Severalls Psychiatric Hospital,
We have been hoping to do this place for a long, long time being as it is one of the few remaining big Victorian asylums still in anything like decent condition, and let's face it, compared to Whittingham it's positively luxurious! Anyhow a window of opportunity appeared in the summer of 2012 so we set off at stupid o' clock to get in. Three 10 foot paling fences later and we were wandering around the south-east quarter looking for a route into the corridors. Once inside we were not disappointed because this place goes on forever and is stunning!
A little bit of history...
Severalls Psychiatric Hospital is located in Colchester in Essex and was originally known as 'the second County of Essex Lunatic Asylum'. Built in 1910 to the 'Echelon Plan', it was designed by the renowned architect Frank Whitmore - LEFT . Construction was completed and the hospital formally opened in May 1913. The Echelon Plan is a design concept whereby wards, offices and services within a hospital are interconnected by corridors which means that the staff and patients do not have to venture outdoors in inclement weather.
The 300-acre site - RIGHT - housed some 2000 patients and like most other mental institutions of the Victorian and Edwardian periods the patients were strictly segregated according to their gender. Additional accommodation villas were constructed around the main hospital buildings between 1910 and 1935 as the hospital expanded. Most of the original buildings were designed in the Queen Anne style which was fairly typical at that time, with few architectural embellishments. The most ornate buildings at Severalls are the Administration block, Larch House and Severalls House which was originally the Medical Superintendent's residence.
Psychiatry throughout the twentieth century has had a rather chequered history and many seemingly barbaric procedures and experiments were carried out on patients through the years in the name of research. Electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) was extremely fashionable for some time and the use of invasive surgical procedures such as frontal lobotomies also had it's period of infamy until more progressive and humane doctors saw it for what it really was and discouraged its further use. Drug therapy was used extensively in the aftermath of the surgical era, indeed it was common practice to dope patients up to the point where they were little more than zombies - the logic was that a placid patient is far less demanding on staff time and attention. Sadly though many of the patients admitted to Severalls were not classically 'insane' or even remotely mentally unwell - it was common practise for young women to be admitted by their own families as a result of having illegitimate children, often following rape. Some of these sad individuals were even subjected to ECT and lobotomies.
Following the sweeping reforms of the mental health care system instigated by Enoch Powell MP which ultimately reached it's logical conclusion with the current 'Care in the Community" program, the mental hospitals began to be progressively closed down and Severalls was no exception. By 1990 very little of the site was occupied, the exception being a small area which remained open until 20th. March, 1997, for the treatment of elderly patients suffering from the effects of serious strokes etc. The hospital was finally abandoned in 1997 and stood in limbo for years inevitably being subject to wanton vandalism. In 2005 the recreation hall was badly damaged by an arson attack and subsequently had to be demolished.
Fairly recently demolition work has begun upon the site - in December 2010 a new junction on the A12 road was opened not far from Colchester United Football Club's stadium, which involved part of the former hospital farm being built over. A new link road is also in the process of being built which will pass over the area of the site where Iris House once stood and onwards through Fernholme Villa before crossing the sports ground to join a road situated at the north of the site. Once completed this road will make complete re-development viable across most of the hospital grounds but a delay of several months occurred when those most highly respected friends of the urbexer - bats - were found to be roosting in Fernholme Villa, and no further work could be carried out until they had been re-homed! In May 2011 Colchester Borough Council granted planning approval for the construction of 248 new homes on the site and in November 2011 demolition work finally began on Fernholme Villa. At the present time (summer 2012) it is not known which of the existing hospital buildings will be retained, apart from the Administration block which is Grade 2 listed. It has been proposed that the main ward blocks will be converted into luxury apartments much as has happened at many other former asylum sites, and the water tower will be retained because it is such a striking visual feature and considered to be an important historic landmark.
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