Building Bedlam – Bethlem Royal Hospital’s early incarnations

From City fringe to St George’s Fields

DSC09436

The dome of the Imperial War Museum, formerly Bethlem Hospital, photographed in January 2014

Visitors to the Imperial War Museum south London may easily be unaware that they are walking through the remains of a former mental hospital, in fact the former mental hospital that gave us the word Bedlam. Only the central block remains of this, the third home of that exceptional, long-lived institution that is now Royal Bethlem Hospital in the London borough of Bromley. [1]

The origins of Bethlem hospital were monastic, evolving from the priory of St Mary of Bethlehem. The copperplate map of London of the 1550s shows its original site at Bishopsgate near the large open ground of Moorfields.

Copperplate_map_Moorfields

The Moorfields section of the Copperplate map of London, 1559, Museum of London. Public Domain

By the early 1400s it was already specializing in the care of the insane. In time it came to be owned and governed by the City, which also acquired Christ’s Hospital ‘erected for the vertuous bringing up of the myserable youth’, St Thomas’s hospital ‘for the relevynge of the neadye and deseased’, and Bridewell for ‘thenfocinge of the lewde and naughtie sorte to labor and worke’. Bridewell and Bethlem were managed by a joint court of governors. [2]

Plan_of_the_first_Bethlem_Hospital

Plan of Bethlem hospital reproduced in Daniel Hack Tuke, Chapters in the History of the Insane in the British Isles (London, 1882) Project Gutenberg Ebook Edition

By the 1670s Bethlem had very much outgrown its site, the governors declaring their hospital to be ‘very old weake and ruinous’ and too small for the ‘great number of lunatics as are therein at present’. [3] The new building erected in 1674-6 just round the corner from the original hospital could not have contrasted more strongly with the old. It was designed by Robert Hooke with sufficient accommodation for 120 patients.

V0013179 The Hospital of Bethlem [Bedlam] at Moorfields, London: seenThe Hospital of Bethlem (Bedlam) at Moorfields, London: seen from the north, with people walking in the foreground. Engraving by H. Fletcher, c. 1750  Wellcome Library, London

The engraving above shows the north elevation, viewed across the green expanse of Moorfields, and peeking above the roof ridge a regiment of City church towers and spires (and what appears to be Wren’s monument to the Fire on the left). Here is a hospital in the guise of a palace – its grandeur and French Renaissance style prompted the suggestion that it had been modelled on the Tuileries, and the apocryphal story that Louise XIV was so offended by the similarity that he ordered ‘a plan of St James’s Palace to be taken for offices of a very inferior nature’. [4]

V0013176 The Hospital of Bethlem [Bedlam] at Moorfields, London: seen

The Hospital of Bethlem (Bedlam) at Moorfields, London, showing the additional wings at either end of the building. Coloured engraving by T. Bowles after J. Maurer. Wellcome Library, London. CC BY 4.0

A grand architectural statement was the wish of the governors. It was a quite deliberate piece of self-advertisement, intended to to attract visitors and funds. The policy of opening their doors to visitors to view the inmates was already well established at the old site. At the time the intention was to raise awareness of the plight of the insane, to awaken the pity of the spectator, and prompt charitable and generous donations towards their care and treatment.

Hooke’s selection as architect was a logical one. He had been City Surveyor since 1666 and was at that time supervising the rebuilding Bridewell, Bethlem’s sister institution, after the fire. There were no other hospitals for the insane in Britain at the time, or indeed many hospitals of any kind. The very term ‘hospital’ had not yet become so exclusively the property of a medical establishment and was still being used with its broader meaning of a place of hospitality – and ‘infirmary’ might more usually be expected to be applied to a place for the sick. The plan for Bethlem called for a building that could house a large number of individuals, who might at times be disturbed or violent. This introduced the need for containment or confinement. To modern eyes the plan seems most closely allied to that of prisons, and in particular the model prisons of the nineteenth century.

