Grounds associated with the Retreat


Heritage Category:
Park and Garden
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
The Retreat, 107 Heslington Road, York, YO10 5 BN


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Statutory Address:
The Retreat, 107 Heslington Road, York, YO10 5 BN

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

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


The grounds of the Retreat asylum, now mental health hospital, designed in 1794 to 1797, enlarged in 1828, including airing courts, gardens, walks, sports grounds, mature screening and specimen trees, a former small farm, and a Quaker burial ground (1855).

Reasons for Designation

The grounds associated with the Retreat of 1794 to 1797, enlarged in 1828, are registered at Grade II* on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens for the following principal reasons:

Historic interest:

*as the prototype therapeutic asylum landscape which was to directly influence the design for all future asylum landscapes.

Design interest:

* the grounds were designed for the benefit of the patients both through recreation and exercise, being landscaped with gardens and walks, kitchen gardens and a small farm in the manner of a small country house estate, and later in the C19 with an increased provision of sports facilities.


* the extent, character and legibility of the historic landscape remains and the grounds still continue in their therapeutic use for the benefit of patients.

Historical association:

* devised by the asylum reformer William Tuke as a fundamental component of his more enlightened and humane treatment of the insane which was hugely influential in future provision of care for the mentally ill.


* the humane treatment pioneered at the Retreat led to the Asylums Act of 1808, the publication by Samuel Tuke in 1813 of a ‘Description of the Retreat’, including the grounds, led to its wide dissemination both here and abroad, and William Tuke’s evidence to the Select Committee on Madhouses (1814 to 1816) contributed to its support of the new reforming ideology and led to the creation of county asylums.

Group value:

* for its strong historic, aesthetic and functional group value with the Retreat, a pioneering mental asylum in the humane treatment of the mentally ill, listed at Grade II*, with hospital and grounds continuing to be run by the Quakers and providing care for the mentally ill to the present day.


The Retreat was established as a lunatic asylum between 1793 and 1797 by the Society of Friends (Quakers) on a previously undeveloped site. William Tuke, the founding member, was a Quaker tea-merchant and philanthropist, who initiated its construction after becoming concerned about the death in 1791 of a Friend, Hannah Mills, in the York Lunatic Asylum (now - 2018 - the former Bootham Park Hospital) without access to her relations. York Lunatic Asylum had opened in 1777 and despite its good intentions, by the 1790s had a poor reputation with reports of overcrowding, mechanical restraints, poor medical practice and unbearable living conditions. Tuke suggested ‘a milder and more appropriate system of treatment than that usually practised, might be adopted’. This resulted in a more humane and enlightened environment developed in support of Tuke’s ‘moral treatment’, his then radical approach to mental illness which avoided confinement, restraint and the dispensing of drugs. The name proposed for the new institution was the ‘Retreat, intended to convey the idea of a quiet haven where a refuge or place of safety might be sought.’ Its patients were referred to as ‘the family’.

At the outset the committee resolved that the asylum should have grounds for therapeutic use by the patients. When deciding on a location they stated that it should ‘have the privilege of retirement and that there be a few acres for keeping cows and for garden ground for the family; which will afford scope for the patients to take exercise, when that might be prudent and suitable’. The site chosen was on elevated ground, ‘a situation which afforded excellent air and water, as well as a very extensive and diversified prospect’. 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 care taken over the landscaping of the grounds as well as building the institution is shown in the purchase of 768 plants from the notable York nurseries of John and George Telford, and Thomas Rigg in 1794, when building work was still in its initial stages. These included 100 Beeches, 30 Black Poplars, 50 Lombardy Poplars, 25 Oaks, 25 Larches, 2 Horse Chestnuts, 2 American Spruce, and many others, as well as shrubs such as honeysuckles and guilder roses.

