Pioneering hospital's legacy will never fade in Chichester

The National Health Service was established 60 years ago and has continued to provide the nation with free medical care.

In Chichester before the NHS, hospital services were provided by the Royal West Hospital in Broyle Road, funded and supported by public donations, together with St Richard's Hospital, built in 1938 and funded by West Sussex County Council.

However, the county council had been providing medical care as far back as 1897 when Graylingwell Hospital was opened for the care of the mentally ill.

The construction of the hospital was one of the first major capital projects of the county council established in 1889.

The need for an asylum (as they were then described) came about as the one situated at Haywards Heath and used by the East and West Counties together with the Borough of Brighton was inadequate to serve the population of Sussex.

On July 5, 1892, the county council resolved that a separate institution was to be provided for West Sussex alone and that a committee should be appointed to acquire a site.

A number of locations were inspected over West Sussex and by February, 1893 the county council had located and purchased a site for the new asylum to be named Graylingwell after the name of the farm on which it was built.

Construction of this immense hospital took five years and the hospital opened in 1897 with a total of 450 beds. Along with the main buildings, the estate included two farms, an isolation hospital and a detached chapel.

The buildings were designed by the firm of Sir Alfred Bloomfield and covered around seven acres with a roof area of four acres.

The first medical superintendent was Dr Harold Kidd.

Graylingwell was an example of the best modern type of mental institution. The Observer reported: "Patients have every convenience at hand for night requirements, even down to carpet slippers.

"Blinds and curtains give a home-like comfort to the windows. Books, papers and magazines are liberally provided, while dominoes, cards and games of many kinds serve to cheer and lighten the evenings.

"Patients are encouraged to take part in outdoor sports, a good cricket and football field being provided.

"In the winter, dances, theatrical entertainments and concerts in the commodious theatre will continue treatment of the highest curative value."

Film shows were a regular feature in the programme of entertainment arranged for the residents. There were 368 patients in residence when the first film presentation was made in November 1897.

This was described in a printed souvenir brochure as a 'Programme of Mr David Devant's Animated Photographs'.

The notion that films were regarded as an integral part of the therapy and entertainment offered to patients was confirmed by the installation of the hospital's own projection equipment in 1912-1913.

Thereafter the hospital increased the frequency of its film shows and would put on three consecutive weekly performances, two of them in conjunction with a concert and band.

Graylingwell was unlike most Victorian asylums of that time with the absence of high walls and locked iron gates.

It was also a matter of credit that no implements of restraint were on the premises and in 1898 it adopted the name Graylingwell Hospital.

However, in common with other hospitals, patients were photographed in its own studios and the resulting portrait was attached to the admitting officer's report and notes of the medical superintendent.

These were written in large bound casebooks. Photographing patients and the use of casebooks ceased in the 1920s but those in existence have been transferred to the care of West Sussex Record Office.

Soon after opening the hospital it was obvious that further beds were needed and in 1898 the county council approved further building to bring this total to 765. The work was completed in 1903 but eventually the number of beds rose to 1,140.

During the first world war all patients were transferred to other hospitals as Graylingwell was designated as a war hospital for the treatment and convalescence of wounded and shell-shocked soldiers.

The superintendent was given the temporary rank of Lieuntenant Colonel while the majority of the male nursing staff were enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corp and remained in the hospital.

On the cessation of hostilities Graylingwell reverted back to a civilian mental hospital and continued to be managed by the county council until 1948, when control passed to the NHS.

With 130 acres of cultivated farmland the patients also benefited from the occupational therapy which farming provided.

This also allowed the hospital to be self-sufficient in farm produce, including a dairy herd, poultry runs, a kitchen garden, fruit-bearing trees and beehives.

In the 1960s, with a smaller hospital population, supplies were put out to tender and the farm was leased out.

Graylingwell was always at the forefront in the treatment of the mentally ill, especially in the field of allowing patients to live outside in the community.

As a result the need for a vast hospital diminished and it was closed in the late 1990s. Now the site is to be redeveloped but the retention of the chapel and water tower will be a fitting memorial to the hospital and its pioneering treatment of the mentally sick.

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