Sketches show life at Norfolk's County asylum 100 years ago

Ramblers v St Andrew’s cricket match

Ramblers v St Andrew’s cricket match - Credit: Norfolk Record Office

Alison Barnard of the Norfolk Record Office takes a look back at an interesting collection of cartoons from around a century ago

Users familiar with the records of St Andrew’s, the County asylum, may be interested to know about a new collection of records that show a side to the hospital not typically seen in the official records. George Yates, attendant and bandleader at St Andrew’s, was also a talented cartoonist and produced numerous drawings illustrating his time at the hospital.

These were kindly donated to the NRO by George’s family and will be of special interest to those with ancestors who worked at the hospital in the early part of the twentieth century.

St Andrew’s cricket ground.

St Andrew’s cricket ground. - Credit: Norfolk Record Office

George Allen Yates was born near Liverpool in 1878, to William Yates and his wife, Elizabeth but lived and worked for much of his life in Norfolk.

George played trombone in military bands with his younger brother Bert [Albert] and played around the country, including Kidderminster and Manchester. He began working at St Andrew’s Hospital, near Thorpe, Norwich, in about 1909 as an attendant and a musician in the hospital band.

He married Grace Ellen Barber in 1910 in Liverpool. Grace, who was born in Swaffham, was also a nurse at St Andrew’s but as relationships between staff were forbidden, the marriage had to be kept a secret. George and Grace are both still listed as single on 1911 census and Grace appears there under her maiden name. Grace also came from a creative family; her brother Ernest having been a character actor on the London stage and proprietor of the ‘Living Marionettes’.

Attendants and nurses at St Andrew’s – George is top row, third left. Used by kind permission of the Yates family

Attendants and nurses at St Andrew’s – George is top row, third left. Used by kind permission of the Yates family - Credit: Norfolk Record Office

George played the trombone, composing and arranging music for the hospital band, and eventually became the bandleader.

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He played in other bands, including the Norwich Symphony Orchestra, and his reputation was such that he was asked to help form orchestras for other institutions, including one for the Thorpe and District Ex-servicemen’s Association. George also played on the staff football team and was involved in local politics, serving on the Broadland Ratings Committee in 1935.

The drawings show that George was an accomplished artist and he had previously advertised his services as a ‘black and white artist’ while living in Manchester. He also produced cartoons and posters for the staff magazine and hospital social events. As well as producing classical portraits and landscapes, one of the highlights of the collection are his whimsical cartoons of staff and patients he worked with at St Andrew’s.

Some of the cartoons show named individuals so it may be possible to match them with details of employees from the registers held at the NRO. The archives also hold a collection of score books for the St Andrew’s Hospital cricket team so perhaps a future researcher will be able to add ‘faces’ to the names recorded there!

The cartoons are a light-hearted commentary of the matches, often making fun of the performance of the hospital team and include little in-jokes for the amusement of his colleagues. George, acting as an informal sports reporter, recorded matches against other local teams, such as the staff of the Gt Yarmouth Royal Naval Hospital and the Ramblers.

He drew portraits of senior staff watching from the side-lines and there is also an amusing drawing of an elderly patient, described only as ‘Ward E’s tooth’.

Yarmouth v Thorpe hospitals

A sketch of a cricket match between Yarmouth and Thorpe hospitals - Credit: Norfolk Record Office

The images reproduced here are just a small sample of George’s work, some of which is still retained by the donors, along with an extensive family collection. They include the hand-written copies of sheet music and songs that he wrote for the hospital band and photographs of military bands that he played with. The family have kindly allowed the NRO to make a copy of these other records that form their personal archives, which give context to the donated cartoons and are a further testament to George’s talents.

How you can get involved:

Do you want to find something out about our county’s past? Are you interested in the history of your family, home, town or community? Then the Norfolk Record Office is the place to go.

At its offices in Norwich and King’s Lynn, you will find:
Millions of unique archives covering the last 950 years of Norfolk’s history.
Free access to family history websites like Ancestry, Find my Past and The Genealogist
Workshops and lectures to help you become a skilled researcher
Experienced staff to lend a hand
You will be amazed at what you can uncover.

The Norfolk Record Office holds a number of documents connected to St Andrew’s Hospital, starting with the minutes of meetings of the Committee of Visiting Magistrates for erecting a Lunatic Asylum in the County of Norfolk in 1810.

Documents concerning the building itself and the setting up of the hospital are open to look once the Record Office searchroom is open again.

These include documents such as the Farm Committee Report Book, from 1904-37, and the building accounts. Some of the early documents concerning patients are also open, such as the Visiting Doctors Journal for 1814-17 (please note that documents are closed for 110-115 years for patient confidentiality, so later documents concerning patients are not available).For anyone interested in the hospital there is a wealth of information available.

For a longer version of this article please see