A Visit to The Borthwick Institute

Friday, 20th March 2015 was my first visit to The Borthwick Institute for Archives at University of York.

I visited with Bethany to view records regarding my 2nd Great Grandfather Francis Prince, miller of West Ayton, North Yorkshire. We had suspected for years that Francis was admitted to a lunatic asylum, but were unsure which one. Thanks to Ancestry UK recently adding records of lunatic asylum to their inventory, we discovered that he was admitted and died in Clifton Hospital, North Riding County Asylum in York. Clifton Hospital

Borthwick suggest phoning before a visit. I telephoned and gave Francis’s dates of admission and discharge (in his case, death). I was told they may have his admittance form and his treatment record. I received instructions on how to find the library which hosts The Borthwick.

Parking in the South Car Park, we took the left hand path. This proved to be a big mistake and needed a detour through the Physics department to get back to the correct path. My advice for parking in the South Car Park is park on the right hand side of the car park and make sure to take the right hand exit path towards the lake. There is a lift on the left to the top of the walkway to the library entrance; negating the need to cross the road and walk up a steep hill.

Refreshments (a cafe serving drinks and light meals) and toilets are available in the library. The Borthwick is on the first floor. Lockers are available to leave personal items, such as coats, bags etc.) The only items that are allowed into the search room are a pencil without an eraser, maximum of four sheets of A4, or a small notebook. Paying for a photography pass permits the entry of a camera or silenced mobile phone with a camera facility.

The air is deliberately cool to help preserve the archives, so wearing a warm jumper is advisable. Bean bags with snake weights are provided to assist with viewing books without causing damage. The weights hold the books open to minimise handling.

We found out that Francis had been admitted to the asylum by his wife, Mary Prince, as a private inmate. After a couple of years his status was changed to pauper; we found no documents to explain this change.

The only suggestion for the cause of his illness was “burden of business”. From the various statements in his treatment record he refused to speak and to eat. There is one reference to him being fed with a stomach tube, and the only words he ever seemed to say were “I did nothing wrong”

Overleaf from Francis we found a reference to another ancestor, admitted the same week. So we ordered copies of these documents as well as Francis.

There were some documents we could not get. Francis’s cause of death is given as General Paralysis and a post-mortem was performed. The records of PMs held do not start until later. An Internet search of the term General Paralysis suggests a link with syphilis in the form of Neurosyphilis

We ate lunch in the Library Cafe, which serves Costa Coffee, light meals and snacks. Returned to the search room for another hour’s work, before placing our order for copies and returning home.

A thoroughly enjoyable day and a far easier ordering and buying process than I imagined. All is left to do, is wait with anticipation for copies to be emailed to us (within 20 days).