St Francis' Hospital (Cemetery and Isolation Wards)
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What: Psychiatric Hospital.
Where: Haywards Heath, Sussex
Built: 1859-1970 (extended)
Architect: Henry Edward Kendall Jr and others.
Listed: Main block, Chapel and Water Tower, Grade II
Last Known Condition: Mostly converted; cemetery and isolation wards are derelict.
Page Updated: November 2018
Overall, the builders did a pretty good job at St. Francis' - the large yellow brick asylum building, once the longest building in Sussex, is now apartments, but looks much as it must have been when in use, the chapel is now a nursery school and even the airing court shelters have been preserved, albeit stranded incongruously in residents' car parks. All very leafy and suburban. Numerous unfriendly yellow signs warn that this is private property covered by CCTV and judging by the numerous other signs and cordons, parking anywhere without a permit is quite possibly punishable with summary execution. Fortunately however, nobody seemed to mind me wandering the grounds taking photos of their nice expensive houses.
Only on the periphery of the site, the rougher edges, can one find the last unconverted remains of the old hospital: the water tower, still in use after 110 years, the old isolation hospital, latterly used as a psychiatric in-patient ward in 2008 but now derelict; the pigeon-haunted nurses' home, boarded up tight and left to rot and the patients' cemetery in which hundreds, possibly thousands of troubled souls were laid to rest, now choked with rhododendron scrub and gloomy trees.
Under the 1845 County Asylums Act, the County of Sussex was obliged to provide accommodation and treatment for the county's "lunatic poor" - no small feat for an area of more than 1,456 square miles with a population approaching 500,000 and stretching from Hermitage in the West to Rye in the East. In fact, it took the county authorities no less than fourteen years to get around to building their own asylum, even with several 'reminders' from the Commissioners in Lunacy.
At length a site was chosen on land belonging to Hurst House Farm near Haywards Heath, selected both for its healthy aspect on a hill overlooking the South Downs and its position near the centre of the county.
The asylum building was designed by Henry Edward Kendall Jr; a large yellow brick edifice built around a long axial corridor with wards, offices, laundry, workshops and other services on either side, it opened in 1859. A separate chapel and porter's lodge were also built to the north in a similar Italianate style.
To cope with the county's growing population the asylum was extended several times; recreation and dining halls were added in the 1860s and 70s and were joined by a new superintendent's residence, lodge and isolation hospital in the 1880s.
Under the 1888 Local Government Act, the old county of Sussex was subdivided East and West for administrative purposes. Both counties continued to fund the asylum at Haywards Heath for a while, but in 1893, seeing the chronic lack of space, which was unlikely to get any better with the expansion of flourishing seaside towns like Brighton, Worthing and Hastings, West Sussex withdrew from the union and built their own asylum at Graylingwell, Chichester.
Despite the removal of patients from the west of the county, by 1902 the total number of inmates at Haywards Heath exceeded 1,000. Running out of space, East Sussex removed its patients to its own new asylum at Hellingly the following year, passing the old buildings to the county borough of Brighton.
Expansion continued over the next few decades with developments including a new water tower and staff quarters (1908), a new admissions hospital (Hurstwood Park, 1938), a new boiler house, swimming pool and social club (1960s-70s). Under the NHS, the institution was re-named St. Francis' Hospital.
By the late 1980s, the hospital, in common with others of its kind was being wound down in favour of more community-based care with in-patient beds retained only for serious and acute cases. In 1991, the land northeast of the main building became the site of a new District General Hospital, the Princess Royal. The last services on the main St. Francis site closed in 1995 and the buildings were converted to luxury apartments. Some mental health services continue to be provided on the Princess Royal site, notably a purpose-built in-patient unit for young patients suffering from mental illness and eating disorders.
Cracknell, P, N/D 'County Asylums: St Francis' [https://www.countyasylums.co.uk/st-francishaywards-heath/] Accessed 06/11/18
Gardner, J, 1999 'Sweet Bells Jangled Out of Tune – A History of the Sussex Lunatic Asylum (St. Francis Hospital) Haywards Heath'
Hughes, J, 2015 'My Asylum'
Scotts Valley CA, CreateSpace.