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Prestwich Hospital

Prestwich Hospital & Annex (1986)

In 1845 the Lunacy/Lunatics Act was passed by Parliament, this built upon the County Asylums Acts of 1808 and 1828 and aimed to address concerns over the administration of Asylums, ensuring they were registered and monitored, and that they also employ a resident physician. The Act also removed any access to the courts for those that were admitted.

Along with the County Asylums Act of the same year, these acts set the standard for Mental Healthcare in England for the next century.

Prestwich Wood 1844

Rev Nathaniel Milne had purchased the estate from the Crompton family in 1776 and his son Oswald Milne, solicitor, sold 59 acres of land in Prestwich Wood for £11,412-4s-5d in 1847 (£1.5m today). This paved the way for the construction of the 2nd Lancashire County Asylum, after the first, which was built in Lancaster, became full. Ultimately there were to be six Lancashire Mental Hospitals.

The hospital gave rise to the local saying "going to Prestwich" which means going mad.

The Cromptons of Prestwich Wood
Prestwich Wood was the name of a large house that stood on Wash Lane (now Clifton Lane). The abode was first recorded in 1652, and was owned by Thomas Crompton Gent. until his death in 1776.

The Cromptons had purchased 70 hectares of land after the township of Pilkington (and the land of Pilkington Park) was split following the English Civil Wars, as a result of it's owners the Stanley family choosing to fight for the King. The Cromptons developed the land, and at this period it became known as The Park, with an early burial of Thomas Crompton "o'th'Parke" buried at St Mary's in June 1717. The remaining park land is now referred to as Philips Park

John Travis of Prestwich Wood
The gravestone of John Travis, a Whitster, at St Mary's in 1850, has been cut & reused into the pathway near the tower of the Church. John and his son John, both died in 1824. The stone records that John was of "Prestwich Clough" however the burial record shows they lived at Prestwich Wood. Prestwich Clough was his workplace, which he must have been proud of to have recorded on his stone.

John Travis slab (dates from 1824)

John was recorded as running one of the oldest dyeworks in Prestwich, at Prestwich Clough, dating to 1762. He was also a Church Warden at St Mary's.

Read more about Prestwich Clough at Prestwich Clough House

Century House, The Superintendent's House.

With the Parliamentary Acts setting out Mental Health Provision for the next century, it was fitting that the first building on the Asylum site was called Century House. It was designed by Isaac Holden, resident and architect of Prestwich Park, who had also entered a design for the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Hospital for Mental and Nervous Diseases in the USA.

The first Superintendent was Mr J Holland and was to stay in the position for 20 years. The Asylum received 350 patients, referred from the Workhouse, when it opened on 3rd Jan 1851.

The first male patient admitted to the hospital that day was Matthew Holmes, a 26 year old tailor from Ireland, and a Roman Catholic. He also lived in the Asylum for 20 years, until his death in 1871. Matthew was placed in an unmarked paupers grave at St Mary's Church in Prestwich.

For the year 1851-1852, the records show that 428 inmates had been accepted, 55 had died (31 were male), 67 were cured (15.65%) and 2 had escaped. On the first of January 1852 there were 302 inmates in the Asylum.

The inmates were put to work

The Asylum expanded in 1853 bringing its capacity to 500.

The layout of the Asylum originally faced West and its main entrance was via a gateway and lodge on Wash Lane (Clifton Road).The gateway arches have long since gone, but the lodge house still stands today).

Wash Lane Lodge

In 1863/4 the Asylum was extended to accommodate a further 560 patients, and then 20 years later, due to a smallpox outbreak, Clifton House (the Annex) was built at the bottom of Wash Lane (1.2km away from the main hospital). The Annex originally treated 860 female patients, but had capacity for 1,100. By 1875 the hospital covered nearly 100 acres.

Read More about the History of Prestwich Hospital at Terry Wilson's Website

With the government paying 4s per head, the Workhouses had transferred many of their inmates to the Asylums, and it was illegal to keep a more dangerous inmate at a workhouse for more than 14 days, thus by 1903 the Asylum had accommodation for 2,600 patients and totalled 3,135 inmates and staff (with families) living on the estate, making it the largest such institution in Europe.

Century House, The Superintendent's House.

As you would expect, several sad and violent events involving inmates are recorded in the news papers over the decades. In 1882 an inmate had died after being hit over the head with a broom by another inmate, in 1879 an inmate was killed after being hit over the head with a bar whilst moving timber in the hay shed, 1887 one inmate strangled another seemingly tired of his victim calling for coffee throughout the night. In 1889 another inmate had been suffocated, and in 1896 a recently released inmate was found attempting to sacrifice cattle in a field in Cheshire.