L0015088 Statues of "raving" and "melancholy" madness, each reclining Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Statues of "raving" and "melancholy" madness, each reclining on one half of a broken segmental pediment, formerly crowning the gates at Bethlem [Bedlam] Hospital. Engraving by C. Warren, 1808, after C. Cibber, 1680. Engraving 1808 By: Caius Gabriel Cibberafter: Charles Turner WarrenPublished: 10 December 1808 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

These statues, thought to depict  raving and melancholy madness crowned the entrance gates, they have been preserved and can be seen at the Museum of the Mind at the present Bethlem Royal Hospital.  Engraving by C. Warren, 1808, after C. Cibber, 1680. Wellcome Library, London. Reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 

Although Hooke presented two ground plots and a model of his intended asylum to the governors before building work began, no plan has ever come to light. However, there are sufficient descriptions of the interior for key elements to be deduced. The central pavilion, with the main entrance, contained a hall, ornamented by tablets bearing the names of the hospital’s benefactors linked together by carved cherubs’ heads. Off the hall were the steward’s office and a room for the chief physician and apothecary where new admissions were examined and from which patients were discharged. To the rear of the hall the principal staircase rose to the committee room, probably the grandest internal space decorated with an ornamental plaster ceiling. This central block also gave access to the patients’ accommodation which was contained within the wings on either side. These were of two storeys over a raised basement, with the inmates on the raised ground and first floors where the plan comprised a row of single cells, lit by small high windows on the south side of the building, off a long gallery, lit by larger windows. In the basement were the kitchen, laundry and stores.

The plan by Hooke is remarkable. It seems to be the first time that such an arrangement was devised, there being no obvious precedent in this country. This was also the first charitable building to be erected in London since the Reformation. In fact the first entirely new charitable foundation since the Savoy Hospital of 1505-17. It was one of the first public buildings completed after the Great Fire, pipped at the post by the rebuilt Royal Exchange designed by Edward Jarman and Wren’s Custom House, both of which were completed in 1671. [5]

AN00856248_001_l

Anonymous etching of the Royal Exchange from the British Museum

Although there may not have been any lunatic asylums in Britain to provide a model, there were other buildings where large numbers were housed under one roof. Schools, almshouses, prisons, and even royal palaces. Including palaces in this selection is not a mere frivolous reference to the Tuileries. The galleries at Bethlem may well have their origins in the long gallery and cloister walks of the great Tudor houses and palaces, where they were intended to serve the same function of a place for exercise, particularly in bad weather. Bridewell was built as a palace, to which a long gallery was added in the early sixteenth century. It was only turned into a workhouse some decades later.

512px-Haddon_Hall_Long_Gallery_(7167229240)

The long gallery at Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, photographed in 2011 by Michael Beckwith. Galleries in Tudor houses provided exercise in wet weather, and are a possible model for the galleries in asylums. Image licensed under Creative Commons CC-BY 2.0

The galleries at Bethlem also served as corridors of communication, and were open to visitors. Hogarth’s final scene of the Rake’s Progress is set in Bethlem and shows one of the new men’s wards added at the east end of the asylum in 1725. This gives a glimpse of the cell/gallery arrangement, here the gallery is occupied by several patients, apart form Hogarth’s hero Tom Rakewell, and just two female visitors clinging to each other and keeping close to the wall in the background. It should be noted, however, that this wing, which was intended for incurable patients, had cells on both sides of the gallery. One of the key features of Hooke’s layout was therefore lost, that of creating a ‘permeable’ structure, with the cell doors opposite the gallery windows allowing light and air to pierce the building.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 14.36.19

William Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress, Wellcome Library, London An insane man (Tom Rakewell) sits on the floor manically grasping at his head, his lover (Sarah Young) cries at the spectacle whilst two attendants attach chains to his legs; they are surrounded by other lunatics at Bethlem hospital, London. Engraving by W. Hogarth, 1763, after earlier engraving by himself, 1735.  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

It may seem strange that the galleries were placed on the north rather than the sunnier and warmer south side of the building. This was no error, cool temperatures and even light were considered beneficial to a disturbed mind, having a ‘sedative power’. Some went so far as to argue that the insane were in fact insensible to cold, though at Bethlem, at least, there is evidence that measures were introduced to keep the patients warm.

