AS we reported earlier this week, the community mental health team which has been using Bootham Park Hospital since it closed to outpatients two years ago will move out later this month - bringing to an end the building's 240 years as a psychiatric institution.

The Tees, Esk and Wear Valley NHS Foundation Trust (TEWV), which now runs mental health services in the region, plans to build a replacement mental health hospital in Haxby Road, which it says should open in 2019.

But what of Bootham Park Hospital itself? It is one of York's finest Georgian buildings, Grade 1 listed, designed by John Carr and built by public subscription, as the York Lunatic Asylum, between 1774 and 1777.

NHS Property Services, which now owns the building, has already invited expressions of interest from other public sector bodies.

If, after 40 days have elapsed, there have been no realistic offers, the building will be put on the open market. Money from the sale of the building will go into national NHS coffers - even though it was largely the subscriptions of local people (including Joseph Rowntree and the 'railway king' George Hudson) which enabled the building be be built in the first place.

York Press:

Bootham Park Hospital. Photo: Bob Adams

Retired consultant psychiatrist Dr Bob Adams, who worked at the hospital from 1990 to 2014, believes that ultimately it is most likely to be converted into a hotel or luxury flats.

But he fears that, if left empty for too long, it could deteriorate quickly: a fear shared by the York Civic Trust, which earlier this week urged developers, the city council and the NHS to remember that 'we are all temporary custodians of a valuable treasure.'

A valuable treasure is exactly what this building is. No expense was spared when it was built, from the appointment of a celebrated architect to the use of elegant tiled floors, Tuscan columns and fashionable Venetian coloured glass windows.

According to the History of York website, the building - which was designed as a lunatic asylum so that mentally ill people did not need to be sent to prison - was described as 'an elegant and expensive affair' by the local press at the time. Not everyone was impressed, however. William Mason, a precentor at the Minster, clearly felt the extravagant design was a waste of public money, and suggested it should be advertised as 'a lunatic hotel'.

In the early 1900s, the York Lunatic Asylum was notorious for a series of scandals (see panel below).

But none of that detracts from its value as a part of York's heritage.

York Press:

Venetian glass windows inside the hospital

In 2013, before he knew that the hospital would suddenly close a couple of years later, Dr Adams took a series of photographs of the inside of the building.

It was still in use as a psychiatric hospital. He had to avoid photographing staff and patients. But the images he captured provide a wonderful record of the elegance and beauty of the building.

He shared his photographs with us - and we reproduce some in our gallery 9top), so that you can see for yourselves...


In 1772, the then 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', says the York Civic Trust.

York Press:

The 'rec' room. Photo: Bob Adams

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 8 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 inmates 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 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.

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.


NHS Property Services released this statement aboutn the future sale of the hospital:

“Properties are first listed on the Government’s Register of Surplus Public Sector Land to give public bodies the opportunity to acquire them at the market value before they are offered on the open market.

“Now that the property has been declared surplus to the needs of the NHS, our role is to secure best value from sale of the site to benefit the NHS while fulfilling our obligations in relation to the building’s heritage status.

“The Department of Health is considering where sale receipts should go and we await their decision. Until then our remit is to consider the needs of the NHS nationally and therefore any money made from the sale of buildings is reinvested in the NHS nationally.”