The entire estate initially amounted to just over twenty acres (8 hectares). The original asylum building was constructed between 1793 and 1797 to designs by John Bevans, a Quaker architect from London, in consultation with William Tuke. The construction was supervised by Peter Atkinson of York. It was then extended and altered over the course of the C19 and C20. The main building is aligned east-west on the highest ground facing Heslington Road to the north, with a small, hexagonal entrance lodge adjacent to the road (now demolished). There were separate male and female wings, each with their own secure exercise yard or airing court on the south side of the building. The rest of the institution grounds were laid out for therapeutic purposes in the manner of a small country house estate. Ornamental pleasure grounds were primarily laid out to the north in front of the building. Most of the grounds lay to the south, or rear of the building. Two long strips of fields stretched down towards Walmgate Stray. These were laid out as an exercise field, productive kitchen gardens and farmland, with a small farm, which was mainly used in the growth of potatoes and the keeping of cows for milk and butter. There was a straight west boundary close to the building and separating it from a Mr Sanderson’s property. In 1828 an extra strip of fields was purchased on the west side incorporating Lamel Hill, an Anglo-Saxon burial mound (a scheduled monument) and increasing the size of the estate to 29 acres (11.7 hectares).

The airing courts were laid out on a flat terraced area directly behind the male and female wings. Initially there were four airing courts, the inner two curved together to form a semi-circular plan bisected by a passageway to a small bath house outside the walls. Unlike other early asylum airing courts, the walls at the Retreat appeared low on the patients’ side whilst much higher (8ft, 2.4m) on the outer side due to the fall of ground. The effect was like a country house ha-ha, so views of the surrounding countryside were not obscured. Samuel Tuke, William Tuke’s grandson, still considered that the confined nature of the airing courts might be bad for a patient’s state of mind, if it was not for the compensation of taking suitable patients into the garden or fields of the institution, or even on frequent excursions into the city or surrounding countryside. For the benefit of those patients whose condition meant that they were unable to use the wider grounds, Tuke said the courts were supplied ‘with a number of animals; such as rabbits, sea-gulls, hawks and poultry. These creatures are generally very familiar with the patients: and it is believed they are not only the means of innocent pleasure; but that the intercourse with them, sometimes tends to awaken the social and benevolent feelings.’ (1813). By 1828 there was a row of five airing courts with a lodge for wealthy male patients on the south side of the courts, reached from the main building by a central passageway. An 1874 plan shows four airing courts, the outer courts enlarged by extending them further south.

An 1828 plan by Watson, Pritchett and Watson shows the layout of the grounds. The front garden was laid out with serpentine walks, a shrubbery and shaped flower beds, with a similar, smaller area on the north-east side. Samuel Tuke described ‘gravel walks interspersed by shrubs and flowers, and sheltered from the intrusive eye of the passenger by a narrow plantation and shrubbery’ (1813). The 1828 plan also shows that the garden in front of the building was enclosed on three sides by walls, the north side being the boundary wall beside the road; this continued to enclose the north-west corner of the site. The north-west corner was known as Park Field. It was initially kept as pasture. On the west side of the building the grounds were initially laid out with an area annotated as 'Pleasure Ground for Women', with a terrace and shaped flower beds. On the west side is Lamel Hill, an Anglo-Saxon burial mound which was used as a gun emplacement during the siege of York in the Civil War due to its raised location. In 1828 it is shown with a rectangular building on its north-east side, and a painting of 1822 by a patient shows a windmill. By 1849 the area had been made less formal, also with serpentine walks and a rockery. Lamel Hill had been planted with trees and incorporated as a garden feature with walks winding round to the summit. The area to the immediate south of Lamel Hill was laid out more formally like a walled garden, being enclosed on its west and south sides by the high boundary wall. A 1915 plan shows this and smaller lawned rectangular areas to its east.

