The building which later became Whixley Hospital was opened on 16 May 1905 as the Yorkshire Inebriates Reformatory at Cattal, near Whixley, ten miles south of York. It was controlled by the Yorkshire Inebriates Act Joint Committee set up on 1 January 1902 which consisted of representatives of the West Riding, East Riding and North Riding County Councils and the County Boroughs of Bradford, Leeds, Halifax, Hull and York. The East and North Riding County Councils withdrew from the scheme in 1908.
The Reformatory was a substantial building, consisting of a central administrative and services block, and, to one side, three separate blocks for females. The intention was to build three male blocks on the other side, but only one was initially completed.
The Reformatory was originally licenced to take up to 80 female and 20 male inmates. However, the accommodation was re-ordered in 1906 to take 40 males and 40 females; by 1914 a further male block had been added. The policy of reforming inebriates was not very successful, and by January 1914 there were only 59 residents: 27 men and 32 women.
Meanwhile, under the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act local authorities were given the duty of providing institutional accommodation for mental defectives. In view of this, permission was granted to use the new and as yet unoccupied male block for mental defectives; however, the block was initially prepared as a Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital for sick and wounded soldiers. In December 1914, the constituent authorities decided that the use of the whole building would change to that of mental deficiency institution: the Joint Committee was wound up and the authorities, comprising the West Riding County Council and the County Boroughs of Bradford, Leeds, Hull, Halifax and York, formed themselves into the Mid Yorkshire Joint Board for the Mentally Defective, which had its first meeting on 5 May 1916.
The premises were renamed the Mid Yorkshire Institution for the Mentally Defective and were certified by the Board of Control to take up to 120 mental defectives. Both men and women were taken at first, but in 1921, since there were many more men patients than women (90 out of 132 were men, for example, in 1919), it was decided to admit only males, and the female patients were transferred elsewhere. In 1921 two of the authorities - the West Riding and Bradford - also withdrew, leaving Leeds, Hull, Halifax and York as the constituent authorities.
There were 91 male patients in 1921, 125 in February 1922 and 194 in October 1924. Contracts were made to take patients from elsewhere to boost numbers, and there were consequently between 200 and 230 patients in the 1920s and 1930s (bed capacity was increased in 1931).
All 'grades' of patients were taken. The institution offered work and training; men also went out to work for local farmers. There was organised recreational activity, but the evidence suggests a spartan and regimented regime at the institution; and absconding was a recurring problem.
The premises became overcrowded during the Second World War, as some patients from Brandesburton Hall, another Yorkshire institution, evacuated for RAF use, were transferred to Whixley. There were 260 patients in the early 1940s.
In 1948, under the new NHS, the Mid Yorkshire Institution became one of the hospitals managed by York 'B' Group Hospital Management Committee, and was renamed Whixley Colony. Because there was a waiting list for places, numbers were increased by the mid 1950s to 280 (about 40 of these, at any one time, would be out on licence). The acquisition of the hostels at Bubwith and at Tadcaster, as annexes, in the mid 1950s, also eased pressure.
The regime changed little in the 1950s: of 248 patients resident in 1955 it was reckoned that only 10 were unemployable in some form or another. Patients worked in the kitchen, laundry, tailors' shop, engineers workshop, brush and mat room and sewing room, or else outdoors on the farm and gardens.
There were relatively few structural developments at the hospital in the 1950s. In the mid 1950s some minor alterations were made which allowed the admission of boys between the ages of 6 and 14, many on a short stay basis. In 1958 the colony was renamed Whixley Hospital, and in 1962 it became the Regional Psychiatric Rehabilitation Unit for sub normal psychopaths. This involved some staff expansion, to facilitate the training and rehabilitation of these patients. From 1962 the hospital also offered undergraduate and postgraduate teaching in subnormality for the University of Leeds Diploma in Psychological Medicine.
In the 1960s there were some new developments: a purpose built Occupational Therapy Centre was added in 1963 (replaced by a larger unit in 1974); other work activities expanded with a dry cleaning unit opened in 1964 and a chain fence unit opened in 1963. Farming activities ceased in 1968 and in the same year 'Industrial Therapy' was introduced whereby patients worked under factory conditions, receiving pay. A 'Friends of Whixley' organisation began in the late 1960s, and by 1970 patients had their own social club.
Although there was also a programme of upgrading of the hospital, with a reduction in sizes of wards, it was still noted as being 'overcrowded' in 1971. However there were some changes in the types of patients admitted and the care offered from the 1970s onwards. a pre-discharge unit called York House was created in the mid 1970s: this offered hostel type conditions for about a dozen patients and thus offered a bridge between hospital and community conditions. By the mid 1970s court referrals of psychopathic patients under the Regional scheme had practically ceased and it was noted that there would probably be no certified patients at Whixley at the end of 1974. A significant change came in 1978 with the admission of a few women, although numbers remained low - about half a dozen in the early 1980s. As a symbol of a less institutional approach to care, wards were given names rather than numbers in 1980. Wards 1-6 became Cromwell, Homestead, Knaresborough, Hammerton, Solway and Marston, and Rivendell Wards respectively.
Changes in the 1980s reflected the general move away from institutional to community care. Despite upgrading and minor changes, the ultimate aim became the deinstitutionalisation of patients, their transfer to community facilities offering smaller, more homely accommodation, with a greater emphasis on dignity, freedom, and choice, and the final closure of hospitals like Whixley.
After the 1974 NHS reorganisation, Whixley came under York Health District (York Health Authority after 1982). However, in 1983 the hospital was transferred to Harrogate Health Authority. The intention was that Whixley would serve the Harrogate and Northallerton Health Authorities, while Claypenny Hospital, retained within York Health Authority, would serve York and Scarborough.
From the 1980s, the hospital began to be wound down. There were still between 150 and 170 residents there in the early 1980s, but this was progressively reduced. Staffed beds fell from 210 in 1980 to 187 in 1981 and 166 in 1985. The policy of winding down and patient transfers continued steadily into the 1990s, and the hospital was finally closed in 1993. The site was sold, the hospital demolished, and the site re-developed for housing.