Saint Augustine's Asylum
Chartham, near Canterbury...
Built in 1872 and in use from 1875 up until 1993, Saint Augustine's was a psychiatric hospital near Chartham in Kent. It was founded as the second, or East, Kent County Asylum in 1872. In 1948 the hospital became part of the National Health Service and was renamed St Augustine's Hospital. The hospital gained notoriety in the 1970s when it was the subject of a committee of inquiry into malpractice and mismanagement. St Augustine's Hospital closed in 1993 and the site is now occupied by housing, although a few of the original hospital buildings remain.
When it became clear in the early 1870s that the Kent County Asylum at Barming Heath, Maidstone, was no longer large enough to accommodate all the county's pauper lunatics, a search began for a site for a second county asylum as the 1845 Lunacy Act had made it obligatory to provide sufficient bed spaces in dedicated asylums. A 120 acre site on Chartham Downs three miles south-west of Canterbury was chosen. It satisfied the requirements set down by the Commissioners in Lunacy: a site on elevated ground with cheerful prospects and enough space to provide employment and recreation for inmates while preventing them being overlooked or disturbed by strangers. It was also conveniently close to a railway station and situated centrally in its catchment area and not too far from the nearest large town.
The competition for the design of the buildings was won by the London firm of architects J. Giles and Gough. John Giles was one of the most successful asylum architects, winning eight of the sixteen competitions he entered and coming second in four. The buildings were completed in 1876 at a total cost of 211,852. Originally built to house 870 patients, the hospital gradually expanded and by 1948 had 300 acres, including a farm, and 73 staff residences, as well as new blocks and facilities for patients. Eventually there would be 2,000 patients.
Although the initial building programme was not completed until 1876, the first patients, all of them pauper lunatics from the Kent County Asylum at Barming Heath, had been able to move in the previous year. The first medical superintendent was Robert Spencer. The asylum was originally managed by a committee of quarter sessions, with responsibility passing to Kent County Council in 1889. In 1920 Kent County Mental Hospitals Committee took over the management and the asylum was renamed Kent County Mental Hospital, Chartham. The hospital became a self-contained village, with its own farm, workshops, baker, butcher, fire-brigade, church, graveyard, gasworks, cricket team, band, etc. Male patients worked on the farm, while female patients worked in the laundry or as seamstresses.
During the first world war, the asylum took in patients from other parts of the country, when their hospitals were being used for military casualties. After the end of the war they had a number of service patients (there were 37 in 1922), ex-servicemen who had special privileges. During the second world war, part of the hospital was taken over by the Emergency Medical Service for military use.
An NHS hospital...
In 1948 the hospital became part of the newly formed National Health Service and was renamed St Augustine's Hospital. Together with St Martinís Hospital (the former Canterbury borough asylum), St Augustineís became the responsibility of the Canterbury and Thanet Health Authority. New treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy and psychosurgery were used at the hospital. The hospital achieved a brief moment of fame in 1969 when a nurse, Barbara Bishop, was awarded an MBE after a daring rooftop rescue of a suicidal patient.
In 1972, when the hospital was under the leadership of medical superintendent John Ainslie, a post-doctorate researcher in chemistry from the nearby University of Kent obtained a temporary job as a nursing assistant. William Ankers became concerned about the ill treatment of patients on the long-stay wards and, together with nurse Olleste Weston, took the matter up with the hospital authorities. Their concerns were dismissed, so they produced a detailed critique of the hospital, detailing 70 instances of abuse, neglect and degrading treatment of patients, thus forcing the health authority to set up an inquiry. The inquiry, chaired by J. Hampden Inskip, upheld the majority of the complaints and was critical of senior doctors, nurses, and administrators, but stopped short of advising disciplinary action against any staff. The hospital was particularly criticised for their casual use of electroconvulsive therapy.
Closure and redevelopment...
St Augustine's Hospital was closed in 1993 as part of the community care programme. In 1997 development of the site for housing was begun. A few of the hospital buildings, including the administration block, the water tower, and the chapel, were retained but the rest were demolished. Canterbury City Council suggested that "a change of name would help in creating a new sense of identity", the site is known as St Augustine's Estate.
And October 2011 is where we come in...
We visited what is left of the asylum this autumn with "Sparky" who is a fellow subscriber to the Derelict Places forum. Knowing just how much redevelopment work has gone on here over the past few years we were not expecting particularly much of this site; and perhaps that was the best way to approach it because in reality although what's left is severely trashed it still presents many great photo opportunities - in short it is a prime example of beauty in decay.
All that is left now is a predominantly single story ward complex, and three satellite buildings including a big sports centre which we were unable to get into to photograph. The ward complex roofs are open to the elements all over the place and as a result it is very badly water damaged, though this of course offers some great places for light vs. shade and lots of peely paintwork.
The new village which has been built on most of the grounds of the old hospital is very pretty indeed and they have incorporated both the chapel and the water tower into the build together with many of the original hospital's stone buildings, which have been converted into apartment blocks. The remaining space liberated by the demolition of none-listed and dilapidated buildings, has been used for modern housing which has been designed in a sympathetic manner to blend in with the original architecture. Only the south eastern area of the original hospital site remains at the time of writing and it's interesting to note that it doesn't even show up on the old monochrome piccie of the original hospital shown here at the top of the page. As an educated guess we would surmise that this area was in all likelihood a satellite development rapidly thrown up late in the day with what amounts to pre-fab construction techniques, as a quick fix to an ever increasing requirement for psychiatric beds. It looks very much like it will be demolished equally quickly once they get round to it, in order to make way for the last phase of the housing development. You can see what's left on the Google Earth satellite picture - ABOVE LEFT.
Due to the fact that what little is left standing of the hospital now is extremely derelict it was very difficult indeed to edit our photographs into anything like an accurate chronological record of our explore. That said we have started with the external shots, progressing through lots of decaying interiors, and finally finishing with the burnt out first floor area located at the centre of the ward block complex. There's also a nifty pic of a piano in the worst condition we have ever seen, and a portrait of some weird bloke in a butcher's apron...
But first here is an interactive panorama which you can pan to your hearts content!