People often think they have to travel thousands of miles to get a very fresh perspective on their lives in Blighty.
But there’s no need when we have so many riches at home.
I was reminded of this elemental truth on Thursday when I turned up at Storthes Hall in Kirkburton to investigate how thrill-seekers were risking their lives trying to break into the derelict asylum.
Although I have lived in Huddersfield almost all my life the closest I’d got to entering its precincts was dropping a chess-playing student off outside its gates.
I had vague memories of Huddersfield Town players using some of it for training facilities before they moved closer to home in purpose-built facilities at Canalside.
But what an unexpected treasure trove of social history lay ahead of me!
The building, when I finally tracked it down, on the huge, amorphous site looked like something out of the famous hotel in the Jack Nicholson horror movie, The Shining.
Just looking at old black and white photographs of it partially covered in snow gave me an enjoyable shiver down my back.
Founded as an asylum in 1904, it treated patients for 87 years and for the early part of the 20th century, part of it was used to treat shell-shocked First World War soldiers.
But most of the patients were ‘pauper lunatics’ who were detained under the Lunacy Act of 1890.
I had forgotten, but some of the tales came flooding back to me, primarily the unbelievably sad ones of women who found themselves locked up, sometimes for their entire lives, for the ‘crime’ of having children out of wedlock. Inevitably many of the patients became institutionalised and were reduced to doing nothing more than brewing tea and pushing a brush around.
When I looked into it there was a darker history, too. In 1967 it was investigated following publication of Barbara Robb’s book “Sans Everything”.
Four named male nurses wwere said to have violently assaulted male patients over a 32-week period. Astonishingly it was even alleged that it was like Belsen because it was a “brutal, bestial, beastly place”. Or as one person put it: a “hell-hole”.
While I was there I was also fortunate to meet a very kind man Philip Wayman who was out walking his dog and filled me in on some of its fascinating history including an interconnecting underground tunnel which ran to another rather forbidding building, The Reception. Apparently, there were ‘cells’ where medical experiments were performed on patients. His wince was worth 1,000 words.
The comedian Spike Milligan had apparently been a patient there and in its heyday it had been one of the biggest asylums in Europe with all the advantages of self-sufficiency.
It had its own water supply as well as a farm, a huge supply of labour and plenty of staff accommodation. My mind boggled.
Well, all that is in the past now and many of the buildings are broken down and daubed in graffiti.
It seems just a matter of time now before Kirklees Council finally agrees to Younger Homes’ proposals for a fully fledged retirement village.
But it is good to have forbidding, mysterious buildings in one’s life with tainted histories.