Brennan, Katie (2019) Moral Architecture? The Nineteenth Century Asylum environment. A study of the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum 1819-1866. Masters thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum [WRPLA] came into being as a result of the 1808 County Asylum Act, ‘a bill for the better care and maintenance of pauper and criminal Lunatics’, compelling counties but not ordering them to build asylums for their pauper lunatics. In the years building up to the 1808 act, a so called revolution of attitudes and methods for treating those inflicted with ‘madness’ had arisen. Evidence of neglect and brutal treatment previously inflicted on sufferers was exposed and an array of individuals felt a duty to provide, what they believed was a more ‘moral’ system of care for those who would otherwise not receive it.

This ‘moral treatment’ was fashioned from the apparently successful model of William Tuke’s York Retreat. The Retreat opened in 1796 and professed an ethos of cure and comfort, using categorisation, surveillance and a domestic architype, restoring sufferers to reason with a supposed more enlightened form of treatment. The high rate of recovery and success experienced at The Retreat led to an acceptance of its methods. As a result, the adoption and combination of these three approaches was highly influential on those responsible for building and orchestrating the WRPLA. This ethos provided a clear vision of how the asylum should be constructed, manifesting the methods through the physical arrangement and precautions of the building’s architecture, a seemingly ‘moral architecture’.

The WRPLA’s collection held at the West Yorkshire History Centre (WYHC) has been recognised by the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register for its cultural significance to the UK. The documents in this collection allow this study to identify the early ideals and influences of the asylum’s construction and management, as well as, distinguishing how these ideals were collaborated and challenged in the period 1818 to 1866.

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