Memory Lane – Knaphill History, The Brookwood Hospital

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When we look back over the history of Knaphill we find that the ‘Brookwood Hospital’ played a vital part in the development of the village. In the 1850’s local settlement was at the bottom of Anchor Hill, near the thriving nurseries, but the building of the ‘Brookwood Lunatic Asylum’  (completed in 1867) brought major changes.

The initial hospital population was 650 patients: 321 males and 329 females. It was built in 150 acres of land in an isolated part of the country as the trend at that time was to house those deemed to be ‘lunatics’ at a distance from ‘normal’ people. Over the next hundred and twenty years it was a major employer, recruiting doctors, nurses, ancillary staff, maintenance and support workers and the life of Knaphill flourished around it.

From the early days the hospital expanded and by 1903 the patient population had risen to 1,265. In 1919 the title ‘asylum’ was dropped and replaced by ‘Mental Hospital’. With so many patients and staff to care for them, Knaphill grew. The brick works were busy and so were the builders and developers. We can still see the many different styles of houses that were constructed for the growing population of the village. Shops of all kinds, public houses and churches thrived too, catering to the earthly and spiritual needs of the bustling community. At the time of The National Health Act in 1946, the hospital was the home for 1,900 patients.

For our Memory Lane articles in the Knaphill News we have spoken to many local people who still remember the hospital in its hay-day; and they have clear personal recollections of this aspect of our local history. Many local people worked at the hospital and have vivid memories  of the years when it was a major local employer and played a key role in the treatment of mental health in South Eastern England.

Marion Healy started her nursing career here in 1948 and stayed until 1990. Marion told KRA about her memories of the Hospital and changing attitudes to ‘Mental Health Care’ during the years that she worked there. Marion remembered Brookwood’s high standards of care and training, but also the locked wards, many geriatric patients and the T.B. Unit. As a Nursing Sister she saw how the gradual advances in medicine helped to bring patients’ symptoms under control by drugs. Change continued so that in 1974 the NHS was being reorganized again and it was decided to close all large mental hospitals and from 1986 a programme was underway for the closure of the Brookwood Hospital in 1994.

Marion’s recollections were of the tolerance of local people; of nurses from all over the world coming there to train there; of the range of social events that entertained patients, staff and locals and that made it a very happy place to live and work. For so many Knaphill residents the hospital was the source of employment. It attracting people from all over the county and many of them settled down and got married, had families and those families continue to live locally.

June Harding was born in Knaphill. Her parents met when working at the hospital and later married. “My father came here in the 1920’s and worked mainly in the high security unit. My mother left home in Wales aged seventeen to come to work there because her father was so strict.”

“The farm had cows, sheep, and shire horses and where the Vyne Car Park is now was the piggery. The hospital driveways were lined with beautiful rhododendron bushes, kept in immaculate condition, largely by patients working under supervision.” June recalled Christmas parties, annual coach outings to the seaside and Saturday Dances. “That was the highlight of my week as a teenager! And the highlight of the year for everyone was the August Bank Holiday Fete on the   main playing field. There were marquees exhibiting flowers, fruit and vegetables, handicrafts; side-shows, swinging boats and stalls. It was a wonderful event for everyone attracting people from miles around.”

Willi Jost came to work there in 1956 as a ‘drain man’, keeping the sewage etc clear. Over the years he was promoted and eventually came to be in charge of the staff restaurant. (Yes, an interesting career path!) Willi remembered Brookwood as a good place to work. Staff lived in the ‘hospital cottages’ on Oak Tree Road, Sparvell Road, The Spur; everyone lived locally and worked locally, people were good neighbours, all helping one another.

In the hospital there were workshops for boot-making, printing and all manner of repairs. Brookwood even had its own Fire Station and Willi worked as a Volunteer Fireman for extra income. The good social life was important to Willi too: the cinema shows, weekly dances (old time and modern), and Willi mentioned that quite a lot of ‘courting’ was done on those famous dance nights!

Since the hospital closed in 1994 the area has changed dramatically. The clock tower and the central building around it were converted into expensive apartments and named Florence Court (acknowledging the ‘Florence Wards’ originally named after Florence Nightingale); but most of the buildings were demolished, trees and flower beds etc removed. New houses were built, creating Redding Way, Percheron Drive, Barton Close, Florence Way, Tringham etc, again being given names that had links with the ‘Brookwood Hospital’. These are reminders that, for so much of its history, the life Knaphill was interwoven with the life of ‘the Hospital’.

