The first time I saw an old asylum was back when I was a child, growing up in Devon. Wonford House was just down the road from my school growing up, and it was spoken of in slightly feared and respectful tones by those who had need to go there. It’s still a working psychiatric unit, and really quite beautiful and grand in its way.
A few mentions recently at work about the history of the asylums in Surrey got me pondering. Which led to too much time spent on the internet reading. Which led to this blog, again it is – as all the others – purely for my own amusement! It’s a history of geography and architecture and people, and of stigma and walls. And countless lives. Literally countless. The records are patchy when they are present, and people lived and died in the hundreds of thousands.
They were especially needed as the First Surrey County Asylum, pictured above – now known as Springfield Hospital in Tooting – was getting overcrowded.
This led to the purchase of areas of land in Surrey. One of them what was then called Horton Manor, a large estate near Epsom consisting of about 1000 acres of land. The Manor House had been built in 1712 and was owned by James Trotter, who had the great title High Sheriff Of Surrey. It was bought from Sir Thomas Buxton in 1896 for about £35,000 – a huge sum at the time – with a view to building six huge asylums, each holding about 2000 patients.
This is an 1890 map of the Horton Estate before the hospitals were built, showing the manor house and surrounding fields.
The Manor Hospital was built to help people with learning disabilities; St Ebbas was initially built to help people with epilepsy and also children. The other three were meant to be general asylums looking after all kinds of mental health problems. However, all of them developed and evolved over the decades with different names and specialities.
The Manor Hospital
The Manor Hospital opened to patients in 1899. The original house was used as the admin buildings, and the rest was mostly single storey cheaply built buildings. Ward names included Grant, Kestral and Miller. They was initially made with timber and metal sheets, which was only supposed to be temporary, for a maximum of 15 years – however they were used until the 1970s. This, I suppose, is one of many examples of inpatient psychiatric units not being fit for purpose.
It was designed by William C Clifford Smith, an architect employee by London City Council. It opened in 1899 and was originally just for women, but men started to be placed there – they were patients, but they were made to work at the pumping and power station. Using patients for work was common in many asylums; in many cases it would have been called therapeutic.
Like the Horton Asylum below, the hospital was quickly made into a war hospital in 1916. One can only imagine what it was like for the many hundreds of patients there when the war started, and where they were made to go.
The “Commisioners In Lunacy” was a public body set up in 1845 as part of the Lunacy Act, and part of its remit was to ensure somewhere for patients to go. The Commisioners asked George Thomas Hine to be their “consultant architect” and design a new asylum to be the second of the Epsom Cluster of psychiatric hospitals, and the 7th of the Surrey County Asylums. For Horton Asylum, Hine used a “compact arrow” plan similar to that used at Bexley Asylum. It opened in 1902.
During WWI, the Asylum was quickly turned into Horton War Hospital, overseen by Lt Colonel JR Lord, looking after wounded soldiers – the 2143 patients were transferred to the other asylums around the area.
King George and Mary visited in 1916, and over 40,000 people were treated over the course of the war. However, as soon as the war was finished, the hospital was again redesignated as Horton Mental Hospital. Similar work was done at the hospital during WW2. This is a picture of people posing outside the hospital – whether staff or patient, I don’t know.
In the 1960s the hospital was notable for its use of music therapy. Henry Rollin was a psychiatrist who was the superintendent at Horton Hospital from 1948, and bought in music, dance, and sport to the hospital. This article that he wrote about music therapy is just great and mentions Burton and Shakespeare. He was obviously a well read man.
His obituary is lovely, and mentions his love of salt beef which is obviously a great touch.
This above was written by Henry Rollin himself. It goes some way to explaining just how much of an impact tertiary syphilis used to have.
Now most of the old hospital site is residential flats, called Livingstone Park. However, the Horton Haven, a rehabilitation centre for people with chronic mental health problems, is still open and run by CNWL mental health trust.
The Ewell Epileptic Colony
The awfully named Ewell Epileptic Colony was opened on 1st July 1904 – it was also designed by William Clifford Smith. It was different to the others; the buildings were smaller and more spaced out, as opposed to the echelon design of the others. they were called villas, I wonder whether to make it seem more homely. The nine villas were named after trees – among others Beech, Holly, and Willow.
Unlike the other hospitals in the area that were used during the war, the colony was used after the war for returning servicemen suffering from what was then described, among other things, as neurasthenia. It was used for this until 1927, when it was renamed again as Ewell Mental Hospital. It then became known as St Ebbas Hospital – I don’t know why they chose this name.
Long Grove Hospital
Long Grove Asylum was designed again by George Thomas Hine. It was opened in 1905 and renamed Long Grove Mental Hospital in 1918. At its peak it held 2149 patients. Ronnie Kray was one of them. But my favourite bit of trivia about this hospital is that it used to have regular flowers shows, and theatre performances, which I think is great.
It’s now mostly demolished but there are some flats – the development is called Clarendon Park.
West Park Hospital
West Park Hospital was the last of the Epsom cluster to be finished; building was also delayed by the war, so it didn’t open until 20th June 1924. It was therefore never called an asylum; the term was going out of favour by then. It was designed by William Clifford Smith and had an opticians and dentist on site.
It was quite popular, as Cane Hospital below was, for exploring and photography when it was abandoned, but it’s all been cleared up for development now except for a few buildings that are still active.
Royal Earlswood Asylum For Idiots, Redhill
From 1847 Ann Serena Plumb, Dr John Connely and Reverend Andrew Reed got together to plan an ‘Asylum For Idiots’ to try to improve the care that these patients got. It was originally set up in Park House in Highgate, in 1848, but they soon realised they needed more space after 145 patients were admitted within just one year. An asylum down in Redhill was designed by William Bonython Moffitt. It was built by John Jay – who also built the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament.
Queen Victoria herself gave a significant amount of money to the project – 250 Guineas – and Prince Albert laid the foundation stone in 1853.
James Henry Pullen was a patient there – he was a hugely gifted artist and woodworker. He was paid a wage by the asylum and had his own workshop, and made furniture for other patients. He was even noticed by the Prince of Wales who sent him ivory to use. Here’s a guardian article about him; and there’s an exhibition about his work now on at the Watts Gallery in Compton.
It was renamed The Royal Earlswood Institution for Mental Defectives in 1926 – hardly a better name. It closed in 1997 and is now, like most of the others, posh flats.
Brookwood Hospital, Woking
Brookwood was the Second Surrey County Asylum after Springfield, and was designed by Charles Henry Howell. The 150 acres of land were bought for £10,500 in 1860, and the asylum opened on 17th June 1867. It even had a farm, a cobbler, and even a ballroom – sadly distinctly lacking in all psychiatric hospitals I’ve so far set foot in. It was designed to care for ‘pauper lunatics’ whose maintenance was paid for by poor law unions.
Here’s a fancy dress ball depicted there in the Illustrated London News in 1881. Looks fun.
In 1919 the name was changed to Brookwood Mental Hospital – as with all of the old asylums, language has changed so much over the last 100 years, and now we don’t include ‘mental’ in the names of hospitals and NHS trusts very often.
Cane Hill Asylum, Coulsdon
The third Surrey Pauper Lunatic Asylum, soon renamed the Cane Hill Asylum, opened in 1882. It was designed by Charles Henry Howell. Even by 1888, it had 2000 patients. The mother of Charlie Chaplin was one of them.
It was renamed the Cane Hill Mental Hospital in 1930. As with all the others the patient numbers dropped after the 1970s and the main hospital was closed in 1991. The last secure unit at Coulsdon Cottage Hospital was taken over by SLaM and closed in 2008; the remaining patients moved to River House in Bethlem. Almost all the buildings were then demolished; the clock tower burned down in 2010.
The hospital lay abandoned for many years and was apparently a popular spot to go to photograph. This site has some rather scarey looking pictures. I’m not sure I’d have wanted to go at night.
A very cool image of Cane Asylum is used on the cover of the US release of one of my favourite songs ever written – David Bowie’s Man Who Sold The World.
I wondered why, and was heartbroken when I found out the likely reason. His half brother Terry was a patient there. He took his life in 1985. I cried when I read about this.
The site is now being redeveloped to make 600 homes. Reserve yours here!!
Let us know in the comments your feedback. Do You have an opinion piece of your own on another topic related to psychiatry? Get it published here. Drop us a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org