Cane Hill Asylum will maybe remembered not as one 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 set the scene for the explosion of urban exploration in the UK. Those who visited Cane Hill Asylum will talk about if fondly amongst other great sites such as Pyestock and Battersea.
Cane Hill Asylum 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.
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.
The design which involved a ‘radiating pavilion’ layout was original. The hospital was taken over by London County Council in 1889.
The hospital took in a large number of discharged mentally ill servicemen during the First World War, the earliest patient recorded being admitted in 1915 but later discharged to another hospital in 1923. Records for nearly 40 such service patients – some of whom died and were interred in the hospital cemetery – have been found. It was renamed the Cane Hill Mental Hospital in 1930.
By the late 1980s the number of patients had greatly declined, largely due to the recommendations of the Mental Health Act (1983) with its emphasis on care in the community.
Following a gradual winding down of operations, it closed all but its secure unit in late 1991. The secure unit finally closed in 2008 allowing for plans to fully demolish what remained of the hospital buildings.
It’s fair to say in 2008 the hype around exploring buildings was at a much lower level than it is today. Cane Hill was talked about in exploring circles as one of the greats. An icon of the scene. In truth I had seen a few pictures of it but nothing had prepared me for that first visit.
Exploring Cane Hill wasn’t an easy task. Since the hospital had closed in the 90’s some fires had destroyed complete areas of the site. As a result the hospital was surrounded by a triple prong fence and security who didn’t mess around.
To do Cane Hill Asylum you needed to know the right people and be prepared to go early. A 6am walk from Portnalls Road on a Sunny day in June captivated me forever more. By 6.15am we were safely inside, past the security, and ready to explore. 12 hours later every last inch of energy had been used. We were exhausted. The collection of photos below are mainly from that first visit. There was no other asylum like Cane Hill.
Squibb’s Group won the contract to demolish the majority of the buildings and work began in early 2008. The works would take two years to complete and only the administration building, chapel and water tower were retained due to local listing. It would be a further six years before any redevelopment started on the grounds. During 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.
As of 2022 only the chapel remains derelict awaiting multi purpose use.