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 Bing.com) 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.
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]
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.
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.
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.
‘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]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More information and modern photographs of the site can be found here http://thetimechamber.co.uk/beta/sites/asylums/london-county-asylum-claybury