To the rear, south side the area immediately behind the buildings was shown in 1828 as an approximately square field labelled 'Lodge Field' with a walk laid out round its perimeter for exercise. On the south side were two rectangular gardens; the first, smaller garden had a small burial ground on its west side. This lay against the original west boundary wall, which ran southwards from the south-west corner of the building and stopped at the south-west corner of the garden. The east side of Lodge Field and the gardens was marked by a north-south drive running southwards from the south-east corner of the building to the small farm lying on the east side of the larger garden. The farm at this date comprised a small, linear range of cow houses and pigsties. The other grounds to the south, east, and west remained fields, with a screen of trees along the south boundary. By 1849 the garden boundaries had been squared up and they were labelled fruit garden and kitchen garden. The latter was separated from the field beyond by an east-west walk off the farm drive. The former west boundary wall is shown extended as far as the south-west corner of the kitchen garden, with a band of planting and an approximately square turnip field on its west side.

The OS map surveyed between 1846 and 1851, published 1853, shows much the same layout as the 1849 plan. Trees were planted along the boundaries, as individual specimen trees within the grounds, and formally laid out in the fruit garden. In 1855 the original burial ground became redundant and a new burial ground was laid out in the far south-east corner of the site on part of the Hill Field.

A plan from 1874 shows the farm had been enlarged with a new stables and coach house, and a coachman’s cottage, which had been erected in 1860. A new drive had been constructed along the eastern boundary of the grounds to the burial ground with a turning area for carriages.

Between 1875 and 1877 the earlier Lodge on the south side of the main building and airing courts was replaced by the much larger Gentlemen’s New Lodge. A new terrace was constructed on its south side with retaining banks and a central flight of descending steps. The East Villa for male patients was built in 1881 in the southeast corner of the triangular Home Paddock, and in 1889 the West Villa for female patients was built on the terrace of the extended west airing court. Subsequently, in 1882, the cricket ground (Lodge Field) was enlarged to take in the former Fruit Garden and Kitchen Garden; its southern boundary remained the east-west walk off the farm drive. The fields on the west side of the original west boundary wall were laid out as the new kitchen gardens with a grid of north-south and east-west walks, including an extension of the earlier east-west walk from the farm drive. The former turnip field had glass houses, a forcing house, and garden sheds built on it.

In 1886 Park Field in the north-west corner was incorporated into the pleasure gardens and the serpentine walks were expanded. Two tennis courts (one grass, one asphalt) were also built. These alterations are shown on the 1:500 OS town plan published in 1891. The map also clearly shows areas of planting, including dense groups of trees on Lamel Hill and screening the burial ground, trees planted in rows or lines alongside the north, south and east boundaries, an orchard of formally laid out trees in the kitchen grounds and individual specimen trees throughout the grounds. Between 1894 and 1895 the recreational choices in the grounds were expanded by the provision of more sports facilities. The hedges dividing the lower fields were removed and a bowling green, croquet lawn, large cricket pitch and a hockey pitch were constructed. A cricket pavilion was erected in 1896. A walk was also made round the southern and western boundaries to provide an additional exercise route.

In the early C20 a new medical superintendent’s house (Lamel Beeches) was built on Park Field, first shown on a 1915 plan of the grounds. During the C20 the grounds were further enhanced with the provision of two open air shelters in 1907 and a large rockery was constructed in 1912 to the immediate north of the burial ground, partly planned and much of the work undertaken by one of the patients. It was planted with a large number of Alpine plants and firs. In 1934 the western extension of the east-west walk from the farm drive was remodelled as the Bedford Pierce Memorial Rose Walk. Pierce was the medical superintendent from 1892 to 1922.

An extensive list of the tree species in the grounds was compiled in 1960, which includes a number of less common species. Amongst these was the Black Poplar, now the most endangered native tree in Britain.

The Retreat remains (2018) in use as a mental health hospital and retains its grounds. A number of the farm buildings have been converted for use by patients or staff.


LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING The Retreat occupies a site on the south-east side of York between the city and the village of Heslington. The approximately 11.7 hectare site is enclosed on the north, west and south sides by a high brick wall and partially by a brick wall topped by iron railings on the west side. The site is bounded to the north and north-east sides by Heslington Road. To the west and south it is bounded by Walmgate Stray. On the east side it is bounded by a linear strip of field, latterly owned by the Retreat, with a north-south footpath from the Stray on its east side. The University of York (west campus) is located close by on its south-east side.

The northern part of the site forms one of the highest points on the east side of the city. The land slopes down to the south, enabling views over the grounds and south boundary wall to Walmgate Stray and wider landscape beyond. An open, semi-rural character is maintained by York Cemetery to the west (a Grade II* registered park and garden), Walmgate Stray to the south (common land on which hereditary Freemen of the City have the right to graze cattle), and the landscaped campus of the University to the east. Samuel Tuke, William Tuke’s grandson, described the prospect as ‘extending, on the south, as far as the eye can reach, over a wooded, fertile plain; and terminating on the north and east, by the Hambleton Hills and the Wolds; which are seen, in some places, at the distance of about twenty-five miles’ (William Tuke, 1813). This remains the case.

ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES The Retreat is entered from a single original entrance (shown on the 1827 and 1828 plans) off Heslington Road on the north side. The drive enters at the east end of the principal building and splits to curve round and terminate in a carriage sweep in front of the main, north elevation of the building, and to lead round the east side of the building and head in a southerly direction down to the small farm complex and burial ground in the south-east corner. A later-C20 or early-C21 drive has been constructed off the original front drive to the former medical superintendent’s house (Lamel Beeches). It is flanked by tall, square brick piers with stone ball finials, as is the adjacent modern path running towards the main building.

A drive running north-south along the eastern boundary to the burial ground remains only as a green track flanked by mature trees.

PRINCIPAL BUILDINGS The Retreat (Grade II*) is built of orange-cream brick with Westmoreland slate roofs and has a symmetrical front elevation with a central, three-storey, five-bay block with a pyramidal roof, flanked by recessed, three-storey wings with double-pitched roofs. The original building (1793 to 1797) has many later extensions. On the north side there are two projecting two-storey corner wings. The north east wing has a recreation hall attached on the east side and modern, single-storey, flat-roofed extension projecting northwards towards the site entrance. Attached to the west side of the north-west wing is a three-storey nurses’ home designed in a Jacobethan style with its front elevation facing west. On the south side of the building a large, two-storey, L-shaped wing is attached to each corner. A long central passageway connects the main building to the single-storey lodge standing on the south side of a grassed area, originally the airing courts. Attached to the south-west corner of the south-west wing is a single-storey building which has been modernised. On the south side of the south-east wing is a large boiler house and a male nurses’ hostel of two storeys and an attic. Together these extensions almost fully enclose the area originally used as airing courts.

GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS The grounds directly in front of the principal building are lawned with a row of mature beeches and sweet chestnut, with other smaller trees, adjacent to the high brick boundary wall. A modern drive to Lamel Beeches (early C20) crosses the lawn. It is joined by a narrower curved drive off the carriage sweep in front of the main building, with a short strip of car parking on its north-eastern side. Between the two drives is a mature copper beech. A drive at the west end of the carriage sweep curves round the north end of the nurses’ home. It has a low wall of herringbone brickwork on its northern side, topped by a high beech hedge. The hedge then continues in a westerly direction to the brick boundary wall, separating the Retreat grounds from Lamel Beeches.

The grounds to the west of the principal buildings are laid to lawn with several mature deciduous and coniferous specimen trees and a rectangular summer house (Grade II) with bench seats to each side and a hipped spocketed roof on the north side. There is rougher grass around Lamel Hill, which is enclosed by a denser group of mature deciduous and coniferous trees. It retains two paths with stone steps running spirally to the top. On top is the concrete base for an octagonal summerhouse, now removed. Immediately south of Lamel Hill is a flat, rectangular lawned area enclosed on its west and south sides by the high brick boundary wall. On its east side is a smaller rectangular lawn enclosed by laurel hedges with a group of mature hawthorn trees on its south side. An asphalt path runs between it and the curved terrace on which the West Villa (1889) stands, which is also planted with a laurel hedge.

