Claypenny Hospital was a mental handicap hospital opened in 1934 by the North Riding County Council, under the provisions of the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913. The North Riding had been slow in providing institutional, and indeed other types of provision, for 'mental defectives', as laid down under this Act. Between 1913 and 1934, North Riding handicapped people regarded as needing institutional care had been placed at institutions throughout the north of England, and occasionally further afield.
Claypenny Colony, as the hospital was called until 1952, was sited at the old and redundant Easingwold Poor Law Institution (the workhouse) in buildings dating from the 1830s. Extra land was purchased to extend the site, and three new pavilion blocks were erected 1935-8 to extend accommodation. This increased patient numbers from 90 in 1937 to 188 in 1938. A range of types of patients were taken: adults and children, males and females, and what were termed 'high grade' and 'low grade' cases. Plans for further, major expansion in the late 1930s, however, were curtailed by the advent of the Second World War.
In the 1940s there was little development at the hospital, except for the purchase or building of further staff accommodation. The Colony also became overcrowded, as the County Council increasingly placed patients at Claypenny rather than at other institutions, and evacuated patients from the East Riding institution at Brandesburton Hall were also accommodated. Numbers grew to around 350 by the mid 1940s.
Claypenny became NHS, under York 'B' Group Hospital Management Committee, in 1948. It was congested, and undeveloped. Because of financial constraints, attempts to develop the hospital were slow. Two new Villas were opened as bungalow blocks for children in 1953. Facilities and recreational activities were extended and attempts made to make the regime more 'humane'. The wards were renamed, after trees (rather than letters and numbers, as previously): thus, the original workhouse premises became Cedar, Maple and Cherry Villas, the three 1938 blocks became Elm, Lime and Oak Villas, and the two 1953 bungalows were Ash and Beech Villas. The site was developed and landscaped. A 'Friends of Claypenny' organisation began in the mid 1960s. Occupational therapy, incentive pay schemes for patients, physiotherapy, PT, and evening classes were introduced and the school was further developed. But the hospital remained overcrowded, despite the acquisition in 1952 of Ripon Hostel, at Bondgate, Ripon, to house a few of the long stay patients. There were more than 360 resident patients at Claypenny in the mid 1950s.
Major development at Claypenny did not take place until the 1960s and 1970s. The recognition of the hospital as a comprehensive hospital in sub-normality by the Leeds Regional Hospital Board 1961 led to an expansion in staff and facilities. A Consultant Psychiatrist was appointed as Medical Superintendent in 1961 (a Hospital Secretary had also been appointed in 1958); nursing staff was increased and the hospital gained recognition as a training school for sub-normality nursing. Research also began at the hospital into causes of handicap. The hospital began to concentrate on severely handicapped patients, although a few 'high grade' women were retained in Maple Villa Training Unit.
Developments in the 1960s and 1970s included the partitioning of large wards into smaller ones, with no more than 30 patients in each: Elm Villa became Elm and Elder; Lime Villa became Lime and Larch; Oak became Oak and Cherry Although resident numbers were still growing - there were 357 patients in 1961 and 376 in 1973 - between these two dates accommodation and facilities significantly increased. Rowan Villa opened in 1963 as an admission and diagnostic unit for children and a children's spastic unit was added to it in 1968; Pine Villa opened in 1970 as a mixed adolescent unit; Hazel Villa was opened as hostel type accommodation for older women in 1971; other new buildings included the Recreation Hall in 1961, the Spastics Unit in 1972, the Occupational Therapy Unit in 1973, a new Nurses Home, Administrative Building and school extensions in 1972-3. In addition, activities, education and training were increased and more fitted to patients' needs: for example, an Activities Officer was appointed in 1973; Hawthorne Unit, an activity unit for severely handicapped adults began in 1973; the hospital school was added to and progressively increased in its aims and scope.
But policy towards mentally handicap began to change from the late 1950s onwards. The 1959 Mental Health Act endorsed the idea of community care. Well publicised abuses within institutions during the 1960s also served to change thinking. The 1971 White Paper Better Services for the Mentally Handicapped laid down new aims of increasing community care and the reduction of hospital places, as well as the greater recognition of the needs and rights of the mentally handicapped. Two new bodies were set up in the mid 1970s: the National Development Group for the Mentally Handicapped advised on policy and produced literature, while the Development Team for the Mentally Handicapped advised and assisted the NHS and local authorities in planning and co-operation.
In line with these national policy changes, Claypenny Hospital began to be reduced in size. No children were admitted from 1983, and resident children were resettled in 1985-8, either in ordinary homes in Huby and Haxby or in the new Special Needs Unit at Acomb, York. A major Mental Handicap Strategic Review was completed by York Health Authority in March 1987, and in April 1988 the Authority began formal consultation on the development of community services and the closure of Claypenny. The new Strategy was agreed in January 1989.
Numbers of residents at Claypenny dropped from 351 in 1974 to 284 in 1984, 225 in 1987 and 186 in 1988. Numbers continued to reduce, as alternative facilities were developed, and the hospital finally closed in 1993. 89 former residents moved to 15 group homes leased to Housing Associations run by the charities Mencap and United Response and monitored by York Health Services NHS Trust. A further group of residents with special needs moved to four purpose built NHS Units offering both long and short term places: Oak Rise, Acomb; Wighill Garth, Tadcaster, Oak Tree Court, Bubwith; and Old Copperclay, Easingwold (on part of the former Claypenny site).
Most of the Claypenny site was sold after 1993, and has been redeveloped; the former hospital premises, except for the listed 1830s buildings, were demolished.