The Retreat Letters Project

In December 2016, a group of volunteers embarked on a new project to catalogue the incoming correspondence of the Retreat Hospital in York.

The Retreat was founded by the Society of Friends in 1796, upon the Quaker principles of equal and kind treatment for all. The institution served as a beacon for the idea of ‘moral treatment’ which gradually became accepted practice for mental health care.

The archive of the Retreat includes administrative, financial, staff, estate and patient records. The incoming correspondence files can be found in the main catalogue under RET/1 - General Administrative records. The subseries for Incoming Correspondence is RET/1/5/1 and covers 169 archival boxes;  around 100,000 items. The records cover the dates 1796-1905 and deals with staffing, prospective admissions, patient care and enquiries from families, and the payment of fees and subscriptions.

Currently, these records are difficult to access as they are only catalogued to file level (roughly by month and year), so any attempt to find information about a particular patient or subject requires laborious sifting. Our volunteers are undertaking a monumental task to catalogue to item level, opening up these records to researchers. This is work which could not be done without the help of our volunteers.

The project will create new catalogue entries, which will be uploaded onto the Borthwick’s digital catalogue sporadically as the volunteers progress.  

Images of the incoming correspondence can be viewed online via the Wellcome Library.