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The Epsom Cluster

"There they stand, isolated, majestic, imperious, brooded over by the gigantic water-tower and chimney combined, rising unmistakable
and daunting out of the countryside - the asylums which our forefathers built with such immense solidity to express the notions of their day. "

The Rt Hon. J. Enoch Powell, M.P, Minister of Health, 1961

Situated on the Horton Manor estate, the five hospitals (or lunatic asylums as they were originally termed) of the Epsom Cluster were built by the London County Council between 1896 and 1924 to alleviate pressure on London's earlier, overcrowded and increasingly outdated asylums closer to the Metropolis. In the early days, these village-sized institutions kept their inmates segregated from 'normal society' and were largely self-sufficient, having their own farms, vegetable gardens, workshops, steam laundries and bakeries with patients providing much of the labour. The group also shared a private light railway, cemetery, waterworks and power station and soon became one of the area's largest employers.

As attitudes to mental illness changed, the Epsom hospitals gained a reputation for progressive thinking, however: in the interwar years, they formed links with prominent London university research departments, pioneered voluntary admissions and introduced music and industrial therapy, insulin treatment and malarial research. With the advent of new treatments such as the anti-psychotic drug chlorpromazine in the 1950s, the hospitals became gradually more open and therapeutic places and accepted more patients on a voluntary, short-stay basis.

"Do not for a moment underestimate their powers of resistance to our assault ... the very idea of these monuments derelict or demolished arouses an instinctive resistance in the mind ... We have to get the idea into our heads that a hospital is a shell, a framework, however complex, to contain certain processes, and when the processes change or are superseded, then the shell must most probably be scrapped and the framework dismantled. "

Powell, 1961

A slow reduction in patient numbers began in the 1970s and by the 1980s and changes in government policy meant that more patients were being re-integrated into the community. The first hospital to close was Long Grove in 1992. The Manor followed in 1996, Horton in 1997 and most of the West Park and St. Ebba's sites had been vacated by 2004. Today the huge brick-built institutions have all closed; derelict, demolished or converted with only a handful of mental health facilities scattered across former estate.

The Manor : Horton : Long Grove : St. Ebba's : West Park : Hollywood Lodge : Cemetery & Power Plant

The Manor Hospital


L-R: Horton Manor House (2009); Remnant of temporary pavillions (2010); Pines Lodge Day Centre (2012); Temporary building (2012); Entrance lodge (2010)

The first hospital to open on the Horton Manor estate, the Manor was developed around the existing Horton Manor House in 1896-99 by William C. Clifford-Smith, Architect to the London County Council. The Manor house was converted for use as administrative offices, while similarly-styled buildings were built around it serving as staff quarters, storerooms, kitchens and laundry. The patients, initially 700 'harmless chronic' females and 100 males, were housed in single-storey pavilions of wood and corrugated iron radiating from two axial corridors at right angles to the main buildings, the overall plan resembling the letter 'L'.
Like many larger hospitals, the Manor was requisitioned for war use in 1916, but was returned to civilian use c.1918. Following the opening of West Park Hospital in 1918, the mental patients were transferred and the hospital became a 'Certified Institution for Mental Defectives', that is to say, those with learning and developmental disabilities. Under the NHS, the hospital cared for moderately mentally handicapped young adults and disturbed adolescents. During this time, it gained an international reputation for industrial and behavioural therapy and by 1951 it had 1417 beds. During the 1970s, the hospital wards were rebuilt in brick, replacing the decaying 'temporary' pavillions of 1896-1909 which had served for over 70 years. In 1973 the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at Banstead, a former children's hospital, became a satellite of the Manor, adding 80 beds. Following the introduction of community care and resettlement, the hospital gradually reduced in size and finally closed in 1996. Although the site has mostly been redeveloped for housing, a day-centre remained open until 2011 and the site still hosts the Old Moat Garden Centre, a social enterprise run in partnership with the NHS which provides work-based rehabilitation to people suffering from mental illnesses.

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Horton Hospital


L-R: Former main entrance; Chapel; Superintendent's House; Administration block (all 2009)

Horton Hospital opened in 1902 in buildings designed by G.T. Hine, Consultant Architect to the Commissioners in Lunacy. During two World Wars it was commandeered as a military hospital and the patients transferred elsewhere. The hospital played an important role in the development of Induced Malaria Therapy as treatment for General Paralysis of the Insane (a symptom of advanced syphilis) and also pioneered attempts to treat and rehabilitate sex-offenders. After 1971 patient numbers were gradually reduced and the hospital closed in 1997.

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Long Grove Hospital


L-R: Villa; Administration block; Converted wards; Remnant of isolation/typhoid hospital converted to bat hibernaculum (all 2009)

