The Retreat


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Heslington Road, York, YO10 5BN


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Statutory Address:
Heslington Road, York, YO10 5BN

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

York (Unitary Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Mental asylum, now a mental health hospital. 1793 to 1797 to designs by John Bevans of London in consultation with William Tuke for The Society of Friends (Quakers). The construction was supervised by Peter Atkinson of York. Further extensions and alterations during the C19 and C20. Modernised between 1957 and 1965.

Reasons for Designation

The Retreat of 1793 to 1797 by John Bevans of London in consultation with William Tuke for The Society of Friends (Quakers), with further extensions and alterations during the C19 and early C20, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Historic interest:

* William Tuke’s radical approach to the treatment of the mentally ill, shaped by his Quaker beliefs, and its dissemination through publication by his grandson Samuel, is of national importance in the reform of mental health care; * the Retreat was the most influential asylum of its time, its humane treatment of the mentally ill was far-reaching, being instrumental in fundamentally changing their care for the better in this country, and also in Europe and America; * the humane treatment pioneered at the Retreat led to the Asylums Act of 1808 and subsequently Tuke’s evidence to the Select Committee on Madhouses of 1814 to 1816 contributed to the impact of the inquiry’s report championing the new reforming ideology of humane treatment whilst discrediting older, more brutal methods; * as one of the earliest asylums established in England that survives, and the earliest asylum to continue in this role in its original buildings.

Architectural interest:

* designed by the Quaker architect John Bevans, the original building is an austere, Palladian design in brick, both dignified and fitting to the ethos of its Quaker founders; * the asylum expanded considerably to become a highly complex building with many later ranges and buildings designed by well-regarded York architects such as Charles Watson and James Pigott Pritchett, specialists in asylum architecture, J P Pritchett and Son, J B and W Atkinson, Edward Taylor and Walter Brierley; * while varying in architectural style, the later ranges and buildings are well-designed and integral components of the building with specific functions which inter-relate with the building as a whole and demonstrate its on-going development as an asylum; * the Retreat retains much of its original plan form with individual rooms opening off wide corridors or galleries; * the interior was intended to provide a homely atmosphere with details such as specially-designed secure sash windows, with cast-iron glazing bars rather than bars, a few of which survive; * the high-quality, late-C19 and early-C20 fixtures and fittings in the front range were designed by Walter Brierley, and are complemented by the quality of design and craftsmanship of the fixtures and fittings in Brierley’s recreation hall of 1907.


The Retreat was established at the end of the C18 by the Society of Friends (Quakers) for fellow Friends. William Tuke, the founding member, was a Quaker tea-merchant and philanthropist. He initiated its construction after becoming concerned about the death in 1791 of a Quaker, Hannah Mills, in the York Lunatic Asylum (now - 2018 - the former Bootham Park Hospital) without access to her relations. York Lunatic Asylum, which opened in 1777, had been established with good intentions, but by the 1790s had a poor reputation with reports of overcrowding, mechanical restraints, poor medical practice and unbearable living conditions. The Quaker belief of an ‘inner light’ (that there was goodness, reason and faith within everyone) influenced the way Tuke thought about the insane. He considered that the inner light of patients could be reached through the representation of these qualities in the surroundings in which the individuals were treated, suggesting ‘a milder and more appropriate system of treatment, than that usually practised, might be adopted’, thus providing a more humane and enlightened environment. The name proposed for the new institution, ‘The Retreat’ was intended to convey the idea of a quiet haven where a refuge or place of safety might be sought.

Tuke with the assistance of his son Henry and his friend Lindley Murray raised money for the purchase of the site, which was acquired in 1793. Subscriptions were called for from Quakers in all parts of England and, in spite of considerable financial difficulties, the building work proceeded in 1794. The architect John Bevans of London, a Quaker, was appointed to design the building, declining any payment for his services. The construction was supervised by the architect Peter Atkinson of York. In correspondence between Tuke and Bevans, Tuke suggested that the building should be peaceful and home-like so as not to appear heavy or prison-like, which would have an adverse effect upon the imagination of those who may have a connection with such places. In keeping with this thinking he referred to the patients as the ‘family’. The site for Tuke’s establishment was elevated with ‘a situation which afforded excellent air and water, as well as a very extensive and diversified prospect’. In addition to being able to see the countryside a direct connection with nature was enabled through the provision of a few acres for keeping cows and growing fruit and vegetables for the family and gardens in which they could work and take exercise. This was a marked contrast to the restrictive and detaining practices usual in contemporary asylums.

