NO fewer than 2861 people, all patients of the High Royds Psychiatric Hospital in Menston, Bradford diocese, were buried in unmarked graves between 1890 and 1973. Originally known as the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum, the hospital regularly held more than 1500 patients.
The building was magnificent: it even contained a ballroom and a concert hall; but windows would not open more than two inches, and a nurse recalls patients using teaspoons to try to undo the window fittings and escape. However grand the facilities, or however well-meaning the staff, it was not a happy place to be.
It became almost a self-contained village, with its own shop, railway station, and cemetery, which was really just a field across the road from the hospital. It was many years, however, before there was a chapel.
Now, the hospital building and its grounds have been redeveloped into desirable housing, and a community group, led by a former patient who suffered experimental brain surgery in High Royds, fought a lengthy campaign to become the legal owners of the burial area and its derelict chapel.
Now called the Friends of High Royds Memorial Garden, they have restored the chapel, and created a garden in the former cemetery to commemorate those who were buried there. They have had the help of Lottery funding, and have also raised money through a shareholder scheme involving local people and families of former patients, besides holding fund-raising events.
The garden was recently opened by the chief executive of MIND, Paul Farmer, together with the Revd Ruth Yeoman, the Vicar from Menston Parish Church, St John’s. Many local people came, as well as families of past patients.
Miss Yeoman blessed both the garden and a wooden cross (above) fashioned by a cabinet- maker from wood from the doctors’ and nurses’ quarters in the hospital. She tells me that, although the graves remain unmarked, there is now a register in the chapel, where the names can be read and remembered.