Royal Earlswood Hospital

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Coordinates: 51°13′22″N 0°10′01″W / 51.222761°N 0.166980°W / 51.222761; -0.166980

The main building, now called Victoria Court
Royal Earlswood Hospital c.1854

The Royal Earlswood Hospital or The Royal Earlswood Asylum for Idiots in Redhill, Surrey, was the first establishment to cater specifically for people with developmental disabilities.[1] Previously they had been housed either in asylums for the mentally ill or in workhouses.


Around 1847, Ann Serena Plumbe took an interest in the plight of the learning disabled, or "idiots" as they were termed at the time, and began to discuss what could be done to assist them. In discussion with Dr John Conolly (of the Hanwell Asylum) and Rev Dr Andrew Reed (a philanthropist and founder of several orphanages) they determined to educate such people.[citation needed]

In the spring of 1847 Reed toured Europe to gather information on institutions serving the purpose, and in October the project to found the Asylum began. Lord Palmerston, Baron Rothschild and Lord Ashley became officers of the charity.

In 1848 a building was purchased and the first patients admitted. This building, Park House at Highgate, quickly proved to be too small and a new building was commissioned. Several designs were submitted in competition and a Mr. Moffat's was chosen. The builder was John Jay of London Wall, whose varied work included substantial railway construction contracts, rebuilding the Houses of Parliament after the 1833 fire, and smaller architect-designed projects such as the Abney Park Chapel and Trinity Independent Chapel. The building was entirely financed by public subscription and Queen Victoria subscribed 250 guineas in the name of Edward Prince of Wales, who became a life member. Prince Albert took a special interest from the beginning. He laid the foundation stone in June 1853 and opened the Asylum in June 1855. In 1862 Queen Victoria conferred a Royal Charter on the asylum.

John Langdon Down (after whom Down's syndrome was named) was medical superintendent of the hospital from 1855 to 1868. At this time patients slept in fifteen-bed dormitories and there was one member of staff to each seven patients. Tuberculosis accounted for the majority of deaths in the institution.[2]

Patients were taught manual trades such as carpentry, printing and brush-making, as well as domestic, garden and farm duties.

On 5 July 1958 the hospital ceased to be a charitable trust and was absorbed into the National Health Service.

A notable inmate was James Henry Pullen who carved wonderful works of art and built detailed models, including one of Brunel's ship Great Eastern.

For several decades, Katherine and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon, who were nieces of the Queen Mother and first cousins of HM The Queen, lived in the hospital.[citation needed]

The hospital closed in 1997, as part of the Government's long-term plan to transfer the care of people with learning disabilities into the community, and was converted into apartments: the development is called Royal Earlswood Park.

A number of the buildings are listed buildings: the main building,[1] the workshop[3] and the gate lodges[4]

The Royal Earlswood Museum[edit]

The Royal Earlswood Museum was located the Belfry Shopping Centre nearby in Redhill. It illustrated the history and development of the asylum and contained works of James Henry Pullen (1835–1916). The museum is now closed and in 2012 its collections and artefacts were donated to the Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disability in Teddington, Richmond upon Thames.[5][6] The museum's archives are located in the Surrey History Centre in Woking.[7][8]

Further reading[edit]

David Wright, Mental Disability in Victorian England: The Earlswood Asylum, 1847-1901 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001)

Anne Lea, Royal Earlswood: A History (ISBN 095506130X, 9780955061301)


  1. ^ a b The main building at English Heritage
  2. ^ Article from Archives of Disease in Childhood
  3. ^ The workshop at English Heritage
  4. ^ The lodges at English Heritage
  5. ^ "Royal Earlswood Hospital donates arts to Down's Syndrome Association". Building Better Healthcare. January 25, 2012. Retrieved 23 March 2015. 
  6. ^ "Hospital memories get new home". Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. Retrieved 23 March 2015. 
  7. ^ "The Royal Earlswood Asylum, Redhill". Exploring Surrey's Past. Retrieved 23 March 2015. 
  8. ^ "Surrey History Centre". Surrey County Council. Retrieved 23 March 2015. 

External links[edit]