Having not designed an asylum before Bevans looked to the works of John Howard and he and Tuke visited George Dance’s St Luke’s Hospital, London built between 1782 and 1787 and then the most up-to-date asylum in the country. The resulting building had the appearance of an austere Palladian villa, with side wings like St Luke’s, built of brick with slate roofs. The windows had small pane sashes framed in cast-iron with cast-iron glazing bars and window bars to give the appearance of ordinary windows without bars. The central three-storey square block with a recessed two-storey west wing opened on 11 May 1796, with the first patient admitted on 13 June 1796. The following year a corresponding east wing was constructed. To the south a small, linear range of cow houses and pig sties was built, which is likely to date from the original construction phase, but was certainly present by May 1828 when it appears on a plan by Watson, Pritchett and Watson. There was also a burial ground to the east against the original west boundary wall.

The resulting design had no grand public rooms comprising suites of professional offices and consulting rooms as found in contemporary hospitals. Instead, the central block was notably domestic with the kitchen placed to the left immediately off the main entrance hall, rather than at the periphery or in the basement, as in St Luke’s. To the right was the housekeeper’s room with a pantry and dairy, while the two corresponding rooms with a south aspect were used as a parlour and the committee room with a central staircase between. With the exception of the committee room, the effect was similar to a farmhouse, the closeness of patients to domestic activity manifesting the Quakers’ belief in hard work and self-discipline as a means to redemption. Wealthier patients were also housed in the central block with other patients accommodated in individual rooms opening off wide spine corridors in the wings. On the south side of the building were four secure airing courts for different classes and genders of patients. These were enclosed by walls which appeared low on the patients’ side whilst much higher (8ft, 2.4m) on the outer side due to the fall of the ground, like a country house ha-ha, so that views of the surrounding countryside were not obscured. The courts were stocked with a number of animals such as rabbits, sea-gulls, hawks and poultry. They were the forerunner to the use of ha-has in asylum landscapes throughout Britain. Beyond were the more extensive grounds where trusted patients might walk or undertake more physical exercise assisting in the running the small farm or growing produce for the asylum,

The Retreat quickly became a success and additional accommodation was soon required. In 1799 an ancillary five-bay wing and airing court was added at the south-east corner for additional male patients with a more violent tendency. In 1803 a corresponding ancillary wing and airing court was added to the south-west corner for female patients. An 1813 plan by Peter Atkinson shows these ancillary wings and also short ranges on the north side of narrow courtyards; to the east were stables, cow houses and pigsties; to the west were a bake house and a brew house. A small, separate bath house structure had also been built to the south of the airing courts connected to the main building by a long passageway. In 1816 to 1817 this was replaced by ‘the Lodge’ for wealthy male patients. At an unknown date between 1813 and 1827 the south-east ancillary wing was extended by three bays and an additional airing court was built.

In the 1820s The Retreat continued to expand with York architects Charles Watson and James Pigott Pritchett designing additional east and west wings to the north corners in place of the small ranges on the north side of the narrow courtyards. These are shown on a ground plan of September 1827 by Watson, Pritchett and Watson. The north-east wing, thought to have been added in 1824, contained the superintendent’s house and a reading room. The north-west wing, drawn up in 1821 and constructed 1826, contained a wash house, a laundry, a brew house and bake house. A hexagonal entrance lodge is shown on the north-east side beside the road and a new coach house and a triangular stable block was built on the south-east side of the airing courts. A linear range containing a carpenter’s shop, gardener’s cottage and cart shed is shown on the south-west side of the Lodge, together with an additional block on the west side of the south-west auxiliary wing.

