Accessibility statement

Retreat archive online - 200 years of mental health history (RET/3/3/2/2)

Digitising the Retreat archive

The Retreat archive can be explored using the Borthwick Catalogue where links to the digitised content hosted by the Wellcome Collection are now available.

We were pleased to have been invited by the Wellcome Trust to be a part of a large digitisation project which aimed to provide online access to the records of several private mental asylums across the UK. Our contribution to this project was to digitise the archive of The Retreat. 


About the Retreat archive

The Retreat Archive relates to the one of the most important institutions in the care and treatment of mental health patients. The Retreat was founded by the Society of Friends and opened in 1796. The archive itself includes administrative, financial, staff, estate and patient records and consists of bound volumes, loose papers, maps, photographs, artefacts from the museum and a small number of paintings.

"The Retreat is one of the more heavily used archives in the searchroom here at the Borthwick and it is fantastic to have the opportunity to make it available online to a wider audience. Researchers now have the opportunity to cross search the Retreat archive with documents from comparable institutions in the UK, increasing its value as a resource for research." Jen Mitcham

Archives in one of the strongrooms

The Retreat archive currently occupies over 98 linear metres of shelving in our strongrooms. The digitisation project has produced over 650,000 digital images and took three digitisation staff over two years to complete.


Digitisation was carried out by staff within the digitisation team at the Borthwick Institute in consultation with our conservation team to ensure that these unique and irreplaceable documents are handled appropriately throughout the digitisation process. Though we recognise that the existence of digital surrogates can help preserve an archive in the long term, the digitisation process itself can be stressful to the documents unless due care is taken.

The project ran from June 2014 to April 2017.

Further information

We have published information about the project and the contents of the archive in several blog posts.