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Horton Hospital Chapel

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What: Mental Hospital Chapel and other
Where: Epsom, Surrey
Built: 1899-1902
Architect: George Thomas Hine
Abandoned: Phased closure, 1997-2003
Listed: Chapel only, Grade II.
Visited: 2009, 2012
Last Known Condition: Mostly demolished
  or converted. Chapel remains vacant.
Page Updated: November 2015

Horton Hospital, originally the London County Asylum at Horton, was the second mental institution to be built by the London County Council on the Horton Estate (later known as the Epsom Cluster). The asylum, designed by George Thomas Hine, architect to the Commissioners in Lunacy, was an exact replica of the earlier Bexley Asylum in Kent and had 2,000 beds. Opened in 1902, like most large mental institutions of the day, the asylum had its own chapel, laundry, tailor's, shoemaker's and upholsterer's, bakery, butchery and an extensive farm estate which allowed near self-sufficiency.

Hospital chapel, 1914
The hospital chapel in 1914 (from an old postcard)

Organ pipes
Organ pipes

Encaustic tiles in the sanctuary
Encaustic tiles in the sanctuary

[click images below to expand & enlarge]

Hospital main entrance, now part of the Haven Psychiatric Unit Hospital chapel Hospital chapel, 2012 Detail of war memorial rood screen East window Lectern Lady chapel Mural on west wall by R.A. Strand Mural description Tape recorder, music therapy centre Administration block, now converted to apartments New housing and derelict water tower Water tower Horton House Old newspapers Sign left over from redevelopment

During the First World War the Asylum was requisitioned by the Army Council. The 2,143 inmates were transferred to the neighbouring hospitals and it became the Horton War Hospital, a general hospital for servicemen from all parts of the Empire. After armistice day, the hospital was returned to the LCC; during its war service, Horton had treated over 46,000 patients. In 1920 the 'asylum' was re-named Horton Mental Hospital; by 1922 it had 1,605 patients, of whom 1,418 were women and only 187 were men.

Between the Wars, the hospital played an important role in the development of Induced Malaria Treatment (IMT) as a cure for general paralysis of the insane, a symptom of advanced syphilis. The treatment involved infecting patients with malaria which caused a high fever meant to kill the spirochetes which caused the disease. The Malaria Therapy Unit became a national centre for mosquito breeding and sent infected mosquitoes to all British hospitals which used the treatment. Although the use of penicillin came to replace IMT, the unit diversified into malaria research and by the 1970s the was the World Health Organisation's Regional Malarial Centre for Europe.

The hospital was again requisitioned between 1939 and 1947, this time as part of the Emergency Medical Service, treating battle and air-raid casualties as well as cases of general illness in civilians. Horton became part of the National Health Service in 1948: at this time there were 527 beds, with 93 male patients in three wards and 255 females in six wards. The hospital was in a poor state, having had no investment during the war years and retaining only a small number of trained staff. Under the NHS, recruitment of student nurses started immediately and by the end of 1949 the Health Authority had re-opened 11 female and 8 male wards. In 1950 work to modernise and improve the wards and equipment began, which saw the total number of beds brought up to 1,386 and the opening of modern X-ray, Occupational and Industrial Therapy Departments.

The hospital saw further changes under the Mental Health Act of 1959: the word 'mental' was dropped from the hospital's name and steps were taken towards rehabilitation and away from long-term confinement. The act also saw a rise in admissions via the judicial system: in 1961 some 100 males and 25 females had been admitted by this channel and Horton Hospital was known to house more mentally ill offenders than any other hospital in the country.

In 1961 the west end of the hospital chapel was partitioned off and became the Music Therapy Centre, opened by HRH Princess Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood. In 1963 it was renamed Harewood Hall in her honour. At this time, the hospital had 1,531 beds at a cost of £9 16s 10d each per week. The 1960s saw a change in attitudes to mental health and by the 1970s patient numbers had begun to decline: by 1979 the bed numbers had been reduced to 1,203 and by 1985 there were just 952.

In 1995 the hospital was chosen as the site of a pioneering treatment centre for sex-offenders. The Wolvercote Clinic specialised in the intensive treatment of convicted pædophiles and gained an international reputation for effective treatment, with non-reoffending rates estimated at 80%. Treatment was carried out in secure accommodation for up to 12 months at a time and involved teaching patients to acknowledge their sexual responses to children and to take control of their own behaviour.

In 1997 the main Hospital finally closed. Only the Wolvercote Clinic and a small unit with 67 beds known as Horton Haven remained open: the former closed in 2002 but the latter survives to this day. Demolition began in 2003 and by 2008 was mostly complete. The outer wards and admin block were retained and converted; the tower survived until c.2011 when it was demolished. Only the chapel and superintendent's lodge remained unconverted in 2012.

Post-script, November 2015

A couple of months ago, I returned to the site of Horton Hospital. The Superintendent's lodge is now a pile of rubble, unsurprising given its state of near collapse in 2012. A small parade of shops has been built on the corner of the site behind the chapel, still empty and steel shuttered behind a chainlink fence. As I was walking up the drive, my attention was drawn to a group of children, the oldest no more than ten, harassing a woman returning from the shops. "You're an old nutter!" "You live in the nutter house!" they shouted, criss-crossing her path on their plastic scooters. The insults may have been lame, but I caught their meaning well enough: 'you are different, less than you should be. Go back to where you belong' and underlying that 'we are afraid.' I told them to push off, made sure the woman was all right and watched as she shuffled slowly, sadly through the gates of Horton Haven.

Special thanks are due to Love Me, Love My Mind and Epsom and Ewell Borough Council for arranging access to the chapel as part of Epsom Mental Health Week 2012.

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