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

History

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. 

The Explore

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. 

The End

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. 

33 Comments

  • Mary Jennings, February 1, 2022 @ 15:56

    My mother Mary Kathleen Jennings was a nurse at Cane hill hospital in 1947. I would to hear from anyone who may have known her, or if you have any photos of her. She married inn1949 to Stanley Clifford Griffiths and lived in Coulsdon, Surreyfor a number of years.

  • tumbles, August 22, 2021 @ 13:37

    Yep – try Croydon Archives, they have a lot of records and very helpful.

  • David Hutchinson, August 22, 2021 @ 06:28

    Can anyone advise whether any old records from Cane Hill are available. We have a relative who died there in 1906. Thanks.

  • tumbles, November 29, 2020 @ 13:59

    You are, of course, entitled to your opinion but that is not the intention and the 5+ years of work writing up histories of lunatic asylums on county asylums reflects that.

  • william godfrey, November 28, 2020 @ 23:35

    sorry just a few photos of derelict buildings really just an insult to patients and staff who once occupied them ,without them the photos are just an empty shell

  • Colin Antill, September 13, 2020 @ 09:27

    I believe that Coulsdon South railway station was built and opened to give easy access to the hospital, being on the main London to Brighton line. There was a rumour that one of the Queen Mother’s sisters was held there because she became pregnant without marrying and remained there the rest of her life because she was an embarrassment to the Crown.

  • Raymond Stuart Smith, September 11, 2020 @ 12:39

    My husband commisioned the secure unit in canehill grounds, known as SASS UNIT, where he was the nurse manager.

  • Patricia Smith, September 11, 2020 @ 12:33

    I worked at cane hill as nurse manager from 1980 to 1990.Was involved in making sure nurses had jobs outside the hospital due to closure.

  • Frank Murphy, April 5, 2020 @ 09:26

    Hello Mike Hodgson, February 14, 2015 @ 19:40

    I worked in Cane Hill in the early 60’s as a RMN I had worked in Gartloch hospital Glasgow before then. I met my wife there. She was a general nurse from St. Giles hospital Camberwell, doing psychiatric nursing course. I wonder if I know you. I am Frank Murphy.

  • christine buckingham, January 27, 2020 @ 11:29

    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

  • Dave may, March 18, 2019 @ 09:52

    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

  • Dave may, February 16, 2019 @ 21:29

    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

  • Tracy Lawrence, February 9, 2019 @ 22:21

    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.

  • Tina Rose-winters, July 10, 2017 @ 21:30

    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

  • tumbles, November 29, 2016 @ 18:51

    It was demolished in 2008-09

  • Danny, November 25, 2016 @ 12:28

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

  • louelladeville1Louise, September 1, 2016 @ 21:18

    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.

  • tumbles, March 4, 2015 @ 19:00

    They do, the bodies were all exhumed and moved.

  • Mike Hodgson, February 14, 2015 @ 19:40

    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.

  • tumbles, December 14, 2014 @ 18:00

    It’s was demolished in 2009

  • john kurshner, December 12, 2014 @ 17:01

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

  • Dennis Jeffs, August 27, 2014 @ 23:35

    Whatever happened to the patients when Cane Hill closed down? In 1969 I was a barman at the nearby Midday Sun pub up the Chipstead Road at Woodmansterne. We used some of these patients to work with us every day and they were okay if they had had their medication but if they arrived at work without medication they could be violent. Tom was around 52 and had been in the hospital since aged 11 because his mother couldn’t look after him. He quite often talked to himself but could engage a normal conversation on any subject and was very knowledgeable without a hint of being backward or slow.
    Then there was George who was quiet and quite happily went around the bar tables collecting glasses etc, needed to have his medicine to keep him calm but could become very aggressive. Nellie was a very small lady probably also in her fifty’s who was in the the kitchens washing the pots and plates from the restaurants etc, a great worker but do not tangle with her otherwise she would throw knives at you!!

    Every month the patients at Cane Hill held a dance and we all used to go and join in with their fun. They loved getting dressed up for the Saturday night dance and food was provided with music and decorations, a great night for all.

    Buy what happened to these people? In 1979 I tried to find these people but I was told that they had left the hospital and no one could tell me where. I rang a few of the close facilities but no one had any answers. I really wanted to see how they were then living but no one could help.

    Sad really that no one seemed to care anymore!

  • margaret jones nee baker, May 12, 2014 @ 16:18

    my aunt was in cane hill for over forty years. I used to visit her when I was little with my dad. when he died my mum used to take me .my now husband used to come with me and would go into the town to get a small bottle of vodka for her. she was such a lovely person . since about 6 years ago I have found a cousin (her granddaughter)who did not know of her existence. my aunts daughter changed her name and did not want to have anything to do with her mother. my mother and I went to visit one day and were told the funeral was to take place a few days later. no one let us know (we had visited regularly for forty years) and it was just mum and I at the funeral. whatever happened to her few possessions I don’t know/they said no one visited her! don’t know what happened to her remains.

  • Jane Bennett, January 29, 2014 @ 20:39

    How very sad these photos make me. I worked at Cane Hill in the office as one of my first jobs when I was 16 in 1969. My job was to go through the personal belongings (jewellery etc) held in the safe there and tick them off against the patients details to make sure they were all there. What struck me at even such a young age was that for many patients they had been there most of their lives, having been put there in some instances for merely being deaf. It was a very sobering experience. I often wondered what happened to the personal effects as the patients were clearly separated from them. I was also advised that for many long term patients they had no relatives. I also remember the dark corridors and very high ceilings. I was only there for about 6 weeks, but the memory has remained with me ever since. To see all the photos on the site was very sad

  • tumbles, November 17, 2011 @ 16:33

    Hi Sureece,

    Sadly Cane Hill is all but gone, funnily enough I was there today looking at the sorry burnt out remain of the administration facade. There isn’t anything quite on the scale or beauty of Cane Hill left afraid, it was a pretty unique site in that aspect. Greylingwell in Chitchester or Stonehouse in Dartford are both empty asylums reasonably close.

