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Hellingly Mental Hospital: the story of an asylum

3 min read

We are in the village of Hellingly, in East Sussex, England. Here, on 20 July 1903, the Hellingly Mental Hospital was inaugurated: an asylum, the best in the area because, apparently, the most innovative treatments were experimented there. It was also the refuge for patients who had to flee West Sussex due to the First World War.

The main complex comprised an administrative block, central stores, kitchens, a recreation hall and the assistant medical officer’s residence. Like most large institutions of this age and type the sexes were separated into different accommodation and work areas. To the west of the central block stood the male wards, workshops, boiler house, water tower and maintenance department. The female wards were located on the east side of the hospital along with the laundry, sewing room and a nurses’ home. All of the buildings in the main complex were linked by an extensive network of corridors.

The architect was George Thomas Hine, an expert at the time. But the architectural beauty was not the only quality: the hospital, in fact, was equipped with a private railway line (a real luxury for the time), which was used to transport coal for the heating boilers and electricity plant.
There was even an electric tram that connected the structure to the train station: another rarity for the hospitals of the time. Later the tram was used to transport goods inside the hospital and then again to connect with the sports center.

During the mid-1980s, Hellingly was chosen as one of five mental hospital sites in the south east of England to accommodate a medium secure unit, known as Ashen Hill and located to the east of the main buildings.
It was closed in 1990 because it was deemed too expensive. As a result, many patients were released with a fake cure certificate, causing havoc and an increase in violent acts on the street. It should have housed a maximum of 700 people but it seems that in some moments there were up to 1250 and this surplus prevented doctors from following the patients adequately, who applied more and more approximate treatments and therapies. Here, moreover, “alternative” treatments such as lobotomy and electroshock were tested.

But some offices were not immediately abandoned: health services continued to operate in the main buildings, and the women’s and children’s quarters were still occupied by those working in the health services.
In any case, after its closure, most of the buildings fell into rapid decline, suffering from arson, vandalism and theft.
In 2004, a fire destroyed the social club, one of the few spaces still in use and, in 2010, parts of the complex were demolished to make way for new homes, leaving only the central nucleus as it was originally. The large grassy area in front of the structure is often used by families as a park for children.
Today the complex is in a state of neglect.
A local bus company uses the former men’s wing, and the old guardian’s cottage is now privately owned, but everything else has been unused for years.
No one has ever thought of a maintenance job and, despite the surveillance of security guards, vandals, tramps and any other “curious” have had free access to every part of the great former asylum.

The spectacle that presents itself to the eyes of those who approach Hellingly Mental Hospital is of a sad and magnificent decadence: large Gothic halls, signed by the passage of time, marked by the passage of too many people. And, obviously the wild card that stimulates all horror tourists and horror movie fans cannot be missing: it is said that the old buildings are enlivened by a paranormal activity, a final just too obvious…

Historic Images from web – photos are by authors Ivan and Robin

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