L0011828 The Hospital of Bethlem [Bedlam] at Moorfields, London: seen

The second of J. T. Smith’s 1814 views of Bethlem showing its humble back elevation. Wellcome Library, London. Reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 

Two views published in 1814 show the north side of the hospital. They demonstrate how severe this elevation was in comparison to the front, with these small, high windows that lit the cells, as well as its proximity to the boundary and the road.

L0015087 The Hospital of Bethlem [Bedlam] at Moorfields, London: seenBethlem Hospital from the south, showing the small high windows that lit the inmates’ cells. This view also shows part of London Wall in the foreground, and a muck-raker scraping at the cobblestones. Etching by J. T. Smith, 1814, after himself, June 1812. Wellcome Library, London. Reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 

Christine Stevenson has pointed out the similarities between Hooke’s design for Bethlem with that of his nearby Aske’s Hospital an almshouse for the haberdashers’ Company designed in 1692. [6]

V0013682 Aske's Hospital, Shoreditch, London: a bird's-eye view of thAske’s Hospital, Shoreditch, London: a bird’s-eye view of the facade. Engraving, 1720. Wellcome Library, London. Reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Like Bethlem the building is single pile, which, as Roger North noted later, was particularly suitable for a college or hospital, to be divided into cells, and chambers independent of each other. In asylum architecture this pattern of patient accommodation in single cells off a gallery remained set for almost two centuries, although it was some time before anything on a comparable scale was built in Britain. In fact, not until St Luke’s Hospital was built in 1750. And so, when Bethlem took the decision to move to a new location, the plan of the new hospital pretty much followed that of the old.

AN00754479_001_l

The Moorfields building around 1811, depicted in a state of decay. Etching after a drawing by G. Arnald for the Beauties of England and Wales. From the British Museum

A competition had been held to design the new building in 1810, judged by James Lewis, the hospital’s surveyor, George Dance the younger and S P Cockerell. Although Lewis’s pupil, William Lochner was awarded the first prize of £300, it was Lewis who was given the task of drawing up the final plans and elevations based on the three winning entries. (the second pirze was awarded to J. A. and G. S. Repton and the third to John Dotchen)

V0013727 The Hospital of Bethlem [Bedlam], St. George's Fields, Lambe

The new Bethlem Hospital in Southwark, engraving from Ackerman’s Repository 1817. Wellcome Library, London. Reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0  

The opening of the new asylum coincided with the publication of a Select Committee Report on Madhouses in England in which it was immediately censured. There was a long list of complaints from its excessive expense to the gloominess of some of the rooms, particularly those at the front overshadowed by the ‘immense portico’.

V0013728 The Hospital of Bethlem [Bedlam], St. George's Fields, Lambe Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org The Hospital of Bethlem [Bedlam], St. George's Fields, Lambeth: elevation and plan, with a scale and a key. Engraving by J. Le Keux, 1823, after P. Hardwick. 1823 By: Philip Hardwickafter: John Le Keux and James LewisPublished: 1 December 1823 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Bethlem Hospital elevation and plan, 1823. Wellcome Library, London. Reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 

The classification of the patients was deemed inadequate due to an absence of separate staircases to each of the galleries. There were complaints about the lack of glass in the patients’ sleeping rooms (a complaint no doubt shared by the patients, whose misery was increased by the fact that the system of warming the asylum by steam was installed only in the basement). This absence of glazing was no oversight, but a deliberate omission to ensure the ventilation of the cells and, as the governors claimed, obviate ‘the disagreeable effluvias peculiar to all madhouses’. A year later, however, the windows were glazed. The Report also disapproved of the way in which the front windows were closed up, preventing the patients from looking out of them. [7]

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 09.30.15

Extract from the 25-inch OS map surveyed in 1872. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The new Bethlem was neither so very different nor so very much worse than most other asylums built both before and after. It had a central administration block from which sprouted the patients’ wings, most of which followed the ‘cells on one side gallery on the other’ arrangement. Also repeating the earlier arrangement of having the galleries on the north side of the building. At either end of the building, again repeating the arrangement of the old building after the early eighteenth-century additions, there were cells on both sides of a central corridor. A chapel was provided under the shallow dome; sniffily referred to as a ‘species of pumpkin-shaped cupola’ by the Government in 1812 when it was proposed to put a semaphore on top, as an early warning system in the event of an attack from France. The dome was rebuilt in 1844-6 as part of general additions and alterations carried out to designs by Sydney Smirke.

