St Albans' Own East End

Hill End Hospital


The story of Hill End as an institution begins in 1815 when Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire shared asylum space at Bedford. In the 1850s a new and very large mental asylum was built at Arlesey. The Three Counties Asylum (Huntingdonshire was the third county in the consortium was designed by George Fowler Jones, who included in his specification, what became known as the longest corridor in the country at around half a mile. This alone gives some idea of the size of the collection of connected buildings, largely in white brick.

As part of the modernisation of local government, the Local Government Act of 1888 included a requirement on the new County Councils to take responsibility for lunatics. Now Hertfordshire was to develop its own plans, and the result was Hill End Asylum.

It was located at Hill End, which was close to the population centre of the county and next to a branch railway line with connections to Hatfield, St Albans and Watford.

The name Hill End came from the farm of the same name on which the asylum was built, and was located at the lower end of the ridge or hill extending from Camp Hill eastwards.

The railway company created a siding and track from the main line (now Alban Way) to bring in the millions of bricks required and the 7,000 tons of coal required for heating.

The architect was G T Hine. A London architect and originally from Nottinghamshire, Mr Hine specialised in asylum architecture and won many of the competitions for these buildings. The enormous task of building the Asylum was awarded to Howe and Co of Hartlepool, and was begun in 1897.

A decision was made in 1899 to reserve a plot of 1.5 acres on the boundary as a cemetery. Today it is known as the Garden of Rest. It was laid out outside of the asylum boundary, and over the life of the institution was the burial place of over a thousand patients, and a few staff too.

The public’s most obvious building, as seen from Camp Road east, is the lodge at the main entrance, at the corner of Camp Road and Hill End Lane. This housed the site engineer. Following the drive to the left inside the gates were two further houses. The first, called Hillside, was for the hospital clerk or steward. The medical superintendant lived in the second, named Keeling House.Eight cottages, which would be outside the boundary but on the new perimeter road, were constructed by Mr Redhouse. They housed married members of staff. Completed in the spring of 1899 was a station platform and building to enable staff and visitors to reach the asylum easily.

Hill End Hospital buildings (centre) with London Road and Camp estates (top and right).  Ashley Road industry is bottom right.

Surviving ward block.

St Bartholomew's Teachng Hospital at Hill End, 1939 to 1961.

Surviving lodge house at the junction of Hill End Lane and Camp Road east.

The Garden of Rest.

The former chapel, now converted internally as the Trestle Arts Base.

Houses along Hill End Lane, formerlly named Station Road, first built for some of the hospital staff.

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Centre of the County's mental care

Now here is an intriguing account. Mr John T Patience, of Popefield Farm (near the Smallford crossroads), but who also farmed fields to the east of Hill End and owned butchery shops in St Albans, complained that a blocked drain somewhere was throwing water onto his land. The “blocked drain” which Mr Patience thought must be the cause of an abnoxious smell, was, in fact, part of the asylum’s method of dealing with the sewerage from the buildings, something which does not seem to have been thought through very well. The effluent from the various downpipes was allowed to flow out onto the fields of the estate, someone being employed to move, what must have been a flexible pipe, to avoid a build-up of solid matter. This ad-hoc arrangement remained in use for some time and an ongoing correspondence about the smelly topic appeared in the Herts Advertiser. Later, tanks and filter beds were constructed between the recreation grounds of the estate and the Hixbury Road boundary. Today Earthworks and the allotments occupy the former sewage works.

New farm buildings were set up in Tyttenhanger Green Lane (now called Highfield Lane). The unit came to be called Home Farm and was only demolished in 2009 for the Tillage Close housing development. The collection of farm buildings included a patients’ block, as an alternative to the general wards. Members of staff, mainly a cowman and a carter, lived in Beastneys farm homestead. The Home Farm buildings were provided with thatched roofs, and it is recorded that they were re-thatched in 1923.

Ever since 1899 when it opened, it had been known officially as Hill End Asylum. In the 1920s it was renamed Hill End Mental Hospital, given that asylum was no longer an appropriate label for the work which the institution carried out. This was followed by a further name change in 1933, to Hill End Hospital for Mental and Nervous Disorders. Here the previous name has been further shortened on the existing panel.

By far the biggest upheaval in the hospital’s history occured in 1939. Under government emergency regulations the four main London teaching hospitals were to be relocated to Home Counties’ sites in the Emergency Medical Services scheme (EMS). In preparation for the transfer of St Bartholomew’s hospital from the City of London to St Albans, the existing patients were

moved out. 302 patients were moved to Wallingford; 316 transferred more locally to Napsbury; the Three Counties Hospital at Arlsey, Bedfordshire accepted 346; and 198 patients moved to Leicestershire and Rutland Mental Hospital, Narborough. A number of the nursing staff accompanied these movements. The last of Barts’ departments returned to the City of London in 1961, leaving Hill End to return to its former role of mental care.

A change in national policy towards mental care, from large institutions to smaller facilities within the wider community, enabled Hill End Hospital to finally close in 1995.

The former parkland surrounding the hospital is retained and is in the care of Highfield Park Trust. A new residential community, Highfield, has been created on the footprint of the former hospital buildings, although two of the original ward blocks were retained.

When opened it was known as Hill End Asylum; in the 1920s renamed Hill End Mental Hospital; in 1933 to Hill End Hospital for Mental and Nervous Disorders; and finally simplified to Hill End Hospital.

St Albans' Own East End