state of mind.” Before sentencing the medical officer at Armley gaol said he’d had Hairsine under observation and had come to the conclusion that he was feeble-minded under the terms of the Mental Deficiency Act, 1927.

A different view came from Dr. Reginald Lawrence, Assistant Medical Officer for the West Riding, who said he’d examined him on one occasion at his home. Perhaps aware of the lack of places in the institutions he concluded that Hairsine had the mental age of a child of ten, but he was not satisfied that he came within the section of the act requiring “care, supervision and control, for his own protection or the protection of others.” The judge, Mr. Justice MacKinnon, disagreed and ordered that he be detained at Oulton, saying the protection of others was an obvious consideration in the case.

Another seemingly petty case was that against Matthew Lonsdale, a 21 year old labourer “of no fixed abode” who was tried at Bradford in August 1938 for stealing scrap metal valued at 2 shillings – “the property of the Postmaster General at Shipley.” This time there was no suggestion by Dr. Lawrence that an order should not be approved to send Lonsdale, who pleaded guilty, to Oulton. He said he’d examined the prisoner and certified him as a feeble-minded person. He had the intelligence of a boy of 10 years of age and had made very little or no progress at an elementary school. The chairman asked Lonsdale if he had anything to say. “No, sir,” he said.

It wasn’t just the “feeble minded” offenders who could find themselves in court and be committed to Oulton. It was their parents too. Under the rules those who could afford it had to contribute to their child’s upkeep once they had been sent away.

One man prosecuted in January 1939 was Denis Rogers, a dyer’s labourer from West Royds in the Windhill area of Shipley. He was summoned after getting six months behind on the weekly maintenance of 3 shillings he had been ordered to pay for his 11 year old son, Terence, who was at Oulton. On a weekly wage of £3 7 shillings in mitigation he explained he had had “considerable expense” on moving into a new house and both he and his wife had been sick.

With little sympathy the chairman of the Bradford magistrates, F. Fearnley Rhodes, commented: “If your son had been at home you would have had to keep him.” “I quite appreciate that,” said Rogers. He was given a one month prison sentence, suspended, so long as he paid 5 shillings a week.

Sydney Towill continued as superintendent at Oulton until towards the end of 1935. In a Yorkshire Post notice advertising for his replacement in October it was stated 264 male “mental defectives” could now be housed at the hall. The new man would receive a salary not less that £200 and not more than £300 depending on his age and experience, together with board, lodging and washing. “Applicants must have had experience in the training of male mental defectives and be conversant with the Rules and Regulations governing the management of Certified Institutions,” it said.

Towill’s successor was Wilfred Trevor Williams. He was in charge until just before the start of the Second World War when a register of everybody in the country taken in September 1939 shows that William Fryer had taken over and was living at the hall with his wife, Ethel, and their two children.

Eight staff were listed including mental nurses Issac Granville Bright Reed and Edwin Halliday, matron Florence Hughes, and cook Charlotte Wilson Corney. With them were two housemaids – Doreen Egglestone and Martha Jewson. The record for one member of staff is still officially closed as he or she was still alive when the register was made publicly available on the Find My Past website. Three others – George Varley, Eric Hemingway and Laura Green were listed on the 1939 electoral register compiled during 1938 but had moved on by the following September. One of the junior male attendants with clerical skills had been taken on in 1938 on a salary of between £70 and £90.

Perhaps of more interest is the listing in 1939 of just over 200 patients in residence at Oulton Hall. Again some were thought still to be alive and their names are redacted, but the majority are named along with their dates of birth. The youngest was born in 1933 and was therefore only 6 years old; the eldest was 61.

As the war got underway about 50 of the patients were moved out to free up beds in case they were needed for civilian bombing casualties. Unfortunately this had an “unsettling effect” on some of the remaining patients and nine of them had absconded. The hospital also seems to have been awarded a contract to supply clothing for the forces, the evidence coming in the form of an advertisement in October 1939 for a tailor-cutter to work as an attendant for the duration of the war on a salary between £150 and £170. A non-resident probationer nurse was also needed that month.

After 1940 there were far fewer references to Oulton Hall in press reports than there had been in the 1930s. It’s hard to believe that cases were not coming before the courts and so the lack of reporting may just be down to newspaper staff and newsprint cutbacks rather than a change in official attitude to “mental defectives.” Visits by the West Riding’s committee and by the Board of Control inspectors appear to have stopped or their reports have been lost to the archives. Staff turnover must have continued to be high though as adverts continued to appear for attendants who had to be over military age. Tenders were also advertised for suppliers such as a 12 month contract in February 1941 for the laundry of 3,300 articles per week.

In 1941 new rules were issued to the staff. “Nurses shall treat the patients kindly and shall not speak harshly to them. No patient shall on any account whatever be struck or threatened,” were the key messages. Post-war some patients were temporarily housed at the former isolation hospital on Haigh Road in Rothwell while the hall was being repaired.

Oulton Hall in 1948.