Between 1837 and 1839 the main east and west wings of the central block were raised from two to three storeys by Watson and Pritchett.

An 1851 plan by J P Pritchett and Son shows that by this date the kitchen had been moved to a dedicated kitchen range in the north-west wing. In the early 1850s it was agreed by the Trustees that it would be more effective to dismantle and rebuild the east and west wings in their entirety, rather than remodel them and an appeal for building funds was launched. The south-east men’s wing was replaced first with a fire-proofed two-storey and basement L-shaped plan built in 1852 to 1854 to designs by J P Pritchett and Sons of York. The south-west women’s wing was replaced with a second similar L-shaped plan built between 1858 and 1860 to designs by J B and W Atkinson of York. As part of this rebuilding, the coach house and stables and the carpenter’s shop, gardener’s cottage and cart shed to the immediate south of the airing courts appear to have been demolished.

In 1855 the existing Quaker burial ground was superseded by a new burial ground laid out in the far south-east corner of the grounds.

During the late 1850s and through the 1860s various alterations to increase accommodation were proposed by William Williamson, a joiner and attendant at the Retreat, but were not generally executed.

Between 1875 and 1877 the Lodge was replaced by a much larger Gentlemen’s New Lodge with a new bath house and a billiard room, designed by Edward Taylor of York. He had also added a ladies’ Recreation Room on the north-west side of the building shown on the 1874 plan. The entrance lodge was enlarged around this time.

Expansion of the hospital led to the purchase of Belle Vue House in 1878 on a site adjacent to the main building, but separated from it by Walmgate Stray. The East Villa was built in 1881 for male patients to designs by Taylor of York. A single-storey ladies’ lodge known as the West Villa was built attached to the south-west corner of the south-west wing, built in 1889 to designs by Taylor. The York architects’ practice of Demaine and Brierley was commissioned to design a nurses’ home in 1897. It was completed in 1899 in place of the ladies’ Recreation Room. They also remodelled interiors of the older structures and designed the new Recreation Hall constructed in 1907 at the north-east corner of the main building on the site of the superintendent’s house, although the reading room bays of the north-east wing remained and became a board room. In 1908 the passageway between The Lodge and the main block was reconstructed.

By 1915 a separate new medical superintendent’s house had been built to the north of Lamel Hill, later subsumed into Lamel Beeches (now in separate ownership). The new boiler house was shown for the first time on elevations drawn in 1923.

In 1927 the nearby Garrow Hill House (Grade II) was acquired and between 1929 and 1931 it was adapted to accommodate 40 patients as a nursing home for convalescent cases and rest cures. Its opening was delayed through the 1930s however, until there were better economic conditions. Garrow Bank (now the Tuke Centre) was built to the east around the same time. In 1931 a second nurses’ home (now known as Fairfax House) was built on the Belle Vue site, with the original house demolished in the early 1930s and a swimming pool constructed on its site in 1935. At the main site a male nurses’ hostel was built adjacent to the boiler house between 1937 and 1940. By the 1950s it was used as a hotel for convalescent female patients.

In 1952 a Glostar Meteor Jet from RAF Linton on Ouse, north-west of York, crashed through the roof of the Recreation Hall, killing the pilot. The damage to the building was repaired.

Between 1957 and 1965 the Retreat was ‘modernised’ through a substantial upgrading and refurbishment scheme encompassing the entire site. The OS map of 1963 to 1968 shows an extension to the West Villa. By 1970 a large, single-storey extension had been built adjacent to the Recreation Hall, blocking the external north doorway of the hall and resulting in the demolition of the entrance lodge. In the 1990s a staff block was built adjoining the south-west corner of the south-east L-shaped wing and a modern, single-storey extension was also built on the east side of the link corridor to the Lodge (neither of these buildings form part of the listing).

