Severalls Hospital

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Severalls Hospital
Severalls Hospital (also known as the Second Essex County Asylum and Severalls Mental Hospital).
Severalls Hospital 207545.jpg
Location Colchester
grid reference TL991284, Essex, England, United Kingdom
Care system County asylum, then NHS, closed in 1997
Hospital type Psychiatric
Affiliated university None
Emergency department No Accident & Emergency
Beds Originally 1800
Founded 1913 (1913)
Closed 1997 (1997)
Website Severalls Mental Hospital -[1]
Lists Hospitals in England

Severalls Hospital in Colchester, Essex, United Kingdom was a psychiatric hospital built in 1910 to the design of architect Frank Whitmore. It opened in May 1913.

The 300-acre (120 ha) site housed some 2000 patients and was based on the "Echelon plan" - a specific arrangement of wards, offices and services within easy reach of each other by a network of interconnecting corridors. This meant that staff were able to operate around the site without the need to go outside in bad weather. Unlike modern British hospitals, patients in Severalls were separated according to their gender. Villas were constructed around the main hospital building as accommodation blocks between 1910 and 1935. Most of the buildings are in the Queen Anne style, with few architectural embellishments, typical of the Edwardian period. The most ornate buildings are the Administration Building, Larch House and Severalls House (originally the Medical Superintendent's residence).

Psychiatric experiments[edit]

Psychiatrists were free to experiment with new treatments on patients seemingly at will, using practices now considered unsuitable such as the use of frontal lobotomy. The use of these treatments peaked in the 1950s. In her book Madness in Its Place: Narratives of Severalls Hospital, 1913-1997,[1] Diana Gittins notes that often women were admitted by their own family, sometimes as the result of bearing illegitimate children or because they had been raped. As they would not always (or were unable to) carry out daily tasks, they were considered to be insane and some were even subjected to ECT and lobotomy. A change in management during the 1960s (and likely a change in social acceptance) saw reforms introduced including the creation of art and music therapy programs and the widespread use of drugs and medication.

World War 2 bombings[edit]

In August 1942 the hospital was subjected to a bombing by the Luftwaffe. Three 500lb bombs were dropped on the West wing of the hospital and 38 patients were killed, many of which were buried in nearby Colchester Crematorium.[2] Immediately after the bombing a 21-year-old nurse of the hospital, Murial Jackson, attempted to save patients and was able to direct doctors to the injured using just a torch.[3]


The hospital closed as a Psychiatric Hospital in the early 1990s following the closure of other Psychiatric Institutions, as part of the change in approach to Psychiatric "Care in the Community". However, a small section remained open until 20th. of March, 1997 for the treatment of elderly patients suffering from the effects of serious stroke, etc., as a temporary building for nearby Colchester General Hospital which was in the process of building an entire new building for these Patients. "Willow House" (originally Male Acute Ward), which offered Care + Treatment for Patients in a Low-Secure Environment closed in 2013. A few of the other Satellite Buildings remained in use until 2016, when one of the last Buildings directly linked with Mental Health Care ("Birchwood Villa" - NEPFT's H.Q.), closed for good. Only "Chestnut Villa" (originally Children's Villa), which provides Laboratory Services for Colchester General Hospital, Severalls House (originally the Medical Superintendent's residence), and Headway (originally the Fireman's Bungalow) remain open and in use.

Since 1997 the remaining structures have changed little. Architecturally, the site remains an excellent example of a specific Asylum plan ("Echelon"). However, the buildings have suffered greatly from vandalism. In 2005, the Main Hall was subjected to a suspected arson attack, and in 2007 the charred building was demolished for safety reasons. The five boilers were removed from the Central Boiler House in 2007/2008.

In 2008, the sale of the hospital site, including its extensive grounds, collapsed due to the slow-down in the building industry.


In December 2010, the nearby new A12 junction was officially opened. The "Stadium" junction and roundabout are located just to the north of Colchester United F.C.'s Stadium, on land formerly known as Cuckoo Farm (used up until the late 1950s/early 1960s as the hospital farm). The opening of this new junction will enable the new link road to be built between "Stadium" roundabout on Axial Way to the Northern Approach Road, just north of Mill Road. The proposed route will pass over the long-demolished Iris House, to the south of Orchard and Eden Villas, through Fernholme Villa before crossing the old Sports Ground and joining the Northern Approach Road. Once built, this will open up the re-development potential for the former hospital site. At present, it is not known which of the existing Hospital buildings will be retained, apart from the Administration Building which is Grade 2 Listed. It is hoped that the main "ranges" and ward blocks will be kept and converted, along with the water tower, which is considered to be an important and historic landmark.

In May 2011 Colchester Borough Council's Planning Committee gave their approval for the erection of 248 new homes. The location is on land currently owned by H.C.A. (formerly English Partnerships) and although is not directly on the site of the main hospital, is recognised as Phase 1 of the redevelopment of the former Severalls Hospital site. It is understood that this first phase is to be sited to the north-east of the Main Hospital, in fields bordering Mill Road and Tower Lane, next to the old Myland Hospital Water Tower.

In late September 2011, as part of the enabling works for the new Northern Approach Road (or NAR) contractors began to clear the vegetation which had been allowed to grow un-checked in the 15 years since the hospital closed. Some large trees were also felled. Blue sheeting covering every opening, every hole in the roof, every broken pane of glass, is in place at "Fernhome" Villa (originally Female Villa). This is due to bats roosting, and this will be monitored before being re-housed to a suitable habitat. Workers have also begun to strip-out "Eden" Villa, built in the 1930s, ready for its demolition, along with Fernholme Villa. In October 2011 huge oak trees were felled and large areas of hedgerows stripped away. A new fence has also been erected, roughly marking out the public footpath which runs from Mill Road to Tower Lane and beyond.

