This film is part of Free

A Light through the Clouds

What a mental health nurse learns at York Retreat, 1954: from lectures on “failure in human relationships” and insulin, to psychotherapy, electric shock treatment and dancing.

Documentary 1955 37 mins


From the collection of:

Logo for Yorkshire Film Archive


This promotional film for York Retreat provides a fascinating view into mental health care as it was practised in the 1950s in a pioneering home for the treatment of the mentally ill. By following the training of a new nurse, the film shows all the aspects of care that the retreat used in its treatment of inmates. While showing all the physical and psychological methods employed, the film emphasises the stress is on knowledge and loving care.

This is one of a very large collection of films made by film production company C. H. Wood of Bradford. The script is by York Quaker and amateur filmmaker Alan Pickard. The Retreat was opened after another York Quaker, William Tuke, witnessed the appalling conditions at York Asylum after the death of a fellow Quaker there, Hannah Mills in 1792. With a strong Christian influence Tuke pioneered a more humane, or “moral”, treatment of the mentally ill. He has subsequently become a contested figure in the history of the medicalisation of mental illness – Foucault charged him with “moral imprisonment”. The Retreat – still in operation – was also a pioneer in the professionalisation of mental health nursing.