The Retreat became the most influential asylum of its time having gained an early reputation throughout Europe for its humane care and treatment of the insane, influencing C19 asylum design in England, Canada and America. Referred to as ‘moral treatment’ by the Tukes, it was a then radical approach to mental illness which avoided confinement, restraint and the dispensing of drugs. An early visitor, Dr De la Rive from Geneva, who visited in 1798, described The Retreat in a published letter as presenting ‘not the idea of a prison, but rather that of a large rural farm. It is surrounded by a garden. There is no bar or grating to the windows…’. The Tukes’ ethos began a series of reforms and a greater understanding in mental health in the C19 with psychiatry textbooks today still referring to the pioneering importance of the Retreat. In the early C19 it directly influenced the layout and regime of Brislington House, Brislington, Bristol, the first purpose-built private asylum (1804-1806), particularly the provision of an extensive landscape used for therapeutic purposes. That institution was built by Dr Edward Long Fox, also a Quaker. A desire for more humane treatment then led to the Asylums Act of 1808, which was intended to remove the insane from inappropriate settings such as workhouses and provide a dedicated care system in purpose-built county asylums. William Tuke’s grandson, Samuel, was largely responsible for the wide sphere of influence of the hospital through his systematic study of lunacy and his publications, notably the ‘Description of the Retreat’ of 1813. Through the influence of this publication William Tuke positioned himself as a national authority on ethical asylum design, being called to give evidence to the Select Committee on Madhouses which sat between 1814 and 1816. Fox also did much to publicise the approach and thus influence the subsequent building of the county asylums.


Mental asylum, now a mental health hospital. Built between 1793 to 1797 to designs by John Bevans of London in consultation with William Tuke for The Society of Friends (Quakers). The construction was supervised by Peter Atkinson of York. Further extensions and alterations during C19 and C20. Modernised 1957 to 1965.

MATERIALS Main asylum building and wings: orange-cream brick in Flemish bond with stone cornices, Westmorland slate roofs with brick stacks.

Boundary walls: orange-cream brick in random bond with stone coping, some with cast-iron railings.

Boiler house: orange-cream brick in English garden wall bond.

The Lodge: orange brick with white brick and stone dressings, slate roofs and brick stacks.

Nurses’ home: orange brick in English bond and part-rendered walls, brick and sandstone dressings slate roof and brick stacks.

West Villa (York House): rendered walls, small, orange tiles to the roof.

Recreation Hall: orange brick with stone dressings and a slate roof.

Male nurses’ hostel: orange brick in stretcher bond with a sandstone cornice and slate roof with brick stacks.

PLAN: the hospital is a multiple phase complex. The original front range has a square central block containing the main staircase with long wings on each side with wide spine corridors with rooms opening off both sides. The whole range is of three bays with a basement (1793 to 1797, with second floors of the wings added between 1837 and 1839). Attached to the north-west corner is a projecting wing (1826) housing the kitchen, with the nurses’ home (1897 to 1899) on the west side. Attached to the north east corner is the remaining part of another projecting wing (1824) housing the board room, with the recreation hall (1907) attached on the east side. On the south side a long central passageway connects the front range to the T-shaped Lodge (1875 to 1877) to the south. Attached to the south-east corner of the front range is a large L-shaped wing (1852 to 1854), which housed men, with communal rooms off the south side of a corridor and individual patient’s rooms off spine corridors in the return range. Attached to the south-west corner is a similar large L-shaped wing (1858 to 1860), which housed women, with a similar layout. On the south side of the south-east wing is a large boiler house (1920s) with the male nurses’ hostel (1937 to 1940) attached to its south side. On the south side of the south-west wing is the West Villa (York House) (1889), with rooms off spine corridors.


