“Primarily Drinking British Gin”

The Retreat. By Gemälde von Carve [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
This week I’ve mostly been writing articles, including one about a Dent-dale knitter who was confined to The Retreat, a progressive asylum in York, opened in the 1790s. I stumbled on this terrible knitter of Dent accidentally, when researching the textiles and clothing, spinning and knitting going on at The Retreat in the late 18thC/early 19thC.

The ‘Terrible Knitter of Dent’ article will be in a forthcoming issue of ‘Knit Edge’.  So I will keep my powder dry and say no more about it here. It’s a gripping story and a rarity to be able to put a name, a description and an entire life story to that usually anonymous body of people; knitters. I hope folk will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it.

Whilst researching, I was fascinated by the reasons people were certified and admitted to the asylum. I started collecting some of the reasons people found themselves there. On admission, patients had already been ‘certified’ and these certificates were placed in the Admission records. Question 4 on the certificate, was: “Supposed Cause of the insanity?”

Sometimes, doctors left this blank or said words to the effect “Search me!” A common reason for admission was “Religious melancholy” or simply “Religion”. At the start, most patients were Quakers but as time went on, they admitted on much wider criteria.

Here are just a handful of the most interesting answers, from the 1820s:

“A violent attachment to a female not approved by his friends.”

“Perhaps attending overmuch to business.”

“1st, an accident, which caused a severe contusion of the Brain.
2nd. By fright, caused by a man (unknown) getting into his Lodging room, secreting himself under some Linen in a corner of the room, and after about five weeks after this he was attacked with the first fit…”

“Uncertain; he thinks he has not been as humble as he ought to have been”.

“Hipochondriac [sic]”.

“A tedious confinement with an affected family”.

“Intemperate drinking”.

“Religious melancholy”.

“Suppose a fear of not being able to pay his just debts owing to the depression of the times”. (1826)

“Disappointments from a long attachment to a man” . (28 yr old woman)

“Intemperate use of Opium”.  (A woman of 43 or 4)

“Perhaps anxiety”! (A 29 yr old woman had three kids the youngest 17 Days).

“Suppressed or irregular menstruation”.  (A 33 year old woman).

And finally, my favourite:

“Primarily drinking British Gin”.