V0013730 The Hospital of Bethlem [Bedlam], St. George's Fields, Lambe

Bethlem Hospital with Smirke’s new dome. Wellcome Library, London. Reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 

When Bethlem moved for the fourth time to Monks Orchard the freehold of the old site was bought by Viscount Rothermere in 1930 and vested in the LCC for the formation of a public open space named in memory of his mother, Gerladine Mary Harmsworth. Much of the hospital was demolished but the remainder was leased to the Commissioners of Works to house the Imperial War Museum. It opened to the public in 1936, was closed during the Second World War during which time it received bomb damage in 1940, 1941 and 1944. An account of its history was published in volume 25 of the Survey of London, published in 1955 less than ten years after the museum had reopened. The volume was edited by Ida Darlington, and it is perhaps her words which end the account thus: ‘It is perhaps appropriate that a building occupied for so many years by men and women of unsound mind should now be used to house exhibits of that major insanity of our own time, war.’ [8]

DSC09426

Imperial War Museum, photographed January 2014

References

  1. The main source used here is the definitive history by Jonathan Andrews, Asa Briggs, Roy Porter, Penny Tucker and Keir Waddington, The History of Bethlem, Routledge, London and New York, 1997
  2. The History of Bethlem, p.76, quote from Christ’s Hospital minute books
  3. ibid, p.248 quote from Bethlem Court of Governors Minutes
  4. Thomas Bowen, An Historical Account of the Rise, Progress and Present State of Behtlem Hospital, London, 1783 p. 5n, see also Christine Stevenson’s article (below) p.256
  5. Christine Stevenson ‘Robert Hooke’s Bethlem’ in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol.55, no.3 (1996), p.257
  6. Christine Stevenson ‘Robert Hooke’s Bethlem’ in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol.55 no.3 (1996), pp.254-275
  7. Survey of London, vol.25 St George the Martyr, Southwark and St Mary Newton, Ida Darlington ed. 1955, pp 78 (online version at British History Online)
  8. ibid, p.80

