Cane Hill Asylum Coulsdon – 26/12/2008

Cane Hill was a psychiatric hospital in Coulsdon in the London Borough of Croydon. (grid reference TQ291587) Built to handle patients unable to attend the Springfield and Brookwood Asylums, both of which were filled to capacity, it opened in 1882 as the Third Surrey County Lunatic Asylum. Following a gradual winding down of operations, it closed all but its secure unit in late 1991. It formerly housed up to 2,000 patients, but with Care in the Community and modern medication and sectioning laws, it was heavily underused by the time of its closure. The secure unit moved into what had been the Coulsdon Cottage Hospital building run by asylum. In 2006 it held 23 patients and was run by the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust (SLaM). It closed in February 2008, with the patients and staff being transferred to other hospitals in the SLaM group.

The main buildings on the site were designed by Charles Henry Howell and built on a hill-top overlooking Coulsdon and Farthing Downs. It opened in two phases, in 1882 and in 1888.

Due to their immense size and relatively undamaged state, they became extremely popular among urban explorers in the 1990s. Fire and structural damage and increased security have reduced its popularity in the UK urban exploration scene recently. In recent years the interior of the buildings have deteriorated greatly. Damage and lack of maintenance has caused rot and water damage to the wooden floors, causing collapse in many of the out-lying buildings. The water tower of the asylum still houses a low-power analogue television repeater belonging to National Grid Wireless. This is now powered by a diesel generator, since there is no longer any mains power supplied to the site after the switchgear was destroyed following an arson attack.

There have been proposals to re-develop the site as a housing estate or a business or science park, and plans to convert some of the buildings into a modern medium-security hospital. However, the hospital is in the middle of the London green belt, so there have been lengthy delays and discussions about the exact nature of any re-development plans. This problem afflicts many former psychiatric hospitals in the UK, as they were often sited on land on the edge of towns in semi-rural areas that are now protected against unrestricted development. West Park Hospital in Epsom is still derelict for the same reasons.

During its lengthy operation, a number of notable patients passed through the hospital, including the mother of Charlie Chaplin, and brothers of Michael Caine and David Bowie. The original cover of The Man Who Sold The World by Bowie features the administration block of the hospital. The hospital’s motto was Aversos Compono Animos, which translates to ‘I bring relief to troubled minds’.

The hospital buildings are not listed. English Heritage first considered the buildings as part of their Thematic Review of Hospital Buildings in the 1990s, but listing was not granted. Croydon’s Planning Brief for Cane Hill of March 1998 suggested the retention and re-use of the Administration Block and Chapel but the buildings were not on the local list nor was any part of the site considered a Conservation Area. An attempt to list the buildings again in 2006 failed; it did have local interest (in particular the Administration Block and the Chapel) but better examples of early echelon asylums exist. Cane Hill is not an early echelon asylum; it is a unique example of a transitional type, best described as “Radiating Pavilion”.

In 2006, Hipposcope Films starting filming a documentary about the history of the asylum. The site’s owners, English Partnerships, who purchased the site in April 2007, have given permission for Hipposcope to access Cane Hill. Filming inside the asylum is due to start soon.

Three of us from Sheffield paid a visit on 26/12/2008 of course we was asked to leave by the friendly security having only been there 20 mins, a round trip of over 450 miles but we had done it then onto Battersea Power Station, only to be stoped by The Police..

Here are some images:

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