Today is World Mental Health Day – a time to reflect on the progress we have made in this area, as well as huge task still to come of relieving the suffering of millions who have to live with mental illness across the globe.
The Victorians were very interested in the subject and one of the most famous mental health institutions was built locally, The Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum, on Colney Hatch Lane. It was huge – a 119 acre site, conveniently close to the new Great Northern Railway, so that bulk supplies such as coal could easily be brought in. Prince Albert, who was very keen to support any modernising project, laid the foundation stone in 1849 and the new institution opened in November 1850 – a record breaking 19 months construction time.
The original cost of the Italianate-style building, with its ventilation towers and central cupola, had been estimated at £150,000, but, perhaps predictably, turned out to cost double that. At £240 per bed it was the most expensive asylum ever built. It was also the longest – 1884 feet (about 600 metres). Within the buildings were six miles of corridors – a statistic which still draws breath today. The estate had its own water supply and it own farm of 75 acres, on which many of the patients were employed. It also had its own cemetery (which was in use until 1873) and a chapel.
The Asylum was enlarged on several occasions, both its buildings and grounds, but the sheer number of inmates caused many logistical problems. By 1856 the 1500 inhabitants were producing 100,000 gallons of sewage daily, which was distributed over the site. This untreated effluent flowed into Pymmes Brook and ended up in Southgate. Following complaints from the local residents the Asylum was forced to install proper sewage works, but by 1880 conditions were very poor and the staff struggled to cope with so many patients. The inevitable happened and Colney Hatch began to have a terrible reputation – the place entering the language in the same way another Asylum had, Bedlam.
The term Asylum was dropped in 1930 and it was renamed Colney Hatch Mental Hospital, when the Mental Health Act of that year deemed it undignified.
By 1937 there were 2,700 people living here – and the name finally changed to Friern Mental Hospital to try and obviate the negative connotations of the old The war years were obviously very difficult: there was a severe shortage of staff and overcrowding of patients. By 1944 the Hospital had 2557 beds for mental patients and 746 EMS beds. In 1948 the Hospital became part of the NHS but criticism of overcrowding and poor staffing ratios beleaguered the hospital until it finally was closed down in 1987. It has since been developed as the residential site, Princess Park Manor.
My thanks to the following website for providing much of the information in this post. Do click on the link if you would like to read the more detailed story: http://ezitis.myzen.co.uk/friern.html