Our History

Our History 

The Retreat occupies a central place in the history of psychiatry. Every textbook on the subject mentions the unique part played by our organisation in the reshaping of attitudes to towards people who are mentally ill.

Opened in 1796 by William Tuke, a retired tea merchant, the original Retreat was intended to be a place where members of The Society of Friends (Quakers) who were experiencing mental distress could come and recover in an environment that would be both familiar and sympathetic to their needs. Some years earlier, a Leeds Quaker, Hannah Mills, had died in the squalid and inhumane conditions that then prevailed in the York Asylum, and appalled at this Tuke and his family vowed that never again should any Quaker be forced to endure such treatment.

The Retreat was based on the Quaker belief that there is ‘that of God’ in every person, regardless of any mental or emotional disturbance. Although to many modern-day mental health practitioners this might seem a reasonable baseline assumption to make, at the time it was a revolutionary departure from the norm.

Moral Treatment at The Retreat

The original Retreat of 1796 did not set out to invent any new model of treatment for people who were mentally ill. It was merely intended to be a supportive and healing environment, based on Quaker principles. Over time, however, The Retreat opened its doors to an increasing number of non-Quaker visitors and residents, and its regime and methods became the subject of general interest to those concerned with mental health care, both in Britain and abroad. This interest led William Tuke's grandson Samuel, in 1813, in his book Description of The Retreat to explain and encapsulate The Retreat's methods and philosophy as "moral treatment".

Samuel Tuke borrowed the term "moral treatment" from the term "traitement moral" which was used to describe the work of Pinel, a French revolutionary famous for his liberation of mental asylum inmates in Paris at about the same time as The Retreat's founding. The original French form "moral treatment" referred more to treatment of the morale, in the sense of the emotions and the self-esteem, rather than the sense of "rights and wrong" that we tend to associate with the word "moral". This has led to some unfortunate misunderstanding about the term.

Samuel Tuke himself laid great emphasis on the importance of improvement of morale for people in distress, and this was to be achieved by a combination of environmental and practical considerations.

Moral treatment may have had its flaws and its critics but, viewed in its historical context, as an alternative to the established treatments of the day, it was quite revolutionary. Within a short period of time after The Retreat had been established, others were inspired to try treating patients along similar lines.

The Retreat itself became influenced by the emerging discipline of psychiatry and assumed an increasing degree of medical emphasis, although it always retained its reputation for compassion and respect for the people it treated.

The Retreat today

The present day Retreat seeks to retain the original principles behind the early moral treatment practised here, whilst being responsive to what is best in latest clinical expertise and practice.  We also retain our strong Quaker ethos: the majority of our Directors and Members are from the Society of Friends and bring an active Quaker influence to the work of The Retreat today. 

We provide modern health care, based on traditional values.