Some ten years ago, I lived just outside of Leeds on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. On my way home, I often found myself queuing at the traffic lights next to a dilapidated chapel set in a field behind the local ambulance station. The gates were heavily padlocked but there was a metal plaque on the gate post which wasn’t quite readable from the driver’s seat. Eventually, I cycled down to inspect the plaque and was shocked to discover that the scruffy field of about half an acre contained nearly three thousand bodies. This was the burial ground for the High Royds hospital, previously known as the Menston Lunatic Asylum. I remember doing some rough calculations and thinking that the bodies must have been buried on top of each other to fit so many into such a small space, and that the annual death rate for the hospital must have been rather on the high side. Out of curiosity, I started to look for information on High Royds and discovered that the Buckle Lane burial site was for pauper inmates who were buried four to six deep in each plot. This explained the lack of headstones.
It was a gruesome way to develop an interest, but the more I read, the more I realised how fascinating was the history of the mental health services. The subject is vast, and at first I read, without any particular direction, numerous textbooks and papers, looking for anything which would explain what life was like in the early asylums.
I stumbled on Montagu Lomax’s book ‘The Experiences of an Asylum Doctor’, and then the papers which reviewed his contribution to the mental health services. It soon became apparent that Lomax was a bit of a mystery man whose backstory just didn’t seem to fit the facts. I began to investigate him, using Ancestry.com; assorted archives, and libraries and the online newspaper archives. It was a detective story, which is only partially solved but this site is the result of a decade of part-time ‘research’.The reader should be aware that I am not a trained historian. The story of Montagu Lomax presented here is just my tribute to a remarkable man. Acknowledgements: Thanks to JM for putting up with my ‘Lomaxing’, Jodie Williams for her expert genealogy assistance and JAO for suggesting the format. Next Page: