A 'striking local example of philanthropy': a history of Bootham Park Hospital

·3-min read
A history of Bootham Park Hospital, York. Pictured: the hospital before 1948 <i>(Image: The Press)</i>
A history of Bootham Park Hospital, York. Pictured: the hospital before 1948 (Image: The Press)

The history of Bootham Park Hospital dates back to 1772.

It was in that year that the Archbishop of York, Robert Hay Drummond, brought together 'twenty four Yorkshire gentlemen' with the purpose of establishing a 'county lunatic asylum, York'.

The architect John Carr was co-opted, and by July 1773, £5,000 had been pledged, and Carr's initial design for a 54-bed hospital had been approved.

The aim was to provide a proper, purpose built asylum so that mentally ill people - rich and poor alike - would not end up in prison. The project was a fine example of the 'striking local tradition of philanthropy', according to the York Civic Trust.

The first patients were admitted on November 1, 1777. Fees were charged from the beginning, according to a brief history kept in the Borthwick Institute in York and available online - initially eight shillings a week for all patients, although paupers were paid for by the parish.

It may have been a grand building from the outside - but the hospital quickly became tainted by scandal.

In 1790, the treatment and death of Quaker Hannah Mills in the asylum so outraged local Quakers that, led by William Tuke, they developed their own, more humane, asylum in the city - The Retreat.

The scandals continued between 1780 and 1815. There were charges that a single physician had too much power, and that the hospital was too closed.

There were also concerns about the different treatment given to rich and poor patients. By 1788 there were no fewer than eight different classes of patient, with fees paid by the wealthier patients going straight to the doctor in charge.

The hospital also became desperately overcrowded. From just 32 inpatients in 1783, the number of patients had grown to 199 by 1813 - and there was evidence of maladministration and misuse of finances.

A national investigation in 1813-14 led to questions in Parliament, according to the History of York website - and some of the asylum records were burned in a suspiciously-timed fire.

The resulting scandal, however, led to substantial reforms in the way the hospital was run. And, after 1815, the 'York asylum was a well-respected and well managed hospital,' the Borthwick records suggest.

Among the benefactors who gave money to support the hospital in the later 1800s were both Joseph Rowntree and George Hudson.

York Press: he City Of York Balloon being inflated in front of Bootham Park Hospital for the York Gala in June 1901
York Press: he City Of York Balloon being inflated in front of Bootham Park Hospital for the York Gala in June 1901

he City Of York Balloon being inflated in front of Bootham Park Hospital for the York Gala in June 1901 (Image: Explore York Libraries and Archives)

In the early 1900s, the hospital's extensive grounds were often used for public events such as the York Gala - hot air balloons were even tethered above the park.

The hospital became part of the NHS in 1948, when the facilities were upgraded.

But in September 2015 it was declared unfit by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and was suddenly closed.

Repairs and changes required to make the hospital safer had not been carried out to the CQC's satisfaction, according to former consultant psychiatrist Dr Bob Adams, and the CQC, declining to allow further time for the repairs, refused to register the building for psychiatric inpatient use.

"Bootham Park Hospital had become a victim of the NHS 'market' where organisations within the NHS compete with each other," Dr Adams said in 2016.