Repton Park, formerly Claybury Hospital


Claybury Mental hospital, or London County Lunatic Asylum, Ilfor

Aerial view of Claybury, undated. (posted on flickr by Jeroen Komen and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Repton Park at Woodford Bridge in Essex is a large housing estate that has been created on the site of the former Claybury Hospital, using many of the former hospital buildings and keeping the new buildings to a minimum, so as to retain the open southern aspect and the original south elevation of the main hospital complex. (The aerial photograph above shows the western half as it appears in 2015 on The hospital closed in 1997 and it was originally intended to build much denser housing on the site.

Claybury Hospital was recorded as part of the RCHME’s Hospitals project and was visited in August 1991 by three of the project team (myself included) together with our photographer, Derek Kendall, and a student who worked with us over the summer.

Claybury was built as the fourth County Pauper Lunatic Asylum for Middlesex. It was designed on an échelon plan by G. T. Hine in 1888 and built in 1889-93. The site included the modest country house, Claybury Hall, of c.1790, which was retained and extended for private patients. It was an extensive complex of largely two- and three-storey asylum buildings linked by single-storey enclosed corridors, constructed of red brick with terracotta ornament, dominated by the central water tower.


This view of Claybury Hall was photographed by Lil Shepherd in September 2010 and is licensed under  CC BY 2.0 There is a painting of the house in the Government Art Collection  painted c.1800 by Abraham Pether

A competition was held for the design in 1887 and Hine was selected from among seven specially invited architects. A notable and prolific designer of asylums, he had been responsible for planning the borough asylum for his native Nottingham (1877). It was following his success in the Claybury competition that Hine moved to London and subsequently was appointed consulting architect to the Commissioners in Lunacy for England. [The Builder, 5 May 1916, 331]

L0023315 Claybury Asylum, ground floor plan

Claybury Asylum, ground floor plan from H. C. Burdett, Hospitals and asylums of the world, 1891 image ref: L0023315

In 1888 the plans for the Asylum were approved by the Lunacy Commissioners and in June 1890 the memorial stone was laid over the principal entrance of the administration block by Lord Rosebery, the first Chairman of the London County Council (LCC). The asylum was formally opened on 17 June 1893.

L0023316 Claybury Asylum, first floor plan.

Claybury Asylum, first-floor plan from H. C. Burdett, Hospitals and asylums of the world, 1891 image ref: L0023316 

Whilst Claybury had been begun as the fourth County Pauper Lunatic Asylum for Middlesex, it was opened as the 5th LCC Pauper Lunatic Asylum, following the Local Government Act of 1888 and the inauguration of the LCC. The LCC took over Hanwell, Colney Hatch and Banstead Asylums from Middlesex, and Cane Hill from Surrey. In June 1889 the Asylums committee was authorised to provide a fifth asylum for London by completing Claybury and a new building contract was drawn up in the following October. The building contractor under the LCC was E. Gabbutt of Liverpool. George Wise, who had been appointed Clerk of Works by the Middlesex Justices, was retained, as was Hine. A tramway was constructed to link up with the Great Eastern Railway for transporting building materials. In 1891 Hine was obliged to modify his plans following a decision to install electric lighting. This involved providing three additional boilers.

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 11.34.36

OS Map 1914 revision reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The site had been selected by the Middlesex Justices in 1886. It comprised the house and estate of Claybury Hall. The mansion of c.1790 was probably designed by Jesse Gibson (c.1748-1828), the District Surveyor of the eastern division of the City of London. [Essex Review, xxxvii, pp.99-108, cited in H. Colvin, Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1978] The house was a relatively modest two-storey building. The principal façade, facing south, was symmetrical with a central bow flanked by two outer bays, slightly advanced and contained beneath a shallow pediment. The bow at ground floor level was further defined by a semi-circular portico with coupled columns. The grounds extended to 269 acres and were landscaped by Repton. Burdett gave a description of the site, although at the time of writing the asylum buildings had not yet been completed.


Claybury Hall in 1991 (photograph (c) Colin Thom)

‘Part of the land is charmingly wooded, affording shaded walks for the patients. No better site could be found for such a building, and although only 1½ miles from Woodford Station, and 6½ miles from Tower Hamlets, from which district it is expected most of the patients will be sent, the asylum will be perfectly secluded, and comprise in its own grounds all the beauties of an English rural district’. [H. C. Burdett Hospitals and Asylums of the World, 1893, vol.iv, p.345).