In November 2011, demolition commenced on Fernholme Villa.

In early 2012, Phase 1 "Rosewood" (248 new homes) began in the former Asylum's Farmland to the east of the main Hospital Buildings; with Tower Lane to the Northern Boundary, and the disused Water Tower of the long demolished Myland Hospital for Infectious Diseases off Mill Road to the Eastern corner. "Rosewood Park" marked the start of redevelopment of the former Hospital's land. The street names will be Olympic themed, which has caused bemusement to some local residents and groups, who would have preferred that the street names would instead reflect local history.[citation needed]

In October 2012, the St. Aubyn Centre (CAMHS Unit), was officially opened by Rebecca Adlington. This modern, state-of-the-art facility is located adjacent to Severalls House, in the edge of the Hospital Grounds, just off Boxted Road. This Centre will remain regardless of the redevelopment of the rest of the Hospital Site.

North Essex Partnership sold the hospital site to a construction consortium in April 2016, consisting of Taylor Wimpey, Bloor Homes and Bellway. Soon after, preparation ahead of demolition began with clearance of much of almost twenty years' of vegetation which had gone un-checked since the Hospital closed in 1997. Many large Trees have also been cleared to make way for demolition.

In September, 2016, The Laurels, Oak House, Avon Dene and The Lodge were all demolished. In October, 2016, Eden Villa was demolished.

In November, 2016, the final Laboratory Staff at Chestnut Villa moved out (all Laboratory Staff and Services re-located within the Grounds of Colchester General Hospital). This marked the end of Medical-related use of the last of the original Hospital Ward Blocks. Currently Severalls House (the Medical Superintendents' Residence) is the only original Building still owned and in use by NEPFT (the local Mental Health Trust).

Towards the end of 2016 and into the early part of 2017, much of the northerly parts of the Eastern Wards have been demolished (such as Mistley and Rose Wards), as well as the 1960s Female Industrial Unit, parts of the Laundry, as well as the complete demolition of the Nurses' Home. Much of the original connecting Corridors have also been demolished, to make it easier for heavy plant to reach all parts of the Hospital. Demolition of Myland Court commenced in February, 2017.

Original Hospital Buildings to be retained[edit]

Although almost all of the original 1913 + 1930's Hospital Buildings remain largely intact as of Summer, 2016, only a small handful are due to be kept. They are as follows: ---Administration Building / Entrance Block (1913) - front part only - THE ONLY LISTED BUILDING ON SITE ---Larch House / Attendant's Residence (1913) ---Water Tower (1913) ---Part of Western Wards (1913) - Male side - NORTH TO SOUTH = Nelson + Castle, Graham + Duncan, Constable + Priory ---Selected Airing Court Shelters (not yet confirmed)

The new road will follow the original perimeter road, ironically shaped like a kidney bowl, flanked by a selection of retained Trees.

Sadly, the rest of the original Buildings are due to be demolished, including the Chapel, with beautiful stained glass windows (commissioned in 1963 for the Hospital's Golden / 50th. Anniversary); depicting Jesus in the Centre, with a Nurse, Doctor, and Male + female Patients praying on their knees looking up to Jesus.

Madness in Its Place: Narratives of Severalls Hospital, 1913-1997[edit]

The book Madness in Its Place: Narratives of Severalls Hospital, 1913-1997 (1998)[1] by Diana Gittins has been the most comprehensive study of this institution to date. The project was initiated in the mid-1990s, by the North East Essex Mental Health Trust, which wanted a social history of the hospital to be written prior to its closure. Joan Busfield, Professor of Sociology at the University of Essex, was a member of the trust and put forward the name of a former PhD student of hers, Diana Gittins. The main reason was that Gittins’ background as a social and oral historian was deemed more suitable for this kind of work. Funding was secured by the Trust and the study commenced in May 1995 for a two-year period.[4]

Gittins designed and conducted the study with little interference from Busfield who assumed a supervisory role. The investigation drew upon both qualitative and quantitative material to address areas such as, gender divisions in staff and patients, in-hospital power relations, the patterns of admission and discharge, quality and variety of treatments on offer, and the daily lives and routines of patients and nurses on the wards. Furthermore, it provides an "insider's view" of the de-institutionalisation years and the passage from residential to community-centred care.

The research data in their entirety (interviews, group discussions, photographs, architectural plans, etc.) are currently deposited in ESDS Qualidata, part of the UK Data Archive, at the University of Essex.[5]

Urban exploration[edit]

The site has been of increasing interest to urban explorers who have been known to enter the building without permission, take photographs, most interestingly the mortuary (which still houses the body refrigerators used to store deceased patients) and the imposing water tower (no longer in use). Some medical equipment still remains, such as spot lights, basic appliances and many of the sinks and toilets. Severalls has now been fenced off as it is deemed as dangerous.


  1. ^ a b Gittins, Diana (1998). Madness in its place: narratives of Severalls Hospital, 1913-1997. London New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415183888. 
  2. ^ Hicks, Ritchie. "German air-raid killed 38 patients at Severalls Hospital in 1942". Ritchie Hicks. 
  3. ^ Hicks, Ritchie. "Nurse Muriel May Jackson: The Forgotten Hero of Severalls". Ritchie Hicks. Retrieved 1 November 2016. 
  4. ^
  5. ^

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°55′07″N 0°53′37″E / 51.91852°N 0.89374°E / 51.91852; 0.89374