The Ducker House, American prefab of the 1880s

While hunting for Doecker portable hospital buildings I came across its American counterpart, including an illustrated catalogue advertising their wares published in or after 1888. Ducker 23 Founded by William M. Ducker of Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A. who had patented his invention, the Ducker Portable House company had offices in New York and London. The catalogue showed a variety of uses for their buildings, ranging from the utilitarian hospital hut to more elaborate garden buildings. Ease of transportation was also emphasised. Ducker 22 Here one of their portable buildings is neatly packed onto a horse-drawn wagon. While below the image shows the mode of transporting a Ducker building in mountainous countries. Ducker 2 The buildings were ‘light, durable, well ventilated, warm in winter, cool in summer, healthful and cheap’. From reading the description of the buildings they seem to be almost indistinguishable from the Danish Doecker system, the components being wooden frames, hinged together, and covered with a special waterproof fibre. The same claims are made for both that they could be assembled without skilled labour. Ducker 4This example was said to be at Wellington Barracks in London. Another was erected in Blackpool; Henry Welsh, the local Medical Officer of Health, noted in August 1888 that the recently erected building ‘gives great satisfaction, and answers its purposes admirably’. The cost of this model was given as $600. The German War Department bought one, and they had been adopted by the United States Naval and Marine Hospital Service, and several Departments of Charities and Correction. In 1885 the Red Cross Society had organised an exhibition in Antwerp of portable hospitals at which the Ducker buildings (and Doecker prefabs) had been shown. Ducker’s was awarded a special medal by the Empress of Germany and, so it was claimed, garnered the ‘warmest encomiums from civil and military surgeons, engineers, architects and philanthropists from all parts of the civilised world’. Ducker 3 Wards are suitably Spartan, the interior here measured 18 x 34 ft. The Department of Public Charities and Correction, Randall’s Island Hospital erected a Ducker house. Of the many pest houses, generally for smallpox cases, erected in America, it seems likely that if they were not actually Ducker houses, they were of a similar design, as is suggested by an early photograph of a pest house put up at Storm Lake, Iowa, photographed in 1899 (see University of Iowa libraries)
Ducker 5 Temporary buildings were widely used at large construction sites to house migrant workers. Above is an administrative building, suitable for ‘Contractors and Construction Companies’ or for a private residence. It comprised a main building 16 x 30 ft and a separate kitchen and store-room connected by a covered passage. ducker 9 The workforce would be accommodated in huts such as this one. ducker 10 This is its interior, with simple iron bunk beads, it put me in mind of the description of the bunk house in Of Mice and Men. These huts were bigger than the hospital buildings, at 30 x 30 ft, and cost just over twice as much at $1,250. ducker 7 Versatility was key to healthy sales figures, so the catalogue demonstrates a variety of different uses for the Ducker portable building. Sports pavilions were an obvious use; above an athletic and bicycle hall, others illustrated were a racing stable, a boat house and a bowling alley. A photographer’s studio could be constructed for just $375, or a billiard room for $400 (billiard table not included). ‘The attention of hotel men is called to the fact that for annexes to hotels, to be used for sleeping apartments during the rush of midsummer, these building just exactly answer the purpose’. Ducker 14 For the domestic market there was a range of summer cottages (above), lawn pavilions (below) Ducker 13and camping houses. Ducker 12 The Norton Camp House could have been yours for $150 (and upward), measuring a cosy 9 x 12 feet and weighing 450 pounds. It could accommodate four people, and opened out on all sides. Camping was not necessarily a leisure pursuit, and this camp hut was also touted for cattle ranchmen, miners, prospectors, surveyors and contractors. If you were on vacation, however,  you might have considered a bathing house. Ducker 11‘The portability of these buildings make them simply invaluable… At the end of the season they can be taken down and stored until the opening of another season. They can be constructed in any form or style desired and can be made to comfortably accommodate more people than any other building known’. Ducker 15 The Lawn pavilions were the most decorative, being intended for ornament as well as usefulness, aimed at owners of large summer residences. ‘They are constructed in decidedly artistic style.’ Ducker 16 ‘and will be found useful and delightful for ladies’ sewing, reading and painting rooms, children’s play rooms, tea and lunch rooms, tennis purposes, and sleeping rooms as well if required’ Ducker 17 If you didn’t run to summer residence with large grounds in need of a lawn pavilion, then don’t worry, you could have an entire summer cottage or camping cottage. The latter pretty much the same as the hospital huts, but the former comprised the most ornate in the Ducker range. Ducker 18 This example seems to be giving a stylistic nod towards a Chinese pagoda or an Indian bungalow. As I am heading to Fife in Scotland later in the summer, I was particularly tickled to read the testimonial on the back cover of the catalogue which was furnished by one George C. Cheape, of Wellfield house, Strathmiglo in Fife, master of the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire hounds.  ‘No country house should be without one’  he wrote: ‘It was put up in one day by the village joiner and my gamekeeper.’ He continued to effuse about the merits of the building:  ‘In wet weather the children quite live in it, and play all day. I have gymnastic apparatus put up in it, swings, etc; the consequence is a quiet house, whilst the children are enjoying healthy exercise and games to their heart’s content, where they disturb no one, and their tea-parties in the Ducker House are enjoyed by all.’ Cheape was a Captain in the 11th Hussars, Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant of Fife. He was also widely travelled, had served in India, and had visited America on three occasions, having business interests in Texas, Colorado, Arizona and California. While in America he also travelled to Canada and Mexico, and worked to promote the interests of the International Company of Mexico, of which he was a shareholder. Sources: The catalogue for Ducker Portable House Co. can be found online from archive.org, information on George Cheape was from the census, marriage records, passenger lists etc and there is a brief biography in David Pinera Ramirez, American and English Influence on the Early Development of Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, 1995 pp.99-100

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 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.

 

5062533443_079c19a6f9_o
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.

e32661bf6ff9b82b3abbbde72de5a6b3

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]

46a6ba4345be990d716fa17345361b53

7b9c92faef4957e409962ec36434b855

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 http://thetimechamber.co.uk/beta/sites/asylums/london-county-asylum-claybury