Tales from the Treasure House: Was an ancestor of yours in the asylum?

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Family historians looking to add more details to the story of their ancestors will be interested to know about our fascinating series of mental hospital registers.

The registers are the Men’s and Women’s Case Books, which form part of the Broadgate Hospital archive (formerly East Riding Mental Hospital).

They are held by the East Riding Archives Local Studies, based in the Treasure House, Beverley, and contain case records for individuals who were admitted to Broadgate between 1871 and 1914.

Some of the details for each patient include name, age, marital status, cause of insanity, whether suicidal, notes on countenance, pulse, ‘bowels’, and also dated comments on the condition and progress of the patient.

Some even contain a photograph!

Thanks to the cataloguing work of volunteers, who have listed each individual patient mentioned in the case books, family historians can search by name for ancestors who may have been admitted to Broadgate during this period, using the ‘Archive Search’ on our online catalogue – www.eastriding.gov.uk/CalmView.

The majority of family history researchers using our facility tend to focus on using the census and parish registers but they’ve also got many other records here at their fingertips, which any genealogist would be well advised to consult.

Broadgate Hospital, which was located just outside Walkington and is now a housing development, opened in 1871 and remained there for 118 years until its closure in 1989.

Sadly, despite our modern preconceptions of mental hospitals, some of the patients admitted to Broadgate in its early days would not be diagnosed insane today.

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

One example is that of William George Marsden, a gardener from Pocklington, admitted to Broadgate on November 23, 1905 aged 56 years, and clearly suffering from what we would 
now call clinical depression.

The case notes describe him as ‘dull, stupid, lain in bed’ and state 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.”

It is well worth looking at our archive catalogues to see what collections we have.

These registers are a brilliant example of archives that can be used to help add meat to the bones of your family history research.

l For more information about using the archives, call (01482) 392790.

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