The West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum was among the first facilities created in England to care for the mentally ill, an asylum actually comprised of four separate hospitals.
According to Dangerous Minds, the asylum pioneered mental health care in the Victorian and Edwardian eras throughout the 19th century. The patients were treated well for the time, though many of the practices still seem cruel and outdated, including the use of confinement cells for particularly violent or difficult patients, in comparison with modern standards.
The standards of the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum couldn’t be kept up in other facilities as demand for the hospitals rose. From Dangerous Minds:
…by the late 1800s, the demand for support from the impoverished and mentally ill outstripped the number of places available, leading to more hospitals built. By the turn of the 1900s, with the rise of psychiatry and the “tendency to herding and regimentation” asylums “lost much of their early high ideal of individual concern and care.” Standards basically fell, as the patients greatly outnumbered staff, leading to inadequate care, which didn’t change until later in the 20th century and the beginning of the National Health Service.
The portraits in the slideshow were taken at West Riding in 1869. Some of the photographs include handwritten description of the mental illnesses of the patients. Scroll through and reflect on the long-forgotten stories these patients might have told.