A '˜lunatic asylum' with strict rules and regulations
To mark the 70th anniversary of the National Health Service this week, here at Looking Back we have been delving through the archives and found some fantastic pictures of the old Hellingly Hospital.
Originally called the County Lunatic Asylum, the hospital was built on 400 acres of woodland at Park Farm and opened on July 20 1903 at a total cost of £353,400 for 1,260 patients.
Patients, staff and visitors were transported to the site along with coal and stores on the Asylum branch line from Hellingly Railway Station.
Firm rules of conduct governed the staff and their relations with the patients. Nurses and attendants were summarily dismissed or asked to resign. The most common offences were being asleep or drunk on duty. A strict view was taken of any harsh treatment of patients and striking a patient was invariably dealt with severely.
There has never been a wall around the hospital and escapes have occurred almost every year.
In 1905 a man climbed over a fence, knocked down a pursuing attendant, and made his way to his father’s house in Battle where he was apprehended. The next year a woman attended the patients’ annual fancy dress ball and managed to slip away and was found in Eastbourne the next morning.
In its formative years the hospital had two padded cells and one half pad, mainly for confused patients. They were not in use after the 1950s.
The hospital later became the East Sussex County Mental Hospital but with the formation of the NHS in 1948 was renamed Hellingly Hospital.
In 1954 Largactil, the first tranquilliser, appeared and at last patients could be eased of their symptoms without being made comatose.
Schizophrenic patients’ outlook improved and the hospital was one of the first to use Lithium therapy for manic patients.
In 1956 there were 1,493 patients and it was overcrowded. A Dr David Rice took over and he set about reducing the number of beds, and making the wards more colourful and attractive.
In 1957 the Staff Social Club was opened and in 1959 Amberstone Hospital opened within the grounds for acutely–ill patients with a “good outlook who would have no contact with patients whose illness was of long standing or who were seriously disturbing”.
During the mid 1980s, Hellingly was chosen as one of five mental hospital sites in the south east of England to accommodate a medium secure unit, known as Ashen Hill, and located to the east of the main buildings.
Despite these developments, patient numbers were already declining and the entire main building was vacated and closed in 1994.
After closure, most of the buildings fell into rapid decline, suffering from arson, vandalism and theft.
By 2003 the site had become popular with urban explorers who came to document the vast abandoned complex.
In mid 2010, work began to clear the site for new housing. Only a few of the original buildings now remain, although the Ashen Hill secure unit continued to operate on site until early 2012.
Another low secure unit is on the site known as Southview which was opened in 1995.
The new medium secure unit, known as the Hellingly Centre, opened in April 2012, with 46 beds split between three wards at a cost of £17.5 million.