FRONT RANGE AND PROJECTING CORNER WINGS: the original building faces north and is set back on the south side of Heslington Road. It is built of orange-cream brick in Flemish bond with a brick plinth, moulded stone cornice, and Westmorland slate roofs. The windows have stone sills and flat arches of orange brick. The symmetrical front elevation has a three-storey, five-bay centre block with a pyramidal roof, flanked by recessed, three-storey, six-bay wings with double-pitched roofs. At each end is a two-storey projecting corner wing with a hipped roof: the left wing is partly rebuilt, the right wing is of six bays. In the central block the central pedimented doorcase has attached Tuscan columns and an entablature, with a six-panelled door beneath a radial glazed fanlight recessed in a round-arched architrave with moulded imposts. The ground-floor and first-floor windows of the central block and flanking wings are six-over-six pane sashes; on the second floor they are three-over-six pane sashes. The three-bay inner elevations of the projecting corner wings have central tripartite windows with stone mullions with fifteen-over-twenty pane centre sashes on the ground floor. The flanking windows in the left-hand wing have been altered to doorways with overlights, with six-panelled doors. The first floor has three six-over-six pane sashes, that to the centre apparently replacing a wider tripartite window. The corresponding elevation to the right-hand wing has a similar altered window to the doorway to the left of the tripartite window and a sash window to the right. The first floor has a central canted oriel window with C20 casement frames flanked by windows with C20 cross frames with casements. The north elevation of the left-hand projecting corner wing has two six-over-six pane sashes on both floors to the right-hand side. The ground floor of the recessed left-hand side is obscured by the flat-roofed corridor of the recreation hall to which it is attached: the first floor has two timber double doors with small-pane glazing and small-pane overlights. The north elevation of the right-hand projecting corner wing has first-floor windows with six-over-six pane sashes except for the left-hand window which has a C20 cross frame with casements. The ground floor has a fifteen-over-twenty pane sash to the left-hand window and an adjacent modern plate glass window: at the right-hand end is a covered vehicle entrance to a small yard behind, with timber and glazed doors and infill. At the right-hand end it is attached to the nurses’ home. In front of the third to fifth bays is a small brick building (originally a larder) with a slate half-hipped roof. The windows in the north elevation have been blocked and the triangular dormer window is boarded over. To the rear is a tall, square brick stack.

The three-storey, three-bay gable ends to the central range are partly obscured by alterations and extensions. On the first floor both have tripartite windows with twelve-pane centre sashes. Above are tall, radial-glazed, small-pane windows in round-headed stone arches set in glazed outer arches of brick. Elsewhere, some original small-paned glazed sashes survive, others are six-over-six pane sashes.

REAR L-SHAPED WINGS: the south-east L-shaped wing is built of orange-cream brick in Flemish bond with a moulded stone cornice and Westmorland slate roof. The windows have stone sills and flat arches of orange brick, with horned sashes of six-over-nine panes and six-over-six panes. The symmetrical outer, east elevation is of two storeys with a basement and seven bays with a central, full-height canted bay. On the ground and first floors the central windows to the left and right of the canted bay are tripartite, some lights are now blocked. The gable ends are pedimented with a moulded eaves cornice and glazed oculi in the tympanum. The right, north gable has three horned sashes on the ground and first floors. The left, south gable wall is obscured by a modern, two-storey, flat-roofed L-shaped infill block*.

The nine-bay north elevation is recessed in from the gable at the left-hand end with three bays, three projecting bays to the centre with a hipped roof and three further recessed bays, the right-hand bay obscured behind a later extension. The windows are six-over-pane sashes. The left-hand bay of the three projecting bays is obscured by a later lavatory extension: the central bay has a recessed doorway with a flight of steps up and a tripartite window above, the left-hand side obscured by the extension.

The nine-bay south elevation has full-height canted bays to the third and seventh bays. The windows are six-over-six pane sashes. Between the canted bays the ground floor is obscured by a modern, lean-to extension*.

The south-west L-shaped wing is similar in appearance to the south-east L-shaped wing. It is likewise built of orange-cream brick in Flemish bond with a moulded stone cornice and Westmorland slate roof. The windows have stone sills and flat arches of orange brick, with horned sashes. The outer, west elevation is of two storeys with a basement and ten bays. Most of the basement is obscured by the roofing over of the area. On the ground floor the second bay has a timber and glazed extension with a central triangular pediment to provide a single-storey sun room. Above is a five-light canted bay window with transomed casements. Otherwise the windows are six-over-six pane sashes, with those in the right-hand bay blocked. The gable ends are treated in a similar manner to the corresponding wing. The first floor of the right, south gable has a tripartite window; much of the rest of the gable wall is obscured by modern, single and two-storey infill extensions*.