The asylum was placed on the summit of the hill rising to the north of the mansion house. The hill was levelled to provide a plateau of 12 acres giving a largely uniform ground-floor level from which some of the outer main corridors sloped to the outside blocks. Hine emphasized the importance of a flat site arguing that the additional cost was justified compared with ‘the perpetual inconvenience and extra cost of working a building filled with feeble, irresponsible patients, which has numerous steps on the ground-floor, up and down which food trolleys as well as patients have constantly to be conveyed’. [G.T. Hine ‘Asylums and Asylum Planning’ in Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 23 Feb. 1901, p.16]

Claybury was designed on an échelon plan. This was a development from the pavilion-plan asylum which comprised a sequence of pavilions or blocks, each designated for a different class of patient. Each pavilion contained a combination of wards, single rooms and day rooms, together with provision for staff and sanitary arrangements. The pavilions were generally linked by single storey corridors, either enclosed or as covered ways. The échelon plan differed from the pavilion plan only in its general layout, which, as the term suggests, consisted of pavilions arranged in an arrow head or échelon formation. This allowed Hine to provide all the patient blocks with day-rooms that had a southern aspect and uninterrupted views.

At the heart of the asylum was the recreation hall. It was particularly finely ornamented, was 120 feet long, 60 feet wide, and 40 feet high, and was capable of seating 1,200 people. At one end there was a gallery supported on iron columns and at the other the stage, with an elaborate proscenium arch in Jacobethan style, topped by a bust of Shakespeare. The high quality of decoration in the hall was integral to the philosophy of asylum planning and design at this date, as The Builder noted:

‘The modern treatment of lunacy demands also more provision for the embellishment of the asylum than is to be found in the barrack like interiors of our older institutions. Hence the interior of Claybury Asylum is almost palatial in its finishings, its pitch-pine joinery, marble and tile chimney pieces, and glazed brick dados, so much so that some of the visitors rather flippantly expressed a desire to become inmates. The recreation hall, for example, is lavishly decorated with an elliptical ceiling, richly ornamented with Jackson’s fibrous plaster work, while the walls are panelled in polished oak, and the floors are to be finished in a similar manner.’ [The Builder, 30 July 1892, p.88]



The interior of the recreation hall in 1991 (photographs (c) Colin Thom)

It is notable, however, that the majority of the fine interior work was reserved for the more public areas, such as the recreation hall, the chapel and the administration block.

L0027370 Claybury Asylum, Woodford, Essex: a dormitory. Photograph by

This photograph of one of the dormitories was taken around 1893 and shows a spartan interior, with the beds closely spaced. Note the fireproof construction of the ceiling. Photograph by the London &County Photographic Co. (c)Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images ref: L0027370 

Above is one of a series of photographs from the Wellcome Library which look to have been taken when the asylum was newly completed. It shows a large dormitory of the type provided for chronic cases. Acute cases were housed in small wards with a large allowance of single rooms.

L0027373 Claybury Asylum, Woodford, Essex: a dining room (?). Photogr

Photograph by the London &County Photographic Co. (c)Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images ref: L0027373

This view of a dining hall, presumably for patients rather than staff, although it is not so easy to tell as some of the decorative elements, such as wallpaper, curtains, potted plants, pictures on the walls, a hearth rug and the bird cage might seem a little luxurious for a pauper institution. However, homeliness and comfortable surroundings were recognised as important factors in treating mental illness. There is an almost identical photograph in Historic England Archives collection taken in 1895 by Bedford Lemere.

L0027374 Claybury Asylum, Woodford, Essex: a social room (?). Photogr

Photograph by the London & County Photographic Co. (c)Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images ref: L0027374

The photograph above is labelled as showing a ‘social room’. Wallpaper, pictures, rugs, and potted plants are all in evidence again along with the piano, and the shawls draped over the backs of the chairs might suggest that the patients have just stood up and moved out of view. The ceiling has the same fireproof vaulting  seen in the previous photograph. It creates a slightly less institutional feel to the room than the exposed iron beams in the dining hall.

L0027372 Claybury Asylum, Woodford, Essex: a nurses' day-room (?). Ph

Photograph by the London &County Photographic Co. (c)Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images ref: L0027372

The caption for these two photographs (above and below) suggest they might have been a day rooms for the nurses. The one below looks more like a staff room perhaps, particularly with the stained glass in the end window.

L0027371 Claybury Asylum, Woodford, Essex: a nurses' day-room (?). Ph

Photograph by the London &County Photographic Co. (c)Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images ref: L0027371

The snap above was taken in 1991, and shows similar stained glass, with the coats or arms of the local borough councils. It was in the administration block, in the main stair window. This block also contained the board and committee rooms and offices for staff as well as sitting and bedrooms for three assistant medical officers. The corridors were floored with mosaic tiling, and a faience panel marked the entrance to the board room, which had oak-panelled walls and an enriched plaster ceiling. Amongst the collection of photographs at the Wellcome Library are views of the service areas, the laundry and kitchens etc. These blocks, to the north of the water tower, have all been demolished, along with the blocks for the attendants and nurses which originally flanked the recreation hall.

