For centuries, mental illness was regarded as a spiritual affliction rather than a medical one. Thankfully social attitudes have changed, and the concept of an asylum now is outdated.
However, the treatment of people with mental illness can be traced through the institutions that cared for them, some of which provide us with a fascinating insight into medical history.
Many former institutions have been repurposed numerous times since their inception in the early 19th century. Those with special architectural interest, or that made a significant contribution to medical science, are protected by listing.
Warneford Hospital (formerly Oxford Lunatic Asylum), Oxford, Grade II listed
Private asylums built before 1845 are often given careful consideration for listing due to their rarity.
One such example, Warneford Hospital, built around 1821 was intended for ‘non-pauper’ patients who were split into three classes and would pay for treatment according to their financial circumstances.
Early 19th-century asylums were often constructed in a rural setting, as exposure to the outdoors was considered to be of great comfort to patients. The construction of Wareham Hospital is said to have aimed to recreate the atmosphere of a gentleman’s country house.
The site is still used as a hospital, albeit with extensive expansion.
Brislington House, Bristol, Grade II listed
Brislington House (around 1804) was the first private asylum, with deliberately laid out grounds. The list entry for this property states that it was constructed by Dr. EL Fox ‘to pioneer the humane treatment of the insane’.
The therapeutic regimes, including the use of plunge baths, informed developing practices in other institutions. The hospital was not absorbed into the National Health Service formation of 1948, instead serving as a nurse’s home and then a care home until it was converted into luxury flats.
Royal Earlswood Hospital (formerly Royal Earlswood Asylum), Redhill, Grade II listed
Prior to the construction of the Royal Earlswood Hospital, people with learning disabilities were housed in asylums for the mentally ill.
Rev Dr Andrew Reed proposed that patients could be trained to lead relatively normal lives in the outside world, and thus the hospital was constructed as the first in the British Isles to cater specifically for these patients. Patients were taught manual trades such as carpentry and painting, as well as how to care for themselves.
The hospital closed in 1997 following the Government reform to place people with learning disabilities into the care of the community and was converted into apartments.
Knowle Hospital (Formerly Hampshire County Lunatic Asylum), Hampshire, Grade II listed
In the mid-19th century, the County Asylums Act and Lunacy Act (1845) required that every United Kingdom County should build an asylum.
Due to the increase in number of these structures (by 1888, 85 had been built), protection by listing is dependent largely on architectural interest. The Hampshire provision, Knowle Hospital, featured unique architecture including a large chapel constructed out of the local (Fareham red) bricks.
The hospital closed in 1996 and since 2000 has been redeveloped as apartments, an expansion of the village of Knowle.
Add your pieces to the big picture
Every snapshot and story you can add to the National Heritage List for England is an important piece of the picture. The more pieces we have, the better we can work together to protect what makes these places special. Make a contribution to the Missing Pieces Project.