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Graylingwell Hospital

by Lorna Still

Written by Lorna Still, volunteer

In 1888, the newly-formed West Sussex County Council took over the care of the insane, along with other public services. The Graylingwell Farm estate was purchased as the site for a new Asylum. The farm house had once been the childhood home of Anna Sewell, later to be the author of 'Black Beauty'.

The building was designed by Arthur Blomfield, who also created London's Royal College of Music. This was the only asylum he ever built. It was completed in 1897.

The Medical Superintendent was Dr Harold Kidd, who preferred the word 'hospital' to 'asylum' although 'asylum' was not legally abolished until 1930. Men and women were segregated and the emphasis was on keeping patients happy and occupied with physical, mental and spiritual activity. The hospital was almost self-sufficient until the late 1950s with its own farm, gardens and workshop block. Able-bodied patients worked alongside gardeners and artisans. They were paid with tokens they could use in the hospital shop. They were encouraged to take part in recreational activities such as games, parties and sport. There was even a purpose-built theatre (now sadly demolished) and the patients enjoyed watching the staff perform. The staff enjoyed sport too, and had a good cricket team. Patients were also encouraged, though not forced, to attend services in the chapel.

The hospital made no special provision for children, who were placed in the same wards as adults until Kidd provided separate accommodation for them in 1911 and later noted that the 'happiness of the children had been greatly added to by the provision of a large sand pit'.

Perhaps the most famous patient was Fanny Cornforth, model and mistress of Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. She developed dementia, and stayed at the hospital for nearly two years until her death, aged 74, in 1909.

Graylingwell was requisitioned as a war hospital from March 1915 and patients were temporarily sent to other asylums. Casualties from the Western Front were sent to Chichester by train from Dover. Kidd was still in charge (he received a CBE for his war work) and the hospital dealt with over 29,000 casualties, only 142 of whom died.

The original patients returned in September 1919. However, Kidd's health was failing and he retired on New Year's Eve in 1926.

During World War II, only part of the hospital was requisitioned, so no patients had to move out. In August 1944, over 300 military personnel were diagnosed with 'exhaustion'.

Dr Joshua Carse was Medical Superintendent from 1938-1963. The Hospital was involved in medical research and used the latest treatments. For instance, between 1942 and 1955, 529 leucotomies (brain operations) were carried out and Dr Carse believed that this had enabled over two hundred 'incurable' patients to return to the community as 'normal people'.

The emphasis on occupational therapy continued, and from 1946 a patient-produced magazine was published. It was called 'The Wishing Well' after the well in the grounds.

In 1997, the hospital celebrated its centenary, and there was a special exhibition in the Chichester District Museum, but by then numbers had declined as there was a much greater emphasis on treatment in the community, rather than long stays in hospital.

The last patients left in 2001, and although some buildings were used as NHS offices until 2009, the site became derelict. It was sold to Linden Homes, who are now creating a carbon-neutral community called Graylingwell Park, including the refurbished chapel.