The nine-bay north elevation is similarly treated with three projecting bays to the centre with a hipped roof and a later lavatory extension obscuring the right-hand bay. The central bay has tripartite windows on the ground and first floors.

The south elevation is of seven bays with full-height canted bays to the second and sixth bays. Between the canted bays the ground floor is obscured by a modern, lean-to extension*.

THE LODGE: the single-storey lodge is built of orange bricks with an eaves cornices of stone with white brick dentil cornices to the outer ends and side elevations, and slate roofs with tall, decorative brick stacks. The windows are one-over-one or two-over-two pane horned sashes with stone sills and chamfered lintels. The fifteen-bay front elevation faces south over the grounds. The gabled third and fourteenth bays project and have shaped stone kneelers and coping with decorative stone and iron finials and canted bay windows; the windows have decorative stone frames with trefoil finials. The central doorway has a decorative stone surround incorporating side lights, with a fielded panel and glazed double door. Above the cornice is a decorative shaped gable with stone ball finials, a stone coping and a stone and iron finial to the apex; it originally had a circular clock face, now removed. Behind the gable is a low, square brick tower with a dentil cornice of white bricks and a pyramidal slate roof. The bays to each side have canted bay windows with truncated pyramidal roofs above. In front of the central doorway and canted bays is a verandah (originally running the entire length of the building) with cast-iron columns and decorative spandrels and a glazed, lean-to roof. Between the canted bay windows and the outer projecting gables are three windows on each side. At the right-hand end is a recessed modern extension* and conservatory*. At the left-hand end is a modern extension* to the rear of the original building.

WEST VILLA (YORK HOUSE): the single-storey building has modern, painted render to the walls and small, orange tiles. The front west elevation has paired gables which overhang shallow, canted bay windows with timber frames with transoms and casements. The gables have moulded timber bargeboards and a timber jetty bressumer. To the left is a recessed bay partly obscured by a flat-roofed extension*. To the right is a timber casement window and to its immediate right the building steps forward with a three-bay range with a central projecting gable. There is a moulded timber eaves beam; the central gable has bargeboards and overhangs the doorway with a moulded bresummer supported on console brackets. The doorway has a modern timber and glazed door with side lights and a four-pane overlight. The left-hand bay has a large mullion and transom window. The right-hand bay is obscured by a modern flat-roofed extension* with two small, square windows. In front of the building is a modern ramp* and steps* up to the doorway. The south elevation is largely obscured by a modern lean-to extension* (in the position of a verandah). To its rear two gable apexes are visible. To the right of the extension are three bays with casement windows and a further recessed two bays with casement windows, which form part of a modern extension*.

NURSES’ HOME: the three-storey nurses’ home was designed in a Jacobethan style. It is built of orange brick in English bond with a rendered second floor on the west elevation, slate roof and tall brick stacks. The outer, west elevation is of six bays. The two gabled outer bays project. They have timber bargeboards with render to the gable apexes. Both have a two-storey, flat-roofed canted bay window with a stone mullion and transom window to the ground floor and a rendered first floor with a timber mullion and transom window, moulded timber sill band and entablature. Above is a slightly bowed mullion and transom window. The ground floor of the four central bays has large segmental-arched windows with gauged brick lintels and timber casements. A line in the brickwork above the windows shows the position of a removed verandah. The first floor has narrower segmental-arched windows with a large, multi-paned, timber window case in the fourth bay with a moulded sill on brackets and timber entablature. The rendered second floor has four dormer windows with timber casements.

The outer, north gable end has a slightly projecting chimney stack to the centre. To the right is a polygonal stair tower with small round-headed lancet windows. To the left is a square bay window with a timber casement on the ground floor and a smaller timber oriel window on the second floor.

The rear elevation has windows of varying sizes with segmental-arched heads and gauged brick lintels. There is a projecting full-height gabled bay with a lean-to porch on its right-hand side. The doorway has a C17-style stone doorcase. To the left of the gabled bay is a square stair tower adjoining the right-hand end of the projecting corner wing. The tower has a pyramidal roof with a finial. The north side has a timber tripartite window at first-floor level and a timber Venetian window with decorative pilasters at second-floor level.

