Doris Hallas died in Storthes Hall from gangrene which had spread to her spine.

The hospital, where the single mother was incarcerated for 23 years, had failed to treat a pressure sore and it had become fatal.

For her only child Rita Bennett, Doris’ death came as a relief.

No longer would her mother have to undergo electric shock ‘treatment’ or face being locked in a cell for refusing to take her ‘medicine’.

No more would Rita have to see “the look of sheer terror” on her mum’s face as she lay listlessly on a whitewashed ward among other patients whose faces bore similar expressions of despair.

A few weeks ago, 42 years after her mother’s death, Rita and her son Martin decided to visit the former hospital site, near Kirkburton.

Video thumbnail, Storthes Hall footage circa 1930
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As the pair strolled around the site, most of which has now been cleared, a sickening feeling came over Rita.

Rita, 78, from Golcar, said: “I heard those keys jangling and the doors closing – it was an eerie feeling.

“I felt the same feeling of despair that I used to feel when I left my mother there.”

Rita Bennett of Golcar whose mum Doris Hallas spent 23 years in Storthes Hall Hospital and died there in 1974.

In 1951 Doris, hitherto a kind, supportive mother who took her daughter dancing, was committed to Storthes Hall.

Rita was told very little other than that her mother had suffered a mental breakdown.

"How my thoughts on Storthes Hall were changed"

Doris had bipolar disorder – an extreme from of depression characterised by ‘manic’ highs and crushing low moods.

She also had paranoid schizophrenia, a terrifying illness where patients experience visual and auditory hallucinations.

But Rita wouldn’t know any of this until her mother died in 1974.

The 13-year-old Rita kept in touch via letters but after a year, she felt ready to see her mother in person.

Rita, a retired care manager, said: “I remember the long corridors and the jangle of the keys when someone came and unlocked the many doors leading to where she was.

Patients watching TV at Storthes Hall Hospital in 1954

“‘What was she doing?’, I thought, ‘my beautiful mother.’

Visiting became a regular thing for Rita, not that it became any easier.

The great-grandmother remembers standing in a dormitory in which 50 patients were crammed.

Rita said: “I remember a patient stood very close to me started playing with my hair and I daren’t tell her to give up.

“A patient once kicked me and I thought: ‘Where are the staff?’”

She added: “I remember people screaming and horrible noises – it used to break my heart...

“Those grey, gruesome buildings were worse inside.”

The main Storthes Hall building pictured on February 14, 1986

One of the worst experiences, however, was seeing her mother punished for refusing her medication.

Rita remembers: “She would be locked in a small room with a window very high up.

“There was an iron bed and a hole in the door where the staff could look in.

“All she would say is: ‘You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors’.”

After a few years in Storthes Hall, Doris was given a lobotomy, where part of the front of the brain is removed. This form of ‘treatment’ is no longer used.

Rita recalls feeling two holes under the front of her mother’s hairline following the operation.

Whether it made Doris better or worse, Rita can’t say.

But Doris was seldom mentally stable during her time in the institution.

Nursing staff being trained at Storthes Hall Hospital in 1954

Rita said: “She would say: ‘What a beautiful day. I’m happy to be alive.’

“But as the day went on she would fade away.”

Doris would enjoy occasional days outside the hospital or strolls around the hospital’s ornate grounds.

But when it was time to go inside her mood would change, Rita recalls.

What was it like to work at Storthes Hall? Ex worker Brian Haigh looks back

Storthes Hall became a bit more humane towards the end of the 1960s.

Rita remembers the spirit-crushing whitewashed walls giving way to more homely furnishings.

From day one Rita held onto the hope that her mother would be released.

Nurses look at pictures at Storthes Hall Hospital in March 1954

But she soon learned her mother would die in the place she despised.

Rita said: “They discovered a bedsore the size of a fist which had gone down to the bone and got gangrene...

“The look of sheer terror in her face I will never forget.

“I remember sitting on the floor crying and my mother saying: ‘Open the window Rita and let me fly away.’

“I remember that and the fumigating tablets to disguise the gangrenous smell.”

Working at Storthes Hall Hospital in January 1954

After her mother’s death a doctor explained why Doris had been committed in the first place.

Rita recalls a foot-high stack of her mum’s patient notes.

She said: “With her passing the despair of 23 years was replaced by relief, not for me but for her.”

As a divorced single mum – like Doris – Rita’s life was full of challenges.

But having seen her mother suffer terribly, Rita was determined not to be a victim.

And under no circumstances would she wind up in Storthes Hall.

In 1966 tragedy struck when Rita’s four-year-old daughter Debra was hit and killed by a bus.

Rita, then ‘absolutely broken’, was prescribed antidepressants that she remembered her mum taking.

Nurses look at pictures at Storthes Hall Hospital in March 1954

She said: “I threw them down the toilet – I wasn’t going that way.

“I thought: ‘They’ll never get me in there’.”

Rita brought up her remaining three children and retired at 67.

She’s become a great-grandma and having a large family has been a panacea.

Rita said: “I was a divorcee and I thought: ‘What happens to children if I’m not there?’

“They’re always there for me now.

“I’m 78 but my mind is still young!”

Nurses and other staff members from Storthes Hall pictured in 1951