The triangular grounds east of the principal buildings are bounded on the eastern side by a high brick wall following the original route of Heslington Road, which curves towards the south-east here (this section of Heslington Road has been replaced for vehicular use by Thief Lane which continues in an easterly direction, although it remains a public right of way). At the south-east corner is the two-storey East Villa (1881), fronted by a triangular lawned area with mature deciduous and coniferous trees. An asphalted drive curves round between the villa and the lawned area to a wider, rectangular car park on the south side which opens onto the farm drive.

The airing courts are mostly lawned and sub-divided into smaller enclosed gardens by wooden fencing. There is a mature sycamore and sweet chestnut to the rear of the south-west wing. The lawn to the rear of the south-east wing is sub-divided by an east-west coniferous hedge with a ramp (originally steps) at the west end with low, brick retaining walls with stone coping and moulded end stones. There is a mature specimen tree in the lower garden.

The grounds immediately south of the principal buildings comprise a terrace, with a shaped, grassed retaining bank, which is lawned with an asphalt drive and circular area in front of the central doorway. A central flight of brick steps with low side walls lead down the bank, with a half-landing and a curved asphalt strip to each side for benches. Lower down the flight splits into two curved flights terminating either side of a small timber shelter (modern). The ground at the bottom of the steps is a large, lawned area, bounded on the west side by the original, tall brick boundary wall, on the south side by a beech hedge and the asphalted east-west walk off the farm drive, and on the west side by the asphalted farm drive and a band of mature deciduous trees, and the north-south range of farm buildings. Cut into the turf in front of the steps is a modern, circular grass maze.

South of the east-west walk are a number of sports facilities laid out in 1894 to 1895. Immediately south is a bowling green with a modern pavilion on its east side, a beech hedge and grass walk on its west side, the farm drive on its east side, and a grassed east-west walk on its south side. Beyond is the rectangular, croquet lawn with ramped edges on the north, east and west sides. To the south is a wider grassed area with a cricket pitch and a diagonally-set cricket pavilion on the north-west side with an adjacent mature copper beech tree. The cricket pavilion is timber with a half-hipped, tiled roof, with two changing rooms and an open-fronted central area with a bench to the rear. The cricket pitch is bounded on the south and west by the tall, brick boundary walls and a perimeter walk amongst a variety of species of mature deciduous and coniferous trees. West of the croquet lawn is a similarly sized rectangular area, bounded by the perimeter walk on its west side, a copper beech hedge on its south side, and a beech hedge and continuation of the grassed east-west walk on its north side. It is grassed with two asphalted tennis courts.

The farm drive runs north-south down to the burial ground in the south-east corner of the site. Approximately a third of the way down is the small brick-built farm complex. On the west side of the drive is a single-storey linear range of cow houses, a manure store, pigsties and a slaughter house, now converted for patient and staff use. At the south end is a two-storey cottage with a hipped slate roof and two ground-floor, timber, canted bay windows on the east side flanking the doorway. On the east side of the drive is a rectangular stables and coach house building (Grade II) aligned east-west with the front elevation facing south. It has full-height blind arcading to the walls. Attached to the south-east corner is a smaller coach house facing west. Adjoining the east gable wall of the arcaded stables and coach house is a small mortuary (Grade II). The front elevation faces east with paired doors and timber half-framing to the gable apex. To the south is single-storey, U-shaped shed range with a hipped slate roof and an open-sided lean-to with cast-iron columns along the length of the rear, north elevation. The west side has been converted for staff use.

