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Asylums

Without doubt the most covered type of site on the website, the Victorian Asylum’s are something we’ll never see the like of again.

 

The County Asylums Act (1808) was introduced in the UK Parliament to establish places to care for people with mental health problems. It was stipulated that each county must build at least one asylum to care for persons suffering from mental health issues. Due to loopholes in the original act many counties refused to carry out the act until it was replaced with the Asylum Act (1845) and worked with the Lunacy Act (1845).

 

Typically most asylums were built out of town in vast areas of countryside. The term ‘out of sight out of mind’ isn’t to far fetched. The building’s were of typical grand Victorian architecture and were designed to be self sufficient – many included adjacent farms where produce was used to feed all. Some even had there own water supplies

 

The asylums built became overcrowded during the peak intake of the 1930’s – many horror stories of people wrongly admitted with nothing short of post natal depression or epilepsy are apparent. It wasn’t till the 1950’s when a breakthrough in understanding mental health and better treatment resulted in many patients being able to leave and live a normal life. At this time most of the asylums were re-branded as hospitals.

 

Unfortunately for many a patient they had became institutionalised and many lived out their final years without release.

 

In 1961 the then health secretary, Enoch Powell, made the now famous ‘The Water Tower Speech’ – At the party conference in March 1961, Powell slammed the institutions. He spoke of the transition to community based care, the horrors of the asylums, the implications of the changes due, the services he envisaged and the finances needed to facilitate this. The speech set the wheels turning for community care.

 

The death knell for the asylums had been rung and over the next 20-30 years they were slowly run down and patient levels dropped down to just a few 100 in most cases. At the peak of asylum intake in the 1930’s some asylums had as many as 3’500 patients. Asylum closures began soon after the mental health act (1982) and continued into the new millennium. Only a few operational ‘hospitals’ remain – some of them deal with the criminal insane (such as Broadmoor and Ashworth)

 

The legacy of the asylums is a dark and sometimes distressing story and as a result when these buildings ceased to serve any reasonable purpose the majority were simply left abandoned. In some cases like Cane Hill for over 17 years. While some were converted into housing the reality of their previous use made them difficult to market for future uses.

 

Browsing through the photos on here you will see some of the wonderful architecture, some of the possessions left behind and many a haunting image. It’s not my desire to sensationalise or glamorise these buildings but to document and remember the part they played in our history.

Fairmile Hospital, Berkshire

Fairmile hospital opened in 1870 and had a 132 year long career in caring for people with mental health problems. The site was purchased in in 1866 for the sum of £8,317 4s 9p. The architect Charles Henry Howells of Lancaster Place, London designed the asylum which was built at …

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St Lawrences Asylum, Bodmin

Orginally known as ‘Cornwall County Asylum’ it was founded in 1815 at Westheath Avenue, Bodmin and became known as St Lawrence’s Hospital under the National Health Service. The County Lunatic Asylum, for the reception of private patients and pauper lunatics, a little to the west of the Town of Bodmin …

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Hellingly Hospital, East Sussex

The East Essex County Mental Asylum opened its doors in 1903. It is built close to the small village of Hellingly, in South East England. The architect G.T. Hine designed the Victorian hospital on a very large scale, spreading the many buildings on a huge campus. It closed in 1994 …

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Deva, Countess of Chester Asylum, Chester

The Cheshire County Lunatic Asylum, more commonly known as Deva, lies in the grounds of the still active Countess Of Chester Hospital in Chester. In 1829, the Cheshire Lunatic Asylum opened on part of the site. The county’s mental health unit was based in the ‘Lunatic Asylum Building’. The name …

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St Mary’s Asylum, Stannington

A brief visit to St Mary’s Asylum just to the north of Newcastle. Built in 1910 to releave presures on the nearby Sedgefield Asylum it was used as a military hosptial during the first world war before reverting to its intended use.  It’s a relatively small aslyum holding an inital …

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Cherry Knowle Asylum, Sunderland

Sunderland County Borough began construction of its own asylum during 1893, completed in 1895. The site chosen consisted of sloping land outside the village of Ryhope, with views across to the North Sea. George Hine was chosen as Architect and produced a compact arrow layout consisting of six blocks of …

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High Royds Asylum, Menston

Visited primarily to see the excellent ‘Reflecting on High Royds’ exhibition, held by fellow friend & explorer ‘Silverstealth’ at the still functional social club within the former hospital grounds. High Royds hospital is a now-closed psychiatric hospital in the village of Menston, Bradford, West Yorkshire, England. It was first opened …

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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 …

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Severalls Hospital, Colchester

Severalls Hospital, (or Severalls Asylum as its was originally known) Colchester, opened in 1913 for 1800 patients. It is based on the “echelon plan”, which is a specific arrangement of wards, offices and services within easy reach of each other by a network of interconnecting corridors. Phased closure began in …

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Fairmile Hospital, Berkshire

Fairmile is one of the oldest county aslyms to have exsisted in this country having been originally founded in 1870 and eventually closing in 2003. The plan was initally to have a look at the outer buildings before looking at the far more glamous administration block and surrounding buildings. Somedays …

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West Park Hospital, Epsom

West Park Hospital or ‘West Park Asylum’ as it is more commonly called was founded in 1912 & competed by 1924. West Park was the last mental hospital to be developed on the Horton Estate, having been planned since 1906, prior to the opening of neighbouring Long Grove asylum. Initial …

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