REAL-LIFE tales of murder, delusion and despair – including a Steeton shooting – are featured in a new book.

David Scrimgeour’s volume, entitled Proper People, shines a light on patients held in a Wakefield mental asylum 200 years ago.

The Wakefield resident relates the experiences of patients at the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum.

These include John Holdsworth, keeper of the Hawkcliffe toll bar, whose building still lies on Skipton Road, between Steeton and Keighley.

Holdsworth shot his wife dead in 1861, the case making headlines throughout the West Riding.

Local newspapers of the time reported that he was found not guilty on the grounds of insanity and confined at her Her Majesty’s Pleasure.

Mr Scrimgeour continues Holdsworth’s story in Proper People, following his progress from the Wakefield Asylum to a lunatic asylum in Southwark, London, then to the new Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum in 1864.

From there, Holdsworth wrote a number of poignant but fruitless letters requesting release, almost up to the time of his death in 1886.

Local historian Ian Dewhirst MBE,who recently wrote a review of Proper People, said the book not only described a “varied, sad and sometimes intriguing” collection of people, but offered a fascinating broader slice of Victorian social history.

Proper People uses extracts from handwritten historical case notes and newspaper reports to paint a picture of what life was like for the people admitted to the asylum between 1818 and 1869 – the first 50 years of its existence.

It reveals how the ‘pauper lunatics’ came to be incarcerated, and describes some of the treatment methods of the time, which included swinging patients from the ceiling and the use of mechanical restraint chairs and strait-jackets.

Mental health nurses were known officially as keepers and the patients were identified in medical notes by names such as ‘congenital idiot’ or ‘imbecile’.

After retiring from a lifelong career in IT sales in 2012, Mr Scrimgeour began researching his family history and discovered his great grandmother, Elizabeth Scrimgeour, had been held in an asylum near Glasgow.

Visit for more details about the book and to order copies.

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