RECREATION HALL: the recreation hall is built of orange brick with stone dressings and a slate roof. The north elevation is largely obscured by the modern extension* in front of it. On the right-hand side is a single-storey, flat-roofed corridor which projects out against the extension and then returns and wraps round the remaining part of the earlier projecting wing to the left of the front range. The corridor has a rusticated brick pilaster and a brick and stone parapet. The visible north elevation has a six-over-six pane horned sash to the left of the pilaster and two six-over-three pane horned sashes to the right; the windows have gauged brick lintels and stone sills. To the rear of the corridor is the hall. It has a half-hipped roof with two semi-circular dormers.

The east end of the hall has a large central window with a timber frame with decorative glazing bars and leaded small-pane glazing. It is flanked by rusticated brick pilasters supporting a broken triangular pediment.

The south side is largely obscured by a modern covered walkway*. It has four large timber cross-frame windows with leaded small-pane glazing separated by brick pilasters. Above are two semi-circular dormer windows.

MALE NURSES’ HOSTEL: the hostel abuts the south side of the boiler house. The L-shaped building is built of orange brick in stretcher bond with a sandstone cornice and hipped slate roofs with tall, brick stacks. It has two storeys and an attic. The main range of the outer, east elevation is of five bays with a projecting two-bay wing at the right-hand end. Most of the windows are six-over-six pane horned sashes with brick lintels. The third entrance bay projects and rises above eaves level with a parapet. The doorway has two stone steps and a moulded stone frame with a canopy, and a timber and small-pane glazed door. Above are two windows. To the left are two windows on the ground floor and two on the first floor. To the right is a single window on the ground floor with one above on the first floor with a small casement window to the right. There is a small timber dormer to each side of the entrance bay. The wing has a full-width garage door with two windows above.

The south end has three bays with the central bay projecting with a parapet above eaves level. Each bay has a window on the ground and first floors. Above the central bay is a large, timber dormer.

The west side has seven bays with windows to each of the first-floor bays. On the ground floor the first two bays are blind, the fourth and fifth bays have a wide, single-storey canted bay window, with windows to the third, sixth and seventh bays. BOILER HOUSE: the single-storey, flat-roofed boiler house stands to the left of the east elevation of the south-east L-shaped wing, now linked to it by the modern infill building. Half of the outer, east elevation of the boiler house is obscured by a modern extension* housing the pharmacy. The right-hand end has a brick corner pilaster and brick parapet. The north return has a brick pilaster supporting the parapet.


FRONT RANGE AND PROJECTING CORNER WINGS: the original layout of the front range remains legible with rooms opening off wide spine corridors, those on the first floor with slightly curved, ribbed ceilings. Fixtures and fittings such as moulded cornices, picture rails, dado rails, round-headed and segmental-headed archways with pilasters and moulded frames (some with keystones), moulded architraves and six-panelled doors remain, although a number are modern replacements. The inner front doorway has a timber door with panelling to the lower half with small-pane glazing above, panelled and glazed side lights and a semi-circular cobweb overlight (similar to the north doorway to the recreation hall). To the rear of the entrance hall is the main staircase with a modern staircase with marble-faced steps and aluminium balustrade. The basement has a stone-flagged floor.

The north-west kitchen wing has been remodelled and refurbished on the ground floor. The ward on the first floor has moulded cornices, round-headed archways to the corridor, architraves and six-panelled doors and a round-headed, part-glazed first-floor door to the north-west stairwell.

The north-east wing contains the board room with shouldered door architraves, six-panelled doors and moulded cornice.

REAR L-SHAPED WINGS: the original layouts remain legible, although much has been refurbished. The first floor of the south-east wing has architraves with entablatures or four-light overlights above six-panelled doors.

