William Tuke, Founder Of The York Retreat
A member of the Society of Friends had a huge impact on improvements to the treatment of patients
Born in York in 1732, William Tuke was the son of a weaver and hosier, whose family was well-known for being early members of the Society of Friends. After a good education, William was apprenticed to his aunt at the age of 19, working in the wholesale tea and coffee trade, later including cocoa. This remained his business throughout his working life.
William was a keen philanthropist, campaigning for the abolition of the slave trade, helping to found several Quaker schools and being active in the Bible Society. In 1790 a Quaker named Hannah Mills was admitted to the York Lunatic Asylum. Friends were refused permission to visit her, and she died soon after in squalid conditions. This shocked the Society
of Friends, especially William who vowed that Quakers with a ‘loss of reason’ should never suffer like this again. He resolved to build an asylum especially for them, and won the Society of Friends’ support.
It was William’s energy and vision that saw the project through. He visited St Luke’s in London where he saw a naked female patient chained to a wall, an experience that haunted him. When the Society of Friends’ York Retreat opened in 1796, the conditions were humane with minimal physical restraint; this became known as ‘moral treatment’, and greatly influenced reformers of public asylums. William died in 1822, but his grandson and great grandson continued his work. The Retreat still exists today: theretreatyork.org.uk.