Based on the KRA original article which appeared in our Knaphill News Magazine in February 2007.
We will add other articles about the Brookwood Hospital in the coming weeks.

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About Author

Eileen Martin is a former KRA secretary and has contributed much to Knaphill Village and the community. Her articles on the Memory Lane series are particularly good and have inspired many comments and brought people together, as well as being an excellent source for historians!

36 Comments

  1. I have just read your article Memory Lane Knaphill. It was very interesting. I had a fantastic time when I worked at the Brookwood Hospital.
    I am a Norwegian and I worked at The Brookwood Hospital as an Assistent Nurse in 1965.
    I came to visit in 2002 when I was in England and the change was amazing.

    I am writing to you is to ask if you are able to help me to get some information about a good friend I had when I worked there. I kept contact with her several years after I left, but we have lost touch. Her name was Tinie Verhoogt and she was from the Netherlands.

    If anyone is able to give me some information about Tinie I should be very grateful. You can reply via the KRA website.

    Kindly regards

    Wenche Vatne(Warberg)

  2. I was brought up with these views of the hospital from my bedroom window every day of my life ..all through the 60’s from Birth until the age of 11.

    I remember walking up the drive and on past the piggeries as a toddler with my Mother to pick up my elder brother who went to the Garabaldi school.

    We used to love walking through the imaculately kept gardens and spending time (if we had any) talking with the patients tending the plants or in the piggery. Everyone was so friendly way back then. Much more so than today.

    When we (kids) where a little older we used to go scrumping from the apple trees down in the dip by the Guildford Road! We’d wait until yet another car came flying down the Guildford road and not quite make the left hand turn towards Brookwood and go straight through the fence.

    It happened so often (3 or 4 times a year on occasion) that we often wondered why any one bothered to mend the fence each and every time. But they did. (many was the time that I was woken up around midnight by yet another crunch).

    We (kids) where happy though .. as this saved us scrambling / climbing over the fence to go scrumping and exploring the farm! We’d just walk straight through the gap!

    “Happy times” … shame all those marvelous grounds have gone and its a housing estate now. It provided a childhood made in heaven.

  3. I am a social psychologist working at the University of Cambridge (although I grew up just outside Knaphill). I am currently being funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to study theatre and drama in the old psychiatric hospitals (the ‘asylums’).

    I am hoping to collect any stories or memories of any kind of theatre or drama that went on in the psychiatric hospitals. These might have been plays, pantomimes or other performances, and might have involved staff and/or patients. Perhaps these were put on purely for people within the hospitals, or perhaps members of the local community were also invited.

    I am interested in any stories, however short, and am equally interested in the memories of former patients, staff and people who lived near psychiatric hospitals, including Brookwood Hospital.

    Any responses I receive will be treated confidentially, and you will not be asked to leave your name. The results will be written up as academic papers and presented at conferences. This study has received ethical approval from the Cambridge Psychology Research Ethics Committee.

    For further details about the study, and the opportunity to participate, please follow the link below. This will take you to a short survey: there are only a few questions and it should take no more than 10 minutes to complete.

    http://ppsisfaculty.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_6G04gi7E0jYzwl6

    Please pass on these details to any of your members or anyone else you think might be interested in participating in this research.

    Thank you for your time.

  4. Denise Wheeler nee Snell on

    Mum and Dad were both nurses at Brookwood infact they met there and married in 1953. I always remember the Christmas parties, shows and trips to the London Palladium every year. St Patricks day was also celebrated extremely enthusiastically. The August Bank holiday flower show was also popular. The social life and social club was second to none. Mum always smelt of Largactil and Paraldehyde both very freely used. Being a child growing up in Knaphill during the 50s and 60s was great.

  5. Mary Snellgrove on

    I lived in Brookwood Hospital for a year during 1952/3 when my father, Leslie Smale, was Chaplain. He was Chaplain until 1962, when, after having had a stroke, felt unable to carry on. We lived in accommodation adjoining the nurses’ home. My mother also helped at the hospital, she and the Chairman of the Board of Management were instrumental in forming the “Friends of Brookwood Hospital” They raised funds to provide approx. 500 patients who had no known relatives with Christmas and Birthday gifts and cards. I worked at the (then) Westminster Bank in Woking and was married from the Hospital in August 1953. I have a photograph of my father taken with some of the nurses. I remember the dances in the Hall when Sydney and Mary Thompson came with their orchestra very well.