L0027368 Claybury Asylum, Woodford, Essex: a linen room. Photograph b

Photograph by the London &County Photographic Co. (c)Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images ref: L0027368

This shows the linen room, and below is the ironing room. The work was strictly segregated for men and women. At this date patients would have assisted with many of the duties involved in the daily running of the asylum.

L0027377 Claybury Asylum, Woodford, Essex: an ironing room. Photograp
Photograph by the London &County Photographic Co. (c)Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images ref: L0027377

L0027369 Claybury Asylum, Woodford, Essex: a kitchen. Photograph by t

Photograph by the London &County Photographic Co. (c)Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images ref: L0027369

While the women washed and ironed, the men worked in the kitchens. I think this might be my favourite of the photographs of the working side of the hospital. Except perhaps this last one. These must be some of the senior staff, I think, though they are not identified and look very young.

L0027376 Claybury Asylum, Woodford, Essex: six members of staff, andPhotograph by the London & County Photographic Co. (c)Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images ref: L0027376

More information and modern photographs of the site can be found here

27 thoughts on “Repton Park, formerly Claybury Hospital

  1. I trained in claybury in 1977 and loved nursing there was a very progressive hospital. Was there today and walked the grounds delighted to see how beautifully it was developed keeping the beautiful grounds. Such memories


  2. My late husband, the artist Cyril Mann (1911-1980) had several spells in Claybury hospital, where I visited him with our daughter, in 1979. We found it a dispiriting, depressing place, and unsurprisingly, he loathed it. UnlikeVan Gogh in St Remy, Cyril never did any painting while he was incarcerated, once escaping after buying second-hand clothes at a hospital charity sale.


    • A sad end to a brilliant career. I found the website about your husband, fascinating. I know Bevin Court well, from my time working on the Clerkenwell volumes of the Survey of London. I couldn’t help thinking of the huge contrast between the light and airy modernist Bevin Court and the heavy red brick Victorian buildings of Claybury.


  3. My grandmother died in Claybury Mental Hospital, sometime in the 1940s. I wasn’t born then and never met her, but my mother always said it was an awful place. That could, of course, have been just because it was a mental hospital. I’ve found this blog very interesting.


    • Thank you Margaret, I am not surprised that your mother thought the hospital an awful place. Those large mental hospitals were daunting places, no matter how good the nursing staff were, and undoubtedly upsetting for visiting relatives.
      best wishes from Harriet


  4. I was an inpatient at Claybury Hospital in 1990 aged 18. I found it very scary and I had
    Electric shock therapy there. However I think most of the staff were good whist I was there. But a terrifying start to my adulthood.


  5. My mother trained as an 18 year old nurse at Claybury Asylum just before WW2. She is gone now but I just came across two old black and white photo postcards of the asylum in her photo album and she had written 1939 on the back with the words 18 year old nurse in training. She would tell me that it was a frightening place where the dangerous patients were under lock and key.


  6. My grandmother, Marguerite Foster, used to visit Claybury to help voluntarily. She died in 1976, so she was definitely there around the 1960’s/early 1970’s. She always bought homemade Christmas crackers from Claybury every Christmas, they were the best!


  7. My Great grandfather Harry Gibbs was a Male nurse at Claybury 1901, He lived in a cottage attached to the hospital with his wife and children, My grandfather was born in the cottage


  8. Claybury Hospital, Woodford Bridge Essex,i arrived there as a student nurse on the 4/9/1978 from Ireland as an 18 yr.old.I did not complete the 3 yr.course.We were a small intimate group,i recall, Paul Chapman-Wales, Linda Edwards, Leslie Griffin,Collette Skinnion, Vedwatte Mahaedo, Sara Chumbley and one more i can’t remember.I visited in 1985, the whole complex was still there.I visited in 1998, it were closed down at that stage and ceased being a hospital. I visited again in , the area, in April 2018 and was allowed access by the security staff at the gate entrance to Repton Park for which i was grateful, and walked around for an hour, and was wonderful to see. You would’nt think there was ever a psychiatric hospital there, the gate entrance is still there .Claybury Hospital provided excellent training from all of it’s tutors and the School of Nursing -the West Roding School of Nursing produced excellent nurses.