THE LODGE: the central passageway attaching the Lodge to the front range has roundel windows with moulded frames and giant keystones, and moulded segmental archeways with pilasters. The range off to the west side (the former bath house) has moulded timber architraves with trefoil finials and six-panel doors, some part glazed. The spine corridors have moulded cornices, segmental archways (some with glazed screens) and roof lights. The rooms on each side have six-panel doors with overlights. The larger communal rooms have moulded picture rails and cornices with arched timber beams and roof lights. The visitors’ waiting room (the north-east ground-floor room in the central block) has a timber mantelpiece with a grey marble surround.

WEST VILLA (YORK HOUSE): the original layout with rooms off spine corridors remains legible. The interior has been modernised.

NURSES’ HOME: the square stair tower has an open-well staircase with a balustrade with a swept timber handrail and slender, turned balusters. Off the stair tower are round-headed inner windows with moulded architraves and decorative leaded lights. The rooms have six-panelled doors with moulded timber architraves. A communal room on the first floor has a timber window seat to the bay window and a timber mantelpiece.

RECREATION HALL: the hall has a timber floor and coved ceiling with moulded cornices and panelled pilasters to the walls. At the west end is a stage. The wide double doors have shouldered architraves and pulvinated entablatures, also panelled double doors with octagonal lights. The north corridor has parquet flooring, moulded cornices and panelled pilasters. The original entrance doorway has panelled double doors with small-pane glazing to the upper half with a semi-circular cobweb overlight.

MALE NURSES’ HOSTEL: the interior was not inspected.

BOILER HOUSE: the interior was not inspected.

SUBSIDIARY ITEMS: in front of the main range is a high brick wall with a squared stone coping which forms a boundary on the south side of Heslington Road. Towards the west end are two inserted round-headed doorways with decorative iron railing gates. The larger right-hand gateway has a rusticated brick surround with a giant keystone, over which the wall has been ramped. To its left the wall has later been ramped to form the back wall of an outbuilding to Lamel Beeches. The wall turns the corner at the north-west end of the site returning in a southerly direction separating Walmgate Stray from Lamel Beeches and the Retreat’s grounds. Towards the left-hand end the wall has been raised to form the back wall of another outbuilding to Lamel Beeches and there is an inserted segmental-headed doorway with a brick surround with a gaint keystone and panelled timber door. The wall continues south past Lamel Hill before returning a short distance in an easterly direction and then returns again in a southerly direction. The wall has a square brick pier with pyramidal stone coping and then changes to a low brick wall with a chamfered stone coping and tall, iron railings with decorative iron buttresses to the inside. Towards the south end the wall rises again and becomes a high brick wall. It has a coping of chamfered bricks and chamfered stone coping. At the south-west corner of the site the wall returns in an easterly direction, forming the south boundary with Walmgate Stray.

Within the grounds there is a brick wall running north-south down part of the grounds to the south of the main building (on the line of the original west boundary). It has a curved stone coping to the stretch from the north end down to a short easterly spur marking the south side of the original burial ground; there are also diagonal brick buttresses. The stretch to the left of this has squared stone coping. There is a segmental-arched doorway in this stretch. It terminates in a square brick pier at the left-hand end.

* Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 ('the Act') it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest, however any works which have the potential to affect the character of the listed building of special architectural or historic interest may still require Listed Building Consent and this is a matter for the local planning authority to determine.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
RCHME, , An Inventory of the Historical Monuments of York in the City of York, Volume IV, Outside the City Walls, East of the Ouse, (1975), 51
Barry Edginton, , 'The Design of Moral Architecture at The York Retreat' in Journal of Design History, , Vol. volume 16, number 2, (2003), 103-117
Digital collection of the Retreat archive made available by the Wellcome Library; original papers held by the Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York, accessed 11 July 2018 from
Harriet Richardson, 'The Retreat, York' on Historic Hospital, An Architectural Gazeteer, accessed 11 July 2018 from
Ann-Marie Akehurst, ‘The York Retreat A vernacular of equality’ in Guillery, Peter ed, Built from Below: British Architecture and the Vernacular, 2011, 73-98.
Rebecca Burrows, The Retreat Heritage and Landscape Appraisal, volumes 1, 2 and 3, July 2018, Purcell.


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 04 Jun 2002
Reference: IOE01/05805/05
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Martin Roberts. Source Historic England Archive
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