The asylum was necessary to care for the treatment and care of the insane poor, work began on it in 1816. The main builders were John Robson, John Billinton and William Pockrin – all from Wakefield. When completed the hospital was first occupied by the 23rd of November 1818. The eventual cost of the building work was £23,000 being £7,000 more than the contracted price. The total cost was shown in the records as £36,448. 4s. 9¼d.
The asylum stood in an area of 25 acres. For privacy the grounds were surrounded by plantation in either Wakefield or Stanley to be quiet, peaceful and secluded. It was a much needed hospital for in the early part of the 19th century very little was available by way of treatment for mental illness. Before the opening of this asylum, sufferers were incarcerated in prisons, workhouses or in their own homes at none of which treatment was available except for purging, bleeding or mechanical restraint.
Some of records of mechanical restraint make horrific reading. There was a case of a James Norris who, at Bethlem Hospital, London, was chained for several years to a vertical bar fixed to a wall, able only to slide in his chains from a sitting to a standing position. Records tell at Wakefield of a woman patient admitted from Barnsley Workhouse where she had been chained in a cell for no less than 36 years.
Therefore there was the need for a hospital which would care for the people in need of treatment for mental disorders. So Stanley played its part in the beginning of better treatment for the unfortunate.
In 1859 the water supply to the asylum gave concern. In the early days the supply had been from ‘springs’ and, for domestic purposes, collected from the roofs of the buildings. Seasonal failure of the springs caused concern and at these times water was brought direct from the River Calder in water wagons until the springs once again ran freely.
It is interesting to note that in evidence given to a commission of inquiry in 1866 on the pollution of the River Calder, it was established that in 1818 roach, perch and other fish abounded, As late as 1826 a stone thrown into the river could be seen at seven or eight feet deep.
The prospectus for the proposed Wakefield Waterworks Company of 1836 proposed that ‘water superior in purity to any spring at present under consideration, and sufficient in quantity to supply the largest City in Europe should be obtained from a point about 4 miles below the Wakefield Chantry Bridge.’ That point was in the ferry area. The Wakefield Waterworks Company is shown on an 1850 plan to be behind the Stanley Ferry pits.
A road or footpath was used by the villagers of Stanley for many years on which they carried their dead from Stanley to Wakefield Parish Church burial ground which was in The Springs. This roadway ran in a line to the east of Ouchthorpe Lane to Vicars Lane and had been used for this purpose for many years. It was also used by drovers moving cattle and sheep from the Wakefield Cattle Market to Leeds, although they had not the right to use it for that purpose but they did so because it was a way of evading payment of tolls at Newton Bar on the Leeds Road which was, at that time, a ‘Toll Road’.