  • sureece, November 16, 2011 @ 19:56

    Hi. I was wondering if the buildings still stand today?
    I needed to take photos of an abandended place like this for my photogaphy work!! Is Cane Hill still accesable and how? If nott do you know any other abandoned places pleasee!

  • tumbles, October 24, 2011 @ 12:47

    Best place is to try the Croydon Archives, they have a lot of old records from Cane Hill.

    http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/hospitalrecords/details.asp?id=48&hospital=Cane+Hill&town=&searchdatabase.x=0&searchdatabase.y=0

  • richard england, October 24, 2011 @ 00:45

    iam looking for charlie beerman the year 1960 f ward if someone can help me it would bring me a lot of joy he was the brother of my mother please if you can help thankyou

  • tumbles, July 2, 2011 @ 19:57

    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.

  • Patrick Corrigan, July 2, 2011 @ 15:46

    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

  • tumbles, March 31, 2011 @ 12:29

    Thanks. I recommend Simon Cornwells excellent ‘Cult of Cane Hill’ website if you are after more detailed info http://www.simoncornwell.com/urbex/projects/ch/index.htm or Ali’s Cane Hill site – http://www.canehill.org

  • sally wiltshire, March 31, 2011 @ 11:41

    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

  • mairead mcloughlin, January 29, 2011 @ 22:27

    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! 🙂

  • tim schnebele, January 3, 2011 @ 11:13

    well i really think cane hill hospital was such a beautiful old building, i have a fasination with old buildings i think that they hold just so much history, memories and emotion of those who live or once lived in. we had a beautiful old hospital too in wellington new zealand which i basicly grew up in from a young age.
    how i hate seeeing it go demolished in such a short time all those memories gone.
    i think they should do a memory tribute to cane hill as i suggested to our dhb to do with our old hospital and they did so. it be nice to remember they sad and happy times people had and for the ones who just love and appreciate old buildings to.
    exploring the abandoned hospital too would just be so much fun but i havent found it yet we have a simalar one here but its alarmed up hard so no chance. im an urban explorer who hasent explored cane hill and sadly never will as its gone. admin block burnt down which im do gutted over

  • tumbles, September 6, 2010 @ 06:50

    You could try the Croydon archives but I doubt they would have any personal records. As you can see in some of my pictures -when the place closed down little thought was given to things such and they were left lying around in some cases. Ultimately stuff from the 1960’s was probably archived somewhere but more than likely destroyed now.

  • Sandra Fisher, September 5, 2010 @ 18:29

    I went to visit my great grandmother in 1960 I do believe this was the place she was living my great grandfather no longer wanted her and paid two gps £5 each to sign her off. Our own family gp wouldn’t do it. Are there any records I could access?

  • Jude, May 28, 2010 @ 10:35

    I was seconded here for the psychiatric part of my nurse training. Later, my father, who sadly developed Alzheimer’s was an inpatient until he died. The demise of this magnificent site has left me with mixed emotions. I thought the building was extremely well thought out for it’s time & it is with sadness that I learn of it’s demise.I must admit to becoming somewhat obsessed & seek out any website about it.I remember walking it’s miles of corridors with some sadness at all the wandering patients with seemingly nothing to do & the enthusiasm of the industrial therapy manager, we thought it just seemed like slave labour but he argued that it taught “manual dexterity ” & gave them some satisfaction,we did not agree.

  • Caned Still, January 27, 2010 @ 08:41

    Just wanted to quote this from the local residents newsletter:

    CANE HILL UPDATE

    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!!

  • Ed, January 26, 2010 @ 12:39

    Great to see some new pictures, and good ones at that! Thanks for sharing.

  • Jan Giles, January 3, 2010 @ 20:10

    having spent 2.5 months as an inpatient at Cane Hill – Blake Ward – in 1989 I am intrigued and fascinated by the photos. Perhaps because i spent a short time there (compared with many) for me it was an asylum at that point in my life in the real sense of the word. When I see the photos it makes me feel a sense that in getting rid of all that was arong with the place we also have lost a lot of what was good.

  • Joyce Kemp, August 20, 2009 @ 08:26

    Is it possible to get any information about patients . My grandfather was there until he died in the late 50’s it would be so good to get some sort of information .regards Joyce

  • tumbles, August 14, 2009 @ 07:43

    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.

  • Ally, August 14, 2009 @ 00:34

    Hi Natalie,

    I live 200 yards from Cane Hill, I take a walk around there every weekend and can tell you that it’s impossible to get in now, about 80% of it has been knocked down, only the Admin building, Chapel/Church and another building still survive.

    West Park is still completely in tact, but I’ve read that some of it will be knocked down sometime soon. Hope this information helps.

  • Ally, August 14, 2009 @ 00:26

    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.

  • natalie, May 25, 2009 @ 19:33

    Hi, I was planning to visit cane hill but it seems all your pics are from a distance, does this mean you was unable to get in there? Also I noticed you’ve visited west park, do you know if there is much of this left or has it been knocked down?

    If you could get back to me that would be great. thank you

  • Roy Butterfield:, February 7, 2009 @ 11:02

    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.

  • Timothy Durkin, November 21, 2008 @ 14:04

    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.

    Thanks

    tim

  • chell, November 17, 2008 @ 11:44

    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

  • DannyKino, July 17, 2008 @ 11:20

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

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