  6. We’ve been asked if there is any form of old nurses association – certainly none that I’m aware of but if anyone has more information please get in touch

  7. I’m sorry to bother you, but I am not sure if you received my last message, I am looking for information if any ome knows if patiants worked at the hospital if the were skilled . Many thanks

  8. Not that I know of Hazel, but if anyone else has a bit more information for you they’re welcome to get in touch!

  9. Mary Snellgrove on

    As far as I remember some patients worked in the laundry, sewing room etc. Also in the gardens and farm. My mother had a lady to help in the house.

  10. Hello Mary
    I see by your story that some patients did work while they were there,can you remember if any one did any plumbing work or worked in the boiler room , my late husband was there in the early 60s as patient, if you can help can you email me . Many thanks Hazel

  11. Well, perhaps not quite the cheerful place it’s made out to be in this article. My mother was committed there in 1948 after a triple suicide attempt. As a 14year old visiting her, I remember it as a grim dispiriting place and my mother almost unrecognizable sitting helpless slumped in institutional clothes and very unhappy. Back then it was no happy-camper fun palace, believe me.

  12. Barrie Collins (formerly Woodcock) on

    I was a nurse at Brookwood from 1975 to 1980. The patients received such rudimentary on-the-job training as was necessary to do simple support jobs on the farm and in places like the kitchens and boiler house. These were designed as occupational therapy. They weren’t skilled workers as such, they were supervised at all times by staff who had the proper skills like plumbers, electricians, seamstresses, chefs etc.

  13. Linda Lawton (Cully) on

    I lived in one of the hospital houses for 20 years, my parents both worked there for over 30 years, have some great memories of the trips they would get together to London theaters, days out to the seaside, holidays to Europe. Its so nice to still see some of the hospital now even now its changed .

  14. Angela Elliott on

    I am pleased to read the memories of Brookwood Hospital and would like to contribute information about my family who worked and trained there . My father John (Jack) Elliott ex 1914 Pilot, came to Brookwood Hospital in 1924 from Lincolnshire, responding to an advertisement for attendants with sports ability and became a Charge Nurse, and later married a Welsh girl from Tonypandy, May Jacobs also a nurse. They lived in a hospital house in Oak Tree Road until retirement in 1956 but continued to reside in Knaphill until they both died. They have four children two of whom became actively involved in the sporting life of Brookwood Hospital -cricket, football and also married nurses- two from Ireland and one from Germany.

    I Angela Elliott (nee Begley) trained as a nurse during 1955-1959 and was the first ‘Miss Brookwood Hospital’. I later married young Jack Elliott the oldest son of John and May Elliott.

  15. I have recently learnt that my Grandmother, who I never met, was a patient in Brookwood Hospital from 1947 until she died in 1975.

    If anyone worked at the hospital at that time and remembers my Grandmother – Caroline Hoskins, I would be grateful if they could get in touch.

    I have been in touch with the Surrey Records Office, but they are only able to give me a limited amount of information.

  16. I arrived in Knaphill as an evacuee from London in 1940. My school had been initially been placed at Hove.
    On arriving at Knaphill the Reception Centre was the Hall alongside the Holy Trinity Church in Bradley Chobham Road.
    It was also to be our first class room. The teachers from our Kennington School in South London had moved with us.
    I was to stay until the end of the war with a lady in Anchor Hill, Lower Knaphill.
    As I remember it, Brookwood Hospital was during wartime a hospital for the Military. I recall attending several childrens’ Christmas parties there.
    During my 5 years or so in the village I was in the Holy Trinity Church Chior and to this day possess a bible given to me by the Church at Christmas 1943.
    Many fond memories remain with me.

  17. My uncle was Chief Male Nurse at Brookwood for many years and both my sister and I spent many happy summer holidays staying with my cousins in Almond Villa, a house in the grounds. I remember the pigs and the farm and the tennis courts and the wonderful grounds.
    My Uncle Fred (Arrowsmith) once won a car at the hospital summer fete. They could never come to our home in Swansea at Xmas because he always had to carve the turkey on the wards on Xmas day. There was a lovely gentleman called Cyril who was a long term patient and he used to do odd jobs for the family. I remember that I loved him as he always called me Miss Barbara and cleaned my shoes every morning. He made me feel very special. I think I was about 10 years old. Lovely village and lovely memories.

