Cane Hill Hospital

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Cane Hill in 2005 (some years after it had mostly closed)

Cane Hill Hospital was a psychiatric hospital in Coulsdon in the London Borough of Croydon. The site is owned by GLA Land and Property.

Design and construction[edit]

The main buildings at Cane Hill were designed by Charles Henry Howell, consultant architect to the Commissioners in Lunacy and built on a hill-top site overlooking Coulsdon and Farthing Downs. The hospital opened in two phases, in 1882 and in 1888 as the Third Surrey County Lunatic Asylum.


The first superintendent, James Moody, was knighted for his psychiatric work and, following his death in 1915, he was succeeded by Dr George Lilly who retired in 1949.

The hospital took in a large number of discharged mentally ill servicemen during World War I, the earliest patient recorded being admitted in 1915 but later discharged to another hospital in 1923. Records for nearly 40 such service patients – some of whom died and were interred in the hospital cemetery – have been found.[1]

In the post-World War II period, Cane Hill's superintendent for twenty-three years was the eminent psychiatrist Dr Alexander Walk (1901–1982). Walk was renowned for his scholarship and was an authority on the history of British psychiatry.


By the late 1980s the number of patients had greatly declined, largely due to the recommendations of the Mental Health Act (1983) with its emphasis on care in the community. Following a gradual winding down of hospital services and operations, the entire hospital with the exception of a small secure unit had closed by late 1991. The secure unit moved into what had been the Coulsdon Cottage Hospital: in 2006 it held 23 patients and was run by the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM). The unit closed in February 2008, with the patients and staff being transferred to the River House, a new Medium Secure Unit at Bethlem Royal Hospital.

Listing proposals and demolition[edit]

Cane Hill water tower in 2014, after the hospital was demolished

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s there were many proposals to re-develop the site including plans for a new housing estate, a business or science park, or to convert some of the buildings into a new medium-security psychiatric hospital. However, because the hospital was in the middle of the London green belt, there were lengthy delays and discussions about the exact nature of any re-development plans.

The hospital buildings were not listed. English Heritage first considered the buildings as part of their Thematic Review of Hospital Buildings in the 1990s, but listing was not granted. Croydon's planning brief for Cane Hill of March 1998 suggested the retention and re-use of the administration block and chapel but the buildings were not on the local list nor was any part of the site considered a conservation area. An attempt to list the buildings again in 2006 failed; it "did have local interest (in particular the administration block and the chapel)" but "better examples of early echelon asylums exist". However this statement remains controversial as Cane Hill was not, in fact, an early echelon plan asylum but rather a unique example of a transitional plan, best described as "Radiating Pavilion".

Demolition of Cane Hill started in March 2008 and was completed by the end of 2010. Only the chapel, administration building and water tower remained. A few buildings outside of the main fence remained, most notably the cottage hospital/secure unit. As of January 2015, the chapel and water tower are still standing with only part of the facade of the administration building.

2010 fire[edit]

On 13 November 2010 a fire took hold in the administration block and went on to destroy all but the front facade of the building. The fire also destroyed the iconic clock tower. At about midnight, firefighters saw the clocktower crash to the ground in the blaze. The fire had been started in the basement of the building, draughting its way up through the ground and first floors before finally destroying the roof. Along with the clock tower, the fire destroyed many of the exterior masonry walls, rendering the building in a state of imminent collapse.

Housing development[edit]

In October 2015, David Wilson Homes advertised the site as "New Development Coming To Coulsdon."[citation needed]

Hospital cemetery[edit]

The hospital had a cemetery on Portnalls Road for inmates which was last used for burials in September 1950 and was deconsecrated and cleared at the hospital site's redevelopment in 1981 when remains of nearly 6,000 people were exhumed and cremated at Croydon Cemetery in Mitcham Road.[2] Among the remains were those of British First World War servicemen, who were known to have had separate areas in the cemetery where they had been originally buried with military honours.[2] Research from plans indicated there were two designated main 'Service Plots', numbered 411 and 420, where six were buried in each grave.[1] Eighteen of these, who had qualified for commemoration by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC),[3] are commemorated on a memorial the CWGC erected in Croydon Cemetery, where their ashes had been scattered at 'Location 1000' in the grounds, in 2015.[4][2]


A book about the asylum was published in 2010. This is Cane Hill Hospital: the tower on the hill, by Pam Buttrey. She is an occupational therapist who helped to close the hospital.[citation needed] The book drew on archives in the Croydon Local Archives and the London Metropolitan Archives.


  1. ^ a b [1] Surrey in the Great War, online article, 'The forgotten servicemen of Cane Hill', posted 2015 by Imogen Middleton, text by Brian Roote.
  2. ^ a b c [2][permanent dead link]The Croydon Citizen, 'In memory of the soldiers of Cane Hill', online article by Sean Creighton, Thursday 27 August 2015.
  3. ^ Those who qualified for CWGC commemoration would have died before 31 August 1921 of causes officially attributed to effects of military service. This would not include any who died of unrelated causes or died after that date.
  4. ^ [3] CWGC Cemetery Report, Croydon Crematorium.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°18′46″N 0°08′57″W / 51.31278°N 0.14906°W / 51.31278; -0.14906