Cane Hill Asylum, Coulsdon

Cane Hill Hospital will be remembered perhaps as not the most famous of the county asylums but certainly one of the most interesting. From a urban exploration perspective it will be remembered as one of the most iconic sites the UK ever had. Abandoned in 1991 the buildings remained derelict for nearly 18 years.  It wasn’t just the size of the buildings – at its peak it held over 3’500 patients – but probably the fact that so much stuff was left behind.  Those who visited Cane Hill will talk about if fondly amongst other great sites such as Pyestock and Battersea.  The era of the county asylum has now somewhat past and collections of photos like the ones below will hope to serve as documentation for future generations of an era now begone.

Cane Hill was a psychiatric hospital in Coulsdon in the London Borough of Croydon. Built to handle patients unable to attend the Springfield and Brookwood Asylums, both of which were filled to capacity, it opened in 1882 as the Third Surrey County Lunatic Asylum. Following a gradual winding down of operations, it closed all but its secure unit in late 1991

The main buildings on the site were designed by Charles Henry Howell and built on a hill-top overlooking Coulsdon and Farthing Downs. It opened in two phases, in 1882 and in 1888.

Demolition began in 2008 and finished two years later. The remaining administration building, chapel and water tower retained would sit derelict for a further six years before any work would begin on redeveloping the site. In those years unfortunately the iconic administration building as featured in the cartoon illustration of David Bowie’s 1971 US LP ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ suffered from a near terminal arson attack and it’s still unsure if the buildings will be retained.


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  1. christine buckingham

    hi I believe one of my relatives was a patient here in 1939 is there any records around for this time he died in 1947 where would there remains have been moved to

  2. Hi
    I posted a message back in February about my Nan that worked at the hospital back in the 1920s and had a email reply about some photos but my computer has wiped the conversations please message me back

  3. Just found some paperwork and pictures as my Nan was a nurse at the hospital in 1928 when she was 19 and not sure how long she worked there

  4. I remember my grandmother being in here for a while, probably around 1975-78 ish. thankfully she did leave and go to a more regular residential home before she passed, but I did visit this ‘hospital’ in Coulsdon once or twice as a child.

  5. Tina Rose-winters

    Hi trying to find info info about a family member who was in this hospital. Any old hospital records. Photo’s anything at all would be great. Can anybody help pls. You can get me on fb. Tina Rose-winters. Ty in advance x

  6. It was demolished in 2008-09

  7. Is this still here? I want to go here and look about and take pictures 🙂

  8. My grandmother was unfortunately a patient here from 1972 until 1978 until she died. It was awful with some very cruel staff who were caught dragging old ladies by the hair up the corridors. I witnessed this and some other awful happenings that should not have happened.
    They put them in freezing cold baths and locked them in rooms. One old lady had been locked up since 1909 as she stole a bike at 9 years old and was committed by her family as she was naughty. The hospital was mixed and you would often see the patients having intercourse in the grounds.
    it may well have been good in its day with lovely staff but when I was visiting this was not the case.

  9. They do, the bodies were all exhumed and moved.

  10. I am a retired mental health nurse and trained at Cane Hill. I was at the hospital from 1965 to 1969. During this period it was a fully functioning hospital.

    It was not until I retired that I began to find out what happened to the hospital. I feel a great deal of sadness looking at the photographs on this web site.

    I must confess that I did wonder if the people living in the houses opposite the back entrance to the hospital Know that they are on the site of the Hospital Cemetary.

  11. It’s was demolished in 2009

  12. im an american living in liphook surrey england can anyone tell me how to get to cane hill and if its still there

  13. Hi Pat,

    Demolition commenced in 2008 after several failed attempts to get the site listed (it was a unique radial pavilion design) – The front administration building, chapel and water tower were locally listed and they survived. About 6-8 months ago the administration building mysteriously ‘self combusted’ and burnt down. The whole site is meant to be regenerated, as yet nothing as happened whatsoever though. It seems they wanted rid of the site more than actually having a feesable plan for its future.

  14. Patrick Corrigan

    I used to live in Old Coulsdon in the 50/60s, and often wondered what it was like inside, now I know thanks to your photgraphs.

    Just one question, what is to happen to the site now?

    Regards Pat

  15. Thanks. I recommend Simon Cornwells excellent ‘Cult of Cane Hill’ website if you are after more detailed info or Ali’s Cane Hill site –

  16. sally wiltshire

    I have just discovered the existence of this place; – after receiving a copy of a death certificate as part of a genealogy project it seems that my great-grandfather Charles Eli Dunstone was a Stores Porter here in 1916. I simply typed “asylum in Coulsden” into Yahoo and up came your site immediately, thats the easiest search connected to my family tree that i’ve done!! The photos are great Thanks

  17. mairead mcloughlin

    wow this place is old school mr T your pics only get better i’m addicted now!
    keep up good work and don’t get caut! 🙂

  18. Just wanted to quote this from the local residents newsletter:


    As per the original programme, demolition of the main hospital buildings is now complete (with the exception of the buildings agreed to be retained and some of the minor ancillary structures) but there remains significant land still to be filled because of the voids that have been uncovered when working on the service ducts and basements through the course of the demolition contract.

    As a result of the additional work required to fill the holes and create a safe surface an extension of the programme has been agreed with the contractor and the revised programme of works will be completed in March.

    Looks like there were more basements and underground tunnels than first thought!!

  19. Thanks for the comments Ally, yes I’ve had the fortune or misfortune to work right by Cane Hill a couple of times this year so a bit like you walked around the footpath a few times. You can always get inside of the fence, it’s just a case of looking harder.

    Must of been great to have seen in 1998, I think the earliest pictures taken by explorers I’ve seen were 1999.

  20. Hello ‘Whatever’s Left’ (not really sure exactly who I’m saying hi to, but hi none the less).

    I live 200 yards away from Cane Hill, I’ve been fascinated with it ever since I moved to Coulsdon September 1994. I went in once in 1998 and saw the most amazing things, wards with beds perfectly made up with sheets neatly folded up on the ends of beds. But I never took a camera with me. Stupid, I know.

    When they put that metal spiky fence up I was GUTTED, and have tried on numerous occasions to get in, but every trial was unsuccessful because of the guard with his dogs. How on earth did you manage to get in back in June 2008? Prep work had already begun then, I can’t believe no one saw you, you lucky thing!

    I walked around the outide of the fence last week, watched the builders knocking it down, an upsetting scene. Toilets, desks, baths, beds all falling down with the bricks and tiles. They’ve almost finished knocking it all down now :(. Just thought I’d let you know.

  21. Trying to trace my Granddad an inmate from Lambeth,who died 1918 possible shell shock but diagnosed insane,William George or later known as George William Butterfield.
    He was a carter with his own horses and worked oit of surrey docks 1908 onwards.Can you help please.

  22. Hi there, just wondered whether the security is heavy round cane hill? i want to go there to do some photography but my tutor is telling me i need permission from the security or owners of the building….

    Could you e-mail me some information i need the location too.

    if you could help I would be really gateful.



  23. damn your page is good
    i’ve always wanted to
    search the cane hill site
    ..i love cane hill of all the other asylum
    very nice pictures you have

  24. great photos, just came across exploring, very interesting stuff. keep it up

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