The Red House Mystery
Investigating some curious local events in the 1930’s and 40’s
Back in 2001 an e-mail was received by the Walkington News website from a family
history researcher in Canada. She had just discovered that a relative of hers had
passed away at The Red House in Walkington in 1934.
Nothing unusual in that you might think, except that the deceased lady’s home
had been in Bridlington and there was a suggestion that she might have spent at
least part of her life in an institution of some kind, possibly due to a heart condition.
At the time my husband Alan replied with a little information about ‘The Red House’
which stands on West End adjacent to the Methodist church and gave no more
thought to the matter. However, over the next few years we were contacted by a
further nine people with similar stories of family members whose deaths were
registered as having occurred at The Red House despite them not being village
residents. All of these deaths took place between 1933 and 1948.
As the number of enquiries grew several common features emerged: in six
cases death was certified by Dr I M Davie, who was for many years the Medical Superintendent at Broadgate Hospital, while in four cases there was a suggestion
that the individual might have suffered from mental or addiction problems.
I was intrigued. What had been going on at The Red House? During those years
the West End property was owned by the Cross family, who ran a tailor’s shop there.
We speculated that someone in the Cross family might have had nursing experience
(possibly gained by working at the Broadgate mental hospital) and operated a mini ‘nursing home’ on the premises, caring for individuals in the last days of their lives, away from the
institutionalised environment of the hospital. If these patients had been under the
care of the hospital it might explain the involvement of Dr Davie in certifying their
deaths, especially as he stated that he was himself a resident of The Red House,
on at least one of the certificates.
As I looked further into the mystery things became more puzzling as I could find
no evidence in local records to link Dr Davie to The Red House: the electoral rolls
for 1933 and 1945 give his address as Coniston House, which may have been part
of the Broadgate complex, on the outskirts of the village.
At around this time John Bowe talked with Lucy Drew, a long-term resident of the
village with an almost encyclopaedic memory of life here all those years ago.
She was able to recall in great detail the occupants of The Red House and was
certain that there had never been either lodgers or patients there. However Mrs Drew speculated that Broadgate hospital might have been known to some as The Red
House as it was largely built from glazed red bricks.
With this possibility in mind I visited the East Riding Treasure House in Beverley,
which houses the local archive of documents relating to the institution. Frustratingly,
the registers of inmates and deaths are not available to view without applying for special permission, but I was able to see the plans of the (truly massive) building complex.
These clearly show that Coniston House, the home of the Superintendent Doctor,
Dr Davie, was an integral part of the hospital building.
Without the definitive answers which may be contained in the currently-sealed
registers I cannot be sure of all the facts, but I believe the most likely explanation of the mystery is that these deaths took place at the hospital but for some reason the patients
or their families did not wish it to be recorded that they were in the care of a mental
institution. Perhaps they were there under some kind of private or paying arrangement
giving them a better level of care and at the end the assurance of the certifying doctor that there would be no mention of the nature of the place in which they spent their final days.
Then again, perhaps all deaths at the hospital give the place of death as The Red House. Does someone out there have the answer?
At least the current residents of The Red House on West End can rest assured that their
home was not the place in which all these deaths occurred.
Subsequent to writing this article I discovered that many of the inmates of Broadgate who
died there were buried in Queensgate cemetery in Beverley. Examination of the cemetery records revealed that two of the people I was interested in had been buried in
Queensgate, and both had been patients of the hospital: their hospital admission numbers
were included in the burial record.
Pam Hardy (website editor)
Footnote. When I first visited the archives I wanted to investigate my theory that a member of the Cross family had been an employee at Broadgate, so I examined the weekly wage
books covering the years from 1931 to 1948. No-one by that name was employed
during that period.
However, I was astonished to discover that the only information held by the hospital about
the people it employed was their names. So far as I could tell, there was no record kept of even their addresses. How things have changed!