Founded in 1903, the London County Asylum, Long Grove, often locally known as 'The Long Grove' was the third asylum to be constructed on the Horton Estate. Like Horton, it was designed by George Thomas Hine, and opened in June 1907. The 3-storey administration building, considerably more elaborate than those of the earlier Horton or the Manor was flanked by 8 male and 8 female ward blocks. A large semi-circular corridor, while spur corridors linked the wards to the central blocks containing services such as the laundry, main hall and workshops, the whole being an example of the ├ęchelon plan. The Asylum was regarded as a showpiece among mental institutions and attracted excellent medical staff. It was renamed Long Grove Mental Hospital in 1918.
Unlike its neighbours, Long Grove was never requisitioned for war use, instead taking on patients transfered from other institutions and treating a large number of Polish servicemen suffering from neurasthenia. Between c.1944 and 1992 at least 43 female typhoid carriers were held at Long Grove in a secure isolation unit without parole: all of the women came from the London area and despite having recovered from the disease were deemed a public health risk as they still hosted and excreted the bacteria. Hospital staff were made to undergo decontamination on entering and leaving the ward and wore masks and surgical gowns at all times. All toilets in the unit were flushed using boiling water to minimise the risk of infection. Although the unit closed in the 1970s, many of the inmates had developed mental health problems as a result of their incarceration and remained at the hospital until its closure.
In 1948 the hospital joined the NHS. At this time it had 2,163 patients, mostly from the East End of London. Notable inmates included Polish violin prodigy Josef Hassid, enigmatic Jewish scholar David Rodinsky and notorious gangster Ronnie Kray. By 1960 the Hospital had gained an international reputation for being one of the most advanced and pioneering psychiatric hospitals in Britain. However, by 1971 the number of patients had begun to decline, with 1,625 beds but only 1,373 patients. In accordance with the government's policy of providing 'Care in the Community'. the Hospital began reducing patient numbers and by 1985 had just 750 beds.
In 1992, the hospital became the first of the institutions on the Estate to close and was subsequently redeveloped to provide luxury apartments and housing. Only the administration block, villas, outer wards and part of the isolation hospital remain standing.

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St. Ebba's Hospital


L-R: Administration block (2012); Villa (2012); Water tower and engineering workshops (2010); Inside the water tower (2012)

Opened in 1904 as the Ewell Epileptic Colony, St. Ebba's was built on the then-innovative colony plan by William C Clifford-Smith. It initially housed 326 epileptic patients, and cost a total of £98,000. The eight villas which housed patients were intended to be home to 38 patients each and were designed to maximise the amount of freedom each patient had. Central facilities included the administration block, a recreation hall (which doubled as a dining room and chapel), a laundry, stores, engineering workshops, kitchens and a water tower. Like the other hospitals on the estate, the Colony was expected to be self-sufficient, with patients working to produce food on the farm estate and helping to run the kitchens and laundry. In 1918, the hospital became a centre for treating ex-servicemen suffering from Neuralgia, named the Ewell War Hospital. By this time the treatment of epilepsy had considerably advanced, and when the hospital was returned to civilian use in 1927, the focus of treatment was on mental illness. Under The Mental Treatment Act, 1930, the Ewell Mental Hospital became one of the first institutions to admit patients on a voluntary basis. The hospital was extended between 1936 and 1938 bringing the total number of beds up to 933. The same year, the hospital was re-named St. Ebba's Hospital.
Following transfer to the NHS, from 1948, the hospital operated an Adolescent Unit for patients aged between 12 and 17 years. By this time, some 95-97% of St Ebba's patients were voluntary admissions. Patients were given a diverse programme of activities including discussion groups, classes in music appreciation, art, drama, dancing and dress-making.
In 1962, the hospital became a facility for the mentally handicapped, which it remains to this day. Although much of the site was run into closure from the 1990s onward and has now been redeveloped, St. Ebba's has never officially closed and around 55 long-stay patients remain in residence.

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West Park Hospital


L-R: Frinton/Occupational Therapy; Vacuum cleaners in Admin; Hospital crest; Abington/Burford (sick wards); Water tower (all 2009)

Construction of West Park began before the First World War, but was interrupted by lack of workforce and resources; the unfinished buildings became a Canadian military hospital for the duration of the War and only opened to civilian patients in 1921. The rest of the buildings planned by Clifford-Smith were completed by 1924 and at this time the hospital had a capacity of approximately 2,000 patients. The hospital declined through the 80s and 90s and had largely closed by 2003. Only a small part of the hospital now remains open.

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Hollywood Lodge


This Georgian mansion was acquired by the LCC c. 1926 as an annexe first to the Manor and then to West Park Hospitals. Originally called Horton Lodge, it was renamed Hollywood Lodge to avoid confusion with nearby Horton Hospital. It spent its last days as a care home, which closed in 2003. It was devastated by a deliberate fire in February 2005 and is now in a very poor condition.

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Cemetery and Power Plant


L-R: Monument to the dead; Cemetery railings; Central pumping and power plant; Preserved pumping equipment (all 2012)

As many as 9,000 former patients (including war casualties) from the hospitals were buried in the estate cemetery on Horton Lane between 1899 and 1955, most of them in unmarked paupers' graves. Each grave usually contained three or four bodies. The cemetery chapel was demolished during the 1960s and it was subsequently allowed to become overgrown. Bought by a developer in 1997, plans to turn the land into a concreted leisure facility or a pet cemetery were refused outright by the borough council and a memorial to the patients buried here has since been erected by public appeal.

The hospital power plant, built at the same time as Horton Hospital, provided water, gas and electric light for the entire estate. During the 1930s part of the complex was converted to become detached patient accommodation and named 'Sherwood'. Since the hospitals' closure, the building has been converted to become a health club.
Until 1950, the hospitals also had their own railway, which was laid in 1905 to save local roads from being destroyed by the high volume of construction traffic needed to build Long Grove Asylum. The railway came to serve all five institutions, bringing coal and other supplies to the hospitals from the mainline at West Ewell. No substantial trace remains today.

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This page is respectfully dedicated to the patients who were treated, lived and died in the Hospitals of the Epsom Cluster. May they find peace.


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