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History of Shenley Hospital

 

Selling of Porters Park to Middlesex County Council

Mr Raphael (who owned Porters Park at that time) sold the house and land to Middlesex County Council in 1924 for the purpose of building a Mental Hospital. Several years later, two psychiatric hospitals were built on the land. The design was such that as many of the existing buildings as possible were incorporated, including the mansion, the walled garden, stables and coach houses.

Shenley Hospital was one of two new Hospitals built by Middlesex County Council in the 1930's on the former Porters Park Estate. The Council already had two mental hospitals, a Victorian institution in Wandsworth and Napsbury Hospital in London Colney, near St.Albans. Napsbury Hospital had been extended but this was not enough to care for patients from the old London Boroughs of Harrow, Wembley, Acton, Willesden and parts of NW2, NW6, NW9 and NW10. The site at Shenley was chosen because of its proximity to both the Middlesex Boundary and Radlett Station for access from London. King George V and Queen Mary officially opened the hospital in 1934. During the Second World War, part of the hospital was used as a military hospital, with three thousand wounded soldiers being treated there.

Building of the Hospital

Although the Council had acquired Porters Park for the building of a Hospital there was much agonising over how it should be built to the point that the project was nearly abandoned. However the need for a Hospital was too great so eventually a scaled down version was built. The Hospital at Shenley was of 1000 beds and administration buildings, building work commenced in 1932 by John Laing the total cost of the project being £520,000.

A second Hospital (also built by John Laing) was at Harperbury - " A colony for Mental Defectives". This second Hospital began being built in 1935 and was completed in 1938 providing a total of 2300 beds. Part of Harperbury Hospital is still functional today, the parts no longer in use are to be converted into housing.

Opening of the Hospital

Shenley Hospital was opened on 31st May, 1934 by King George V and Queen Mary. The ceremony took place in the recreation hall that seated 1000 people.

The King and Queen were received by the Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, Brigadier General Viscount Hampden, in a marquee in front of the Mansion House before proceeding to the Hall for a ceremony. Afterwards the King and Queen made a tour of the Hospital and expressed their pleasure at all they had seen.

The War Years

At the outbreak of the Second World War many of the patients were discharged as the country prepared itself to recieve war casualties from both military and civilian. Half of the Hospital was taken over by Military and Civilian nurses who were housed in the Mansion. The Hospital maintained its separate identity however, apart from the Medical Superintendent who lived in Porterslees and was the Colonel in Chief of the local territorial unit.

One physical reminder of the war can still be seen today, the gun emplacement at the edge of the cricket nursery ground alongside Radlett Lane.

The Hospital did suffer some bomb damage but not serious. Two land mines were dropped during September of 1940, one exploded just outside the Hospital grounds and the other failed to explode because its parachute became entangled in a tree near the boiler house.

An underground water reservoir was built above Gardeners Cottage at the edge of the Walled Garden as an emergency water supply in case of fire. The tank remains today, is rainwater fed and is used to irrigate the Walled Garden on a drip feed system.

Shenley Hospital - a new type of treatment

Shenley Hospital was built at a time of a fundamental change in attitude to the treatment of the mentally ill.

It was designed on a villa system where patients were housed in more homely units of between 20 and 45 people in a Parkland Environment. Although Shenley strived to be modern it still retained some traditional ideas. The Hospital had a central axis which housed the administration, medical treatment units and domestic units with male and female accomodation to the East and West respectively. In the early days the two sides were kept separate with high iron railings surrounding the wards and a "policing system" in place.

However in the 1950's nursing attitudes changed with the nurses themselves encouraged to hold conversations with the patients together with teaching them simple tasks. The railings were removed and the doors unlocked.

Patients became engaged in agricultural and horitcultural duties as part of their therapy. The Walled Garden continued to be a provider of most of the fruit and vegetables for the kitchens. Patients also worked in 22 acres of Orchards that were situated around the Estate and at the Farms that were situated down Black Lion Hill.

Some patients were involved in the construction of additional units that were used as occupational therapy for other patients to learn carpentry, cookery and arts and crafts. At one time over 60 patients were employed in the Hospital laundry before the introduction of modern machinery in the 1960's.

There was an industrial unit where patients were employed on outwork for local industries. Another unit trained patients in clerical work, together with maintaining skills of those already trained, ready for when they re-joined the community.

Shenley was one of the first hospitals in the country to introduced mixed dances for staff and patients and coach trips to places of interest were also introduced.

 

Staff and Social Facilities

Some of the hospital facilities were used by both patients and staff. However there were additional facilities for staff alone which included an art centre, a socail club, cricket ground, football pitch and squash courts. The cricket team in particular was the best hospital team in the London Hospital Area. In the 1960's and 70's the social club was at the heart of all of hte social facilities for the Hospital. There was something on alomost every night and it holds many fond memories for people that not only worked at the Hospital but also lived in the village. During the 1990's when staff numbers had fallen through the gradual closure of the Hospital the use of the Club itself declined and it eventually closed in 1994. On the site of the former social club there is now the Orchard Tea Room which was built in 2000.

 

The closure of the Hospital

In 1953 at its prime Shenley Hospital housed 2,300 patients, however after this period there was a shift away from Insitutionalised care and the number of patients began to fall. In the mid 1970's there were 1400 patients and by 1986 it was down to 900. The policy of "care in the community" was further developed in the 1980's with the belief that patients would benefit from being cared for in smaller hostels or sheltered accomodation closer to their own communities. By the end of 1998 the last of the patients were moved out and the Hospital finally closed after 60 years of service.

It was then sold off to property developers for housing. As a gift to the people of the village of Shenley and its neighbouring parishes land was set aside for a Park to be created, see History of Shenley Park.

There were many ways in which The Hospital affected the lives of those who lived in and around Shenley. It is important to keep the History of the Hospital alive and this we intend to do. Over time these pages will be updated and added to, when we know that we have the correct information.

If you have anything that you would like to share with us and this website please contact us. We are especially keen on any photographs of the Walled Garden area and the greenhouses. With your permission the photographs would be scanned and then returned to you. Please contact us if you think you have anything that you think that we could use.