As mentioned earlier, Christmas was a special time with the efforts of the staff augmented by help from the surrounding area. A report in the Wakefield Express on Saturday 3 January 1948 gave details of the festivities over the previous couple of weeks. “The children’s ward and parts of the main hall were gaily decorated with trimmings, lanterns and coloured shades, and each building had a large Christmas tree. The children began their festivities on December 20, many of them presenting a concert, which the other children, relatives and friends greatly enjoyed,” it said.

On Christmas Day, after the plum pudding and mince-pies, each child was handed a gift by Santa Claus and there was a film show of comic cartoons, with the aid of a new sound film projector. In the evening a film show was given to the adult patients who “revelled in the exciting adventures of Dick Turpin and his thrilling ride to York.” On Boxing Day evening a concert party of staff and patients gave a show on a new “well-equipped” stage in the concert hall, the highlight of which was a potted version of the pantomime Cinderella.

In July 1948 Oulton was absorbed into the National Health Service and became part of the A group of Wakefield hospitals. Around this time Dr. Herbert John O’Loughlin was appointed the new medical superintendent. Born in 1905, the son of a Manchester Corporation finance clerk, he went to university in the city and graduated as a doctor and surgeon in 1930. After a period as a house surgeon at a general hospital in Wigan he moved to the large Denbigh Asylum in North Wales and lived in nearby Towyn on the coast during the war.

Dr. O’Loughlin was in place at Oulton by December 1949 when he wrote to the Yorkshire Evening Post thanking them for two hampers of toys sent for the children from their toy appeal. In 1953 he married Eileen Wright and was to be in charge at Oulton until his sudden death in March 1960. By all accounts, from staff and official visitors, he was liked and respected for his expertise and management skills.

As well as providing training in the workshops on site a group of patients, who were deemed capable, were allowed to work as labourers in local industries like Armitage’s brickworks on Eshald Lane, Bentley’s brewery and the small paintworks established in the 1950s in Oulton Wesleyan chapel. An indication of the numbers came in May 1952 when the newly elected M.P. for Normanton, Woodlesford born Albert Roberts, asked the Minister of Health how many there were. Iain Macleod replied that that between 40 and 50 went out daily and added that this method of rehabilitation “had proved most successful.”

For one patient though a spell away from Oulton was much more fun. Whether he got into trouble isn’t recorded but the hospital assistant who had a brief fling with him certainly did. She was Clara Isobel Watson of Walnut Crescent, Wakefield, who was taken to court in December 1952. She was said to have formed a “violent attachment” for the 33 year old patient and helped him to go missing for nine days, during which they spent a night at a Leeds hotel!

The prosecuting lawyer said the patient had been admitted the previous April and was found to have the mental capacity of a 12 year old. His disappearance had been “a matter of great concern to the medical superintendent as well as to the police, apart from the possible danger to the public.” Clara Wilson was married with four children and she pleaded guilty to several charges including helping him escape, break the conditions of his licence and hiding him. Attempting to explain her action her lawyer said there hadn’t been any danger to the public as the patient was allowed to leave the hospital on parole without supervision. He conceded Mrs. Wilson “played with fire” because she became infatuated.

A much more serious incident happened in the grounds of Oulton Hall a few weeks later when one of the patients was allegedly murdered by another, an event which was perhaps the most shocking in the institution’s history.

The victim was Byron Donald Heaversedge, an 18 year old epileptic from Staincross near Barnsley whose mental age was too low to estimate. His dead body was recovered from what was described as a static water tank in the grounds on Tuesday 30 December 1952 and suspicion quickly fell on Maurice Lloyd White who was 33 but with a mental age reckoned to be under 6.

At the inquest, opened at Rothwell council offices the following Saturday, Nelson Heaversedge, a colliery deputy said his son had been a patient at Oulton for five years and he’d last seen him son on the day after Boxing Day when he appeared to be in normal health. Police constable Slater said “further inquiries’’ were being made and the inquest was adjourned.

By that time though the finger of blame was pointing squarely at White as he had been seen by two other patients going in the direction of the water tank with Heaversedge and returning a short time later on his own. The issue was whether White was capable of understanding he had committed a murder and whether he should actually be charged and tried.

The case must have been an unusual one because it took a month to decide and had to be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions in London. Then on 5 February he announced that White would be charged, with an initial hearing to take place a couple of weeks later. It duly took place on Wednesday 18 February 1953 when the Leeds West Riding Magistrates gathered for a special court at Oulton Hall and the evidence was heard by them.

White’s lawyer, A.W.C. Cumming, submitted that he could not be committed for trial on a charge of murder because he did not understand the difference between right and wrong. Ultimately this was rejected by the magistrates.

The first specialist to appear was Dr. D. E. Price, a consultant pathologist to the North-Eastern Forensic Science Laboratory. He said Heaversedge’s death was due to asphyxia following drowning. Dr. O’Loughlin then said that White was classified as “imbecile” and Heaversedge had been classified “idiot with epilepsy.” After the body had been found he had asked White if he had been to the water tank and he replied that he had been for a walk “by the river” with Albert Wakefield and Heaversedge who he called Little Sam.

Dr. O’Loughlin asked him: “Did you do anything to Little Sam?” He answered: “I pushed Little Sam into the river. I am very sorry. I will not do again.” At this point White’s lawyer intervened. “Would you agree he is not with us in this room, and he does not seem to know what is going on?” “I entirely agree,” said Dr. O’Loughlin.

