The Retreat was founded in 1793 to 1797 by William Tuke, a Quaker, for the Society of Friends (Quakers) as a reaction against the brutal treatment of the mentally ill in contemporary asylums, including York Lunatic Asylum (former Bootham Park Hospital, Grade I). The grounds were an integral component of the asylum and Tuke’s treatment, becoming the prototype therapeutic asylum landscape. It contained a small farm, fields, gardens and walks for use by patients and staff. In 1828 an additional strip of land was added on the west side of the grounds. This historic landscape remains intact and is enclosed on its northern, western and southern sides by a high brick wall (a subsidiary item on the Retreat List entry). It continues in use to this day
by the hospital, which is now the earliest asylum to continue in its care of the mentally ill in its original buildings. The original character of the grounds remains evident in the gardens, grounds, walks, specimen trees and shelter and screen belts of mixed, mature trees. The farm was an integral component of the original layout. Although a number of farm buildings, including the earliest building, have been converted to other uses they remain key elements in the landscape. The on-going therapeutic use of the grounds is shown in the late-C19 change of use of the
lower fields to provide a wider choice of sports facilities, including a bowling green, croquet lawn, cricket pitch and hockey pitch. The open, lawned aspect looking out to the wider landscape beyond remains intact.
The Retreat quickly gained a reputation throughout Europe and further afield, particularly America, for its humane care and treatment of the insane, which included the therapeutic use of the grounds.
The Retreat hospital remains standing in the grounds. There are presently nine purpose-built hospital landscapes on the Register. All are later than the Retreat and were influenced by it. It is considered that the grounds of the
Retreat should also be registered at Grade II* because of their pioneering influence as an integral part of the more humane treatment of the mentally ill, which is clearly seen in subsequent asylums.
The proposed boundaries of the registered area are the historic boundaries of the grounds in 1828, when an
additional strip of land was purchased on the west side, incorporating Lamel Hill and a field in the north-west corner on which Lamel Beeches now stands.