  18. I was a patient on the ARC unit at Brookwood in 1994, I was 22 and terrified when I first saw it!!

    I was there for four months, it was a warm and caring place and probably saved my life. THANK YOU BROOKWOOD

    I now live in Bolton and have been employed as a mental health advocate for the last 11 years, standing up for patients rights.

  19. gail preston on

    hi I have been doing my family tree and found I had an aunt who I dident no about but I no she worked at the hospital from 1950 to 1952 she was a matron her name was monica burns if any body remembers her could you please let me no thank you.

  20. alison courtney on

    I trained as a registered nurse at Brookwood hospital in the 70’s and left in 1980. I have many happy memories of working there. Am trying to get in touch with some of the people I knew at the time:- Emmett Perry, Fred Condon, Avril Wand.get back in contact . Anybody still in touch with them?

  21. Wenche Vatne- I met your friend Catherine Verhoogt a couple of years ago. If you would like to give me your contact details i could pass them on to her

  22. I was a Fireman at Woking Fire Station from 1961, I was 19. We had lots of calls to Brookwood Hospital, (usually to the Nurses Quarters when they had parties!!) I remember well going to the Dance Hall when it caught fire twice!! Also Tuke 9 Male Ward, did a few rescues on that one!! Staff always friendley. Now retired still in the Woking Area. All Best Wishes. Mick B.

  23. I have the “Short Service” attestation papers dated 10 Feb 1916 of my great uncle, Cecil Lewis Reynolds, on which it states his address as “Brookwood Asylym”. It was only signed off at the bottom by the “Approving Officer” on 19 June 1916 which suggests that he had a long recuperation from a war related injury or disability. I would be very grateful if someone could advise me how to learn more about this person, particularly his war service.

  24. hello george i worked at brookwood hospital from 1979 till closure.i believe all patients records were transfered to farnham road hospital in guildford try the records office there.plus all war records are held at the national archive in kew they are also on line.

  25. Richenda S Carter on

    Hello Lee Heather
    I know Brookwood had a large number of patients but would you by any chance remember a lady called Grace Burgess Watson (born 1922 Chile). She died at Brookwood Jan-March 1982. I think she had been a patient there for several years. I am trying to piece together her life for my cousin – her daughter – who was adopted at the age of 2 in 1954 because Grace, as a single mother, could not cope anymore. I think this traumatic decision began Grace’s decline. Any information gratefully received.

  26. hello richenda the name doesn’t ring a bell although saying that there is a probable chance that I may have spoken to grace on my daily journeys around the hospital wards and departments as a general porter.the only thing I can think of is the same advice as I gave George try contacting Farnham road hospital records department in Guildford if the records have moved somewhere else im sure they may be able to put you in right direction sorry cant be much more help good luck.

  27. Hello. I am currently writing my debut novel, based on a patient’s diary who was at the Hospital from 1929. If anyone has any connections with the hospital from around that time, I would be gretaful to hear them. Thank you.

  28. Hi Mal.

    About 60 years ago I was told that an Aunt of my mother was in Brook Wood. I assume she was admitted some years before I was told.
    I don’t what year this this happened, but she apparently suffered scalding when she pulled a kettle of boiling water over her.
    I don’t know how old she was when it happened. I assume that her admission was due to the fact that she was suffering from shock which was interpreted then as a mental illness.
    Not much to go on but.
    Don Barber.

  29. To Alison Graze- my contact details is Wenche Vatne.

    [EDIT] **Details supplied and passed on direct to Alison!**

    If it is possible for you to pass this information to her I would be very Grateful to you.
    Kindly Regards
    Wenche vatne

  30. I was a patient at Brookwood Hospital from 1978 to 1980. I was terrified of the place to begin with but the care I received from nursing and auxiliary staff was care and kindness. The drug treatment at that time was very experimental and my mental health declined at times due to excessive diagnosis and various drug treatments and this seemed to prolong my stay. Brookwood was one of the first NHS hospitals to have an art therapy department. I frequented the art therapy department and with the help of two dedicated art therapists I learnt to use art to express and realise my problems, I have never needed to take medication since. I have been unsuccessful locating any Brookwood medical records. I went on to study art and become a qualified art therