York Walks /3

Former Clifton Hospital site

Photographed on 7 August 2004

Read more about the history of Clifton Hospital in my book Chocolate and Chicory: York and beyond, by bicycle.

If you're looking for information on the hospital archives, for family history research etc, there's a description available online of what's available in the archives at the Borthwick Institute, York, and see the info at the bottom of this page.

Former chapel for Clifton Hospital  

Clifton Hospital closed in 1994 after 150 years as a psychiatric hospital.

Most of the site was sold and has been redeveloped as "Clifton Park". Part of the land was kept for use by the health authority, and a few of the original buildings have been retained. In the middle of mature trees is the former chapel for the hospital, which is now used as offices. Though a fairly plain building, it does have some nice details, illustrated here.

  Former chapel – window detail
Details from carving around doorway   Doorway detail

The doorway (above right), with its plain glass insert reflecting the sunlight through the surrounding trees. Above left, details from the doorway carving, including a rather worn head, which looks like it's smiling, though this may be a result of weathering. The head on the other side of the doorway (not pictured) has been more severely weathered, and has no visible features left.

Chapel carving – 1

Around the windows, these carvings, one on each side. They are well-preserved (though covered in spider's web, in the left-hand example) and looked rather striking in the light of a summer afternoon. They've been there over the decades, looking down on a changing scene.

Chapel carving – 2
Old and new brick walls

Away from the chapel, the rest of the site is rather odd. This old brick wall, presumably part of the old hospital grounds, has been left intact, next to the newly-built houses (left). Probably just as well, as the view for these residents would otherwise be an old abandoned prefabricated building with boarded-up windows (below), and things like this weedy bike-shed (right), made from corrugated iron. Though I quite liked the atmosphere of benign neglect.

Weedy bike shed
Boarded-up prefabricated building, towards the rear of the site   Detail – weeds growing around pre-fab building. (A 'Prefab Sprout', perhaps).
Buildings remaining on the former hospital site   Boarded-up windows, but apparently still in use

It's not clear which of the remaining buildings are being used. Many of them, like these above, seem to be former hospital buildings still in use, though some windows are boarded-up. There is on the site a large attractive old building, still used by the health service, and renamed Clifton House. This isn't pictured, as it was surrounded by a fence, and very obviously occupied, so it would have seemed rude to stick my camera through the gaps in the fence to take photos.

Former laundry building, Clifton Hospital   Laundry – detail

Least attractive of all, indeed downright forbidding and creepy, now it's empty, is this building, the former Clifton Hospital Laundry. It was built in the 1970s, to replace the old laundry building on this site, which was I think the building now used by the Wheelchair Centre.


The laundry buildings have been demolished, and a new treatment centre built. See York Walks /4: Clifton hospital laundry – revisited

Smart new brick   Old characterful brick

Above: smart 2-coloured brick wall, marking the entrance onto Shipton Road. I'm not sure what it signifies, but it's a nice bit of brickwork.


Above: Characterful old wall, at the back of the site where it meets Rawcliffe Meadows. Presumably part of the old boundary wall to the hospital grounds, and possibly enclosing a garden, as on its inner side (not pictured) there were lots of rusty nails set into it at intervals, as if, many years ago, a plant had been trained along it.

More information

The Access to Archives (A2A) site has an interesting and useful summary of the history of the hospital, and the available archives. The following historical details are a summary of information taken from the records on A2A.

. . . . .

The hospital was originally called the North Riding Asylum, and opened in the 1840s. Plans for an asylum in this area were already underway before the Lunatics Act of 1845 made the provision of county and borough asylums compulsory. The hospital took three years to build and opened to patients in 1847.

The hospital buildings were expanded many times through the 19th and 20th century. The chapel (pictured above) was added in 1873. Farming enterprises were a part of many of the country asylums, and land around the hospital was acquired for this purpose, beginning with the purchase of the neighbouring Rawcliffe Farm in 1884. In the early 1960s, the Ministry of Health ended farming practice at psychiatric hospitals.

Changing attitudes to mental health are reflected in the various name changes. In the 1920s, the term "asylum" was dropped from the hospital's title in favour of the term "hospital". The North Riding Mental Hospital then became part of the NHS in 1948, and was renamed simply "Clifton Hospital".

The hospital saw continual improvements and modernisation of services. In 1972 a working party was established to work on modernising the arrangement of care and replacing outdated practices. Wards were rearranged and two new ones were built in 1976. Previously, wards had been numbered, now they were renamed (after Yorkshire Dales).

The 1980s saw a change in government policy regarding mental health care. The "care in the community" approach saw the winding down of Clifton Hospital, along with many other large Victorian asylums throughout the country. The hospital closed at the end of 1994.

Most of the site was put up for sale, with part of the site to the north being kept for health service use. The building that originally housed Clifton laundry was converted for use by the Wheelchair Centre in 1996, and remains in use. The former infirmary building for women patients was modernised and is now Clifton House, a specialist long stay unit providing mental health care. Most of the former hospital buildings were demolished.

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I know that many photographs were taken in the mid-1990s by people who were campaigning to save the site from redevelopment, so if anyone out there has any of these photographs please contact me via the link at the foot of the page.

Read more about the history of Clifton Hospital in my book Chocolate and Chicory: York and beyond, by bicycle

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Page compiled in August 2004. Last updated: 26 July 2011.