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Retreat Morgue, York, Abandoned, Urbex
The Retreat Morgue, York

The Retreat Hospital in York is a psychiatric hospital that was built to improve care for the Quakers in 1796, and it is still open to this day.

With funding from Yorkshire Quakers and other Quaker groups across the country, William Tuke established what he referred to as a “retired habitation”. His aim was to provide Quakers with suitable companionship and humane care and treatment. His approach was to ensure that residents received nourishing food, outdoor exercise, had a purpose via the work they were encouraged to undertake and had the experience of gentle and kind social interactions in beautiful surroundings. The Retreat’s life began and on 13th July 1796 The Retreat received its first patient.

The Retreat in York influenced the revolution in care for York Asylum too and the political influence exerted by William, Henry his son and Samuel his grandson led to major legal reforms in the care of mental health in the UK and beyond. Every textbook on the history of mental illness mentions the unique part played by The Retreat in the reshaping of attitudes.

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The Retreat came to typify the ‘moral management’ approach, with community and humanity replacing restraint and medication. Yet rather than using manacles to physically retrain patients, the Retreat utilised what historian Roy Porter has described as ‘the therapeutic power of fear’. As William’s grandson, Samuel Tuke (1784-1857), explained in 1813:

The principle of fear, which is rarely decreased by insanity, is considered as of great importance in the management of the patients. But it is not allowed to be excited, beyond the degree which naturally arises from the necessary regulations of the family. Neither chains nor corporal punishments are tolerated, on any pretext in this establishment. The patients, therefore, cannot be threatened with these severities; yet, in all houses established for the reception of the insane, the general comfort of the patients ought to be considered; and those who are violent, require to be separated from the more tranquil, and to be prevented, by some means, from offensive conduct, towards their fellow-sufferers. (Samuel Tuke, Description of the Retreat, an Institution near York, for Insane Persons (York: W. Alexander, 1813), p.141.)


The mortuary - photographed here in June 2021 - was built in the 1920s and fell out of use sometime in the 1960s and has remained closed to this day, frozen in a state of paralysis.

Inside has been left behind medicines, mortician's equipment & clothing as well as the original slab, albeit now refurbished by the residing pigeons.

Knowing the press articles on this place would inevitably lead to it being sealed imminently I knew this window of opportunity to go inside the morgue wouldn't last [2 weeks after I went it was sealed up]. Off I headed and arrived at the morgue at 05.45am just as the sun was rising. With the pigeons to keep me company I photographed every inch of the interior, amazes at the items left behind. Just as I was packing up after a couple of hours, another explorer arrived and I left him to it after a chat.


29 April 1790 - Hannah Mills died in York Asylum and the conditions she was  in shocked the Quakers.

October 1793 - The Society of Friends (Quakers) buy the land that The Retreat now occupies.

February 1795 - Friends fundraise for the hospital.

May 1796 - Doors of The The Retreat, a psychiatric hospital open and the first patient is admitted.

1812 - North East wing built.

1827 - North West wing built.

1847 - The opening of the York to Scarborough railway line meant excursions to the seaside begin for the patients.

1855 - Friends burial ground open at The Retreat.

February 1896 - Cricket pitch laid and is still in use today.

1920s - The Morgue is built and in use.

1942 - Cricket and tennis pitches are ploughed up in spirit of 'Dig for Victory'.

1960s - The Morgue is ceased to be used.

1968 - An occupational therapy unit is built.

retreat interior.jpg
orig building retreat.jpg

The original building of The retreat Hospital

William Tuke

The Fourth Gallery of The Retreat, York (1887)

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