Detective Chief Superintendent Metcalfe said he’d asked White why he had pushed Little Sam into the lake and he had replied: “Because he was disobedient.” He said he’d asked him what Sam wouldn’t do and he’d replied: “Get away with it.”

Again Cumming intervened to point out that White had now fallen asleep. He went on: “I would ask the court to say there is not sufficient evidence on which you can commit White on this serious charge. You have heard from the doctor that by intonation of the voice you can more or less get the prisoner to say anything you desire him to say. With regard to the evidence of the detective it is quite clear that White did not comprehend the caution. The doctor has told you that he does not comprehend the difference between right and wrong. I submit that he cannot, therefore, be committed on this charge of wilfully committing this murder.” The magistrates disagreed however and quickly decided White should be sent to the next Leeds Assizes and he was remanded at the hospital.

In the event the trial, which took place soon afterwards on Tuesday 3 March, was a short affair. There it was accepted that Maurice White was unfit to plead and he was ordered to be detained “during Her Majesty’s pleasure,” in other words indefinitely. The only witness reported was Dr. J. L. Walker, principal medical officer at Leeds Prison, who said White had a mental age of five years 10 months and his mental condition had deteriorated during the last three years.

Matron Elizabeth Florence with boys in Lake View in the 1950s. Identified by Pauline Hayden the boy in the bed was Graham Bogett. Standing next to him is Barry Sendall. The names of the other boys are unknown apart from Jackie Barnham standing behind the table.

A perennial problem at Oulton and other similar hospitals throughout the 1950s was the high turnover of staff. For men, working as attendants was becoming less attractive as industry recovered after he war and they could get higher wages elsewhere. For women many started as nurses but then left as they got married and had children. Regular adverts appeared for mental deficiency student nurses at Oulton, both male and female. They had to be over 18 and undertook a three year training course on a starting salary of £270 rising to £295. Free meals were given when they were on duty, along with the obligatory uniform and 4 weeks annual paid holiday. One of the new recruits was Pauline Lewis who had a long association with Oulton after she became a nurse and subsequently married one of the hospital’s administrators, Graham Hayden.

The staffing situation was investigated at Menston and Oulton by a group of Leeds area Labour MPs in January 1954. Albert Roberts was amongst them as was his more nationally known colleagues – Alice Bacon (North East Leeds), the future party leader Hugh Gaitskill (South Leeds), and Denis Healey (South East Leeds). The chairman of the Leeds Regional Hospital Board told The Yorkshire Post: “They are interested in the reports of overcrowding, and want to see what is in their region. I think it is all to the good that they should see for themselves what the position is. We welcome anybody who can give assistance in any way.”

The visits came at the same time as an editorial under the headline “Mental Nursing Crisis” appeared in “Public Service” – the journal of the National Association of Local Government Officers. “There is a most serious deficiency in the N.H.S.,” it said. Since 1948, although the number of beds in mental deficiency hospitals had increased by 14,000, and although thousands of patients were still awaiting admission, the number of full time nurses had increased only by 1,600, compared with 23,000 in general hospitals. More serious, was that the number of students had fallen from 6000 to 5000 and the proportion giving up before completing training has risen to 80 per cent, double the wastage of general nursing.

As the 1950s progressed the number of patients at Oulton grew steadily but never reached even a quarter of the more than 2,000 planned for in the 1930s. There were still regular visits by a local board of management and by inspectors from London. In 1954 it wasrecorded there had been some improvement in the number of women on the staff but the number of those who were trained was “dangerously low.

As far as the facilities were concerned further progress had been made with the interior decoration of the hall. The kitchen floors had been tiled and a bread slicing and buttering machine had been installed. New furniture had been acquired and the old renovated. Curtains had been put up throughout the day rooms and dormitories. Outside the main part of the greenhouses had been completely rebuilt and three automatic stokers were in use for the boilers. Hosepipes were being being fixed throughout the hall to replace fire extinguishers. In the grounds the fabric of the Lake View and Beech View villas was being made good with the replacement of existing asbestos with breeze blocks. A year later a head gardener for all the hospitals in the Wakefield A group was appointed on £10 17s 6d per week. He had the option of moving in to one of the cottages on the Oulton Hall estate.

By 1956 there were a total of 369 male patients attached to the Oulton colony, although 20 were living away on licence and 40 were now housed at the newly opened Cardigan hospital in Wakefield.

After Dr. O’Loughlin’s death in 1960 psychiatrist Sydney Lancaster Pugmire became the new medical superintendent although he lived away from the hall with his family in Outwood and at some point emigrated to New Zealand.

As the 1960s progressed the idea of “community care” for the kind of patients in the Oulton Hall colony came into fashion and many of them were moved into residential homes. For those who still needed hospital facilities it was decided to to re-develop the hospital at Fieldhead and Oulton finally closed after being “evacuated” of patients in 1971 and 1972.

Nurses on the patio in July 1964. Ethel Shenton is seated third from the left.

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Another group of nurses in July 1964 with Ethel Shenton standing in the middle.