Situated on the east side of the farm drive, opposite the bowling green, is a rectangular early C20 summer house with bench seats to each side and both ends and a hipped spocketed roof, similar in character to that near Lamel Hill. To its rear is a band of mature deciduous and coniferous trees of various species separating the recreational facilities from the field to the east. The north-south drive to the burial ground which runs along the original east boundary of the grounds remains as a green track in the field with a line of mature deciduous trees marking it out. At the south end is the rectangular burial ground (laid out in 1855) screened by a variety of mature deciduous and coniferous trees. The plain, round-headed grave stones are arranged in a grid with a small clump of mature trees in the centre of the burial ground. On the north side of the burial ground is a large, approximately oval, rockery of 1912 comprising large, unshaped rocks and sunken serpentine paths, now very overgrown and partially obscured by trees.

KITCHEN GARDEN The kitchen gardens lie on the west side of the grounds and date from 1882 when they replaced the original kitchen gardens to the direct south of the principal buildings. A large, approximately rectangular garden has the original west brick boundary wall on its east side and a hedge running parallel to the present west boundary wall on its west side. To the south is a beech hedge and the Bedford Pierce Memorial Rose Walk. Beyond the walk is a smaller rectangular garden enclosed by a beech hedge on its north, east and south sides. An asphalt path bisects the gardens north-south, with an avenue of cherry trees in the larger garden and an avenue of mature coniferous trees (and the stumps of four felled trees) in the smaller garden. In the south-east corner of the larger garden is a narrow row of lean-to brick garden sheds built against the original boundary wall. Built close to the north end of the sheds is a brick shed and boiler house with a mono-pitch roof and the brick base of a large glass house on its south side. The ground between the summer house and the terrace of West Villa is grassed with a number of mature trees, including copper beeches, particularly next to the original boundary wall. The ground on the west side of the bisecting path is grassed and planted with young fruit trees to form an orchard.

The Bedford Pierce Rose Walk has lawn and beech hedges on either side of the path with angled brick entrance gateways at each end.


Notes on Asylum Architecture, A Middlesex University resource. The Retreat – the Landscape , accessed 3 July 2018 from
Plan of Retreat Pleasure Grounds and Garden, February 1922, (digitised in the Retreat Archive in the Wellcome Library, original archive held in the Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York)., accessed 10 July 2018 from
Plan of the Retreat Estate and Buildings by T Hodgson, 1849, (digitised in the Retreat Archive in the Wellcome Library, original archive held in the Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York)., accessed 10 July 2018 from
Plan showing Retreat Grounds and Trees, December 1953, (digitised in the Retreat Archive in the Wellcome Library, original archive held in the Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York)., accessed 10 July 2018 from
Plans of the Retreat Buildings and Estate by Arthur Pollard of York, November 1874, , (digitised in the Retreat Archive in the Wellcome Library, original archive held in the Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York)., accessed 10 July 2018 from
Printed version of the general plan of the Retreat and its estate by Watson, Pritchett and Watson, York, May 1828, (digitised in the Retreat Archive in the Wellcome Library, original archive held in the Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York)., accessed 10 July 2018 from
Retreat Tree Plan, March 1915, (digitised in the Retreat Archive in the Wellcome Library, original archive held in the Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York)., accessed 10 July 2018 from
Tuke, Samuel, Description of the Retreat, an Institution near York for insane persons of the Society of Friends containing an account of its origins and progress, the modes of treatment and a statement of cases, 1813 (digitised in the Retreat Archive in the Wellcome Library, original archive held in the Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York)., accessed 10 July 2018 from
OS 1:10560 map, 1st edition, surveyed 1846-1851, published 1853.
OS 1:2500 map, published 1909.
OS 1:500 town map, published 1891
Rebecca Burrows, The Retreat Heritage and Landscape Appraisal, volumes 1, 2 and 3, July 2018, Purcell
Sarah Rutherford. The Landscapes of Public Lunatic Asylums in England, 1808-1914, De Montfort University, Leicester, July 2003; Appendix II, Case Study 9. The Retreat, and Volume 1 (of 3), pp 119-127 and 145-146.


This garden or other land is registered under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 within the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by Historic England for its special historic interest.

End of official listing

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