  9. My gt grandmother was admitted to Claybury Asylum in May 1893, before it was officially opened on 17th June, so she must’ve been one of the very first inmates. Her record says she was discharged ‘recovered’ in September 1894. Her 4 daughters (all under 10) were sent to the St Pancras Workhouse, where they sent them on to the Workhouse School in Levesden near to Watford. Sadly, one of them (age 6) died of diphtheria whilst there. the others were released to their father on 6 April 1894. Such a sad story.


  10. On reflection, Claybury Hospital would have been a Flagship hospital in the 1970’s,in it’s new approach to the treatment of mental illness’s such as Schizophrenia.By 1978, the hospital had established itself as a leader in this field.The concept of the ‘therapeutic community’ was first introduced by Dr.John Pippard,at Claybury Hospital, a famous consultant psychiatarist who wrote books on ‘leuctomy’s’, his humane approach to the treatment of mental illness, with less emphasis on medication , more emphasis on talking, group therapy , psycho therapy set the template for the treatment of mental illness in the future.Dr.David Prothero ,consultant psychiatarist was part of his team.
    The use of certain medications, particularly Chlorpromazine -Largactil , it’s long- term use had a devastating, debilitating effect on long-term Schizophrenic patients. The adverse effects of this one drug over a long period were catastrophic. For instance, some of the side -effects were, Parkinson Like Symptoms, Obesity, Photo Sensitivity, Inability to move move about, Loss of Libido,
    in short being prescribed Chlorpromazine was like being in a chemical strait- jacket, after a month being on this stuff 100mg. 3 times a day, you would’nt be able to move.Other long -term anti-psychotic medications, Modecate, Depixol, Melleril, Stelazine were just as severe, but Chlorpromazine was the worst for adverse effects, i hope it’s no longer in use. I recall a further drug called ‘artane’ being prescribed along side it to counteract the adverse effects of Chlorpromazine.
    Dr. John Pippard , the great humane man that he was, he changed all that, he changed the whole approach to treating Schizophrenia and other related psychotic illness’s, with less emphasis on meds.
    My first training experience on a long stay male ward,1978 , ward W2 Claybury, was an eye- opener. Homosexuality was quite prevalant amongst the long stay patients. The patients were all in a ‘stupor’ all down to Chlorpromazine-Largactil. Us students and staff nurses had to literally pull them apart.6 years with the ‘Nuns’ at my local Convent of Mercy , did not prepare me for this.There was no ‘helpline ‘to ring if one had been affected, unlike today.There was no Counselling, yes, it was an eye-opener
    Haloperidol was prescribed for acute manic conditions, it was particularly severe and brutal on the patient. 2 weeks on this stuff , you would’nt be able to get out of bed.
    Electro Convulsive Therapy- ECT, to treat psychotic depression, electric shock treatment was effective for a few days, and the patient would drift back to deep depression. There were on going debates that this form of treatment would eventually lead to Epilepsy, one blast of this and it kills of millions of brain cells, so i hope this has also been banned form use in all psychiatric hospitals.
    In 1978, when i was student nurse there , Claybury Hospital was moving away from all of this.The concept of the Therapeutic Community was well established by then, especially for the acute admission patients . A meeting would consist of a number of patients, a student, a staff nurse, a P.S.W. a psychiatric doctor with the emphasis being on sharing your thoughts and anxieties.It progressed from strength to strength. I recall Dr.john Pippard was always sceptical about junior doctors over prescribing anti-psychotic medications.
    The use of such severe medications should only be applied, as a last resort , but only to criminally insane patients.
    I have never been in a psychiatric hospital since 1980, and i would hope that the concept of the ‘therapeutic community’as devised by Dr.John Pippard has gone from strength to strength worldwide, with less emphasis on anti-psychotic meds.
    It is my one regret that i did not remain in psy.nursing, i know i could have been good at it.


    • Thank you John for such an in-depth account of the history of this hospital as you knew it during your time there. It is a fascinating story. My Mum trained as a nurse at Claybury in 1939 when she was 18 years old. She told stories of being on the ward that housed the criminally insane patients. It was a frightening experience for her. After the war she left nursing when she married my Dad and they emigrated to Canada. I have a couple of old photos of the hospital in Mum’s old photo album.


  11. My Grandfather Arthur Parsley 1894-1958 was male nurse @ Claybury . I believe that he moved from a London hospital to Claybury as a patient before his death . Are there any staff records available for research I would be very interested to find out how long he worked there .


  12. Hi, I found a small button whilst metal detecting in the Ilford area. It is brass and says Claybury Asylum
    With the initials L C A In the centre. Can any one give me an idea of how old it would be.
    Many thanks. Mike.


  13. Pingback: Claybury Orchard - a sanctuary for wildlife and the mind - The Orchard Project

  14. Pingback: JAKEMAN, George - Friends of Horton Cemetery

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