A then & now mash up of the main hospital site

The overall running of the asylum was overseen by the Medical Superintendent. The asylum had only three Medical Superintendents in its first 75 years, each giving at least two decades of loyal service: Mr J Holland (1851-1871), Mr H Rooke Ley (1871-1905) who was fundamental to introducing reforms, and Mr Frank Perceval.

Contrary to popular impression, being admitted to the Asylum was not just a one-way journey, with records for 1899-1900 showing that an average of 47% of admissions recovered and were discharged sane. By 1903 a third of admissions since 1851 had been restored to health and sanity. The death rate of inmates was recorded as 6.57% in 1901, with none of them suffering from bed sores at their time of death, something Dr Hooke Ley the new Superintendent, was very proud of. The Asylum now covered 199 acres.

The Asylum's operation was impacted both with staff going off to fight in the war, and also by receiving inmates from Winwick & Whittingham Asylums, when they became War Hospitals causing inmates to be dispersed throughout Lancashire.

Red Cross Hospitals of Prestwich
The Hon Mrs Vivienne Cawley (to give her full title) of Brooklands was Commandant Of The East Lancs Red Cross Hospitals, and was in charge of Polefield Hall and Langley House and Sedgley New Hall during WWI.

Some soldiers that came back from the War were also admitted in to the Asylum with "shell shock" symptoms, suffering from nervousness, hallucinations and muscle spasms. At least fourteen WWI soldiers out of twenty nine who are buried in St Mary's Churchyard and commemorated by CWGC headstones, died in the Asylum. It is suspected many more soldiers died after the 1921 cut off date for such headstones and lie in unmarked pauper graves. A check of the 1939 register on the eve of WWII shows 97 inmates of WWI service age listed as "ex-soldier" still being treated at Prestwich Hospital.

Just some of the 45 CWGC Headstones at St Mary's

During WWI the asylum employed a medical officer called Montagu Lomax and in 1921 he published a book ‘The Experiences of an Asylum Doctor’ based on his time at Prestwich. The allegations he made caused quite a stir and led to a Royal Inquiry and a reform of mental health. The Reforms aimed (amongst other things) to reduce each hospital to only 1,000 patients and to rethink mental health treatment in the 20th century. In 1922/3 the Lancashire County Lunatic Asylum was renamed Prestwich Mental Hospital.

Montagu Lomax's 266 page book

However on the eve of WWII, the Register of 1939 recorded 1,179 males and 1,460 females, giving a total of 2,639 inmates. Providing their care were 6 Male Medical Officers, 9 Matrons, 40 male mental nurses and 144 female mental nurses.

Ex-soldier inmates of 1939

In addition, the Hospital employed people in other roles such as cooking, housekeeping, plumbing and farming, including their families this totalled 152 other people living at the Hospital.

The Second World War brought about the requisitioning of part of the hospital for war casualties under the Emergency Medical Services Scheme. This scheme employed doctors and nurses to care for those injured by enemy action and arranged for their treatment across the range of local and charity hospitals that existed at that time.

After a brief return to ownership of the LMHC, the hospital was transferred to the new National Health Service in 1948.

By 1956 the hospital had swollen yet further to accommodate 3,029 inmates, but by 1967 it had dropped to 2,101. It reduced further in 1983, dropping to just 1,478 inmates. At that time it was still the 2nd largest Mental Hospital.

An account of burial practices (1949-1963)

The Hospital had it's own Chapel, but without a burial ground, the dead were transported to St Mary's Church.

The Asylum Chapel

Pauper burials of the patients continued at St Mary's at least until 1968, with about 5,300 patient burials (and some staff) in total, placed mainly in unmarked pauper graves. There are records showing of six unrelated individuals to a single grave, but I have heard stories of ten. There are also individual plots scattered around the churchyard with Asylum burials within them.

A map showing the Asylum & Hospital burial areas

A memorial was erected in 2006, to give a focus for families, and the church annually reads out all the names in a special service. You can see a news article about the memorial at St Mary's Churchyard Action Group

The later Entrance

The 20th century entrance to the Hospital was via a lodge house and driveway that led to an imposing Clock tower. The tower had originally been built as a water tower and its location is now a hospital car park.

Following the introduction of Care in the Community in the early 1980s, the hospital went into a period of decline and closed to long-term patients in 1996. There is still a low secure unit on site managed by the Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust.

The Site of Tesco

The lawns facing Bury New Road were sold off and a Tesco Supermarket was built on the site. The School of Nursing (Thornhill House) was demolished and is now the site of a KFC drive through. More recently a housing estate has been built on the site of F Block & Chadwick House.

Thornhill School of Nursing

Read More about the History of Prestwich Hospital at Terry Wilson's Website

There are some oral histories from the hospital recorded in the 1990's. An extract is online here: (not my site)

Daily Life in a Psychiatric Hospital

Read a nurse's story of working at the Hospital in the 1970's here