REAL-LIFE tales of murder, delusion and despair including a Keighley shooting are featured in a new book.

David Scrimgeour’s book Proper People shines a light on patients held in a Wakefield mental asylum 200 years ago.

The Wakefield resident relates the experiences of patients at the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum.

These include John Holdsworth, keeper of the Hawkcliffe toll bar whose building still stands in Skipton Road between Keighley and Steeton.

Holdsworth shot his wife dead in 1861, the case making headlines throughout the West Riding.

Local newspapers of the time reported that he was found not guilty on the grounds of insanity and confined during Her Majesty’s Pleasure.

Mr Scrimgeour continues Holdsworth’s story in Proper People, following his progress from the Wakefield Asylum to a lunatic asylum in Southwark, London, then to the new Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum in 1864.

From there Holdsworth wrote a number of poignant but fruitless letters requesting release, almost up to the time of his death in 1886.

Keighley historian Ian Dewhirst has previously highlighted the Hawkcliffe shooting for the Keighley News, and recently wrote a review of Proper People.

Mr Dewhirst said the book not only described a “varied, sad and sometimes intriguing” collection of people, but offered a fascinating broader slice of Victorian social history.

Proper People uses extracts from handwritten historical case notes and newspaper reports to paint a picture of what life was like for the people admitted to the asylum between 1818 and 1869, the first 50 years of its existence.

It reveals how the ‘pauper lunatics’ came to be incarcerated, and describes some of the treatment methods of the time, which included swinging patients from the ceiling and the use of mechanical restraint chairs and straight jackets.

Mental health nurses were known officially as keepers and the patients were identified in medical notes by names such as ‘congenital idiot’ or ‘imbecile’.

After retiring from a lifelong career in IT sales in 2012, Mr Scrimgeour began researching his family history and discovered his great grandmother Elizabeth Scrimgeour had been held in an asylum near Glasgow.

With a growing interest in social history, he began to wonder what could also be discovered about the people held in the asylum in his adopted home town of Wakefield.

Mr Scrimgeour will showcase Proper People at the Wakefield One library tomorrow (May 20) at 5pm, including a free talk by Cara Sutherland, curator at the Mental Health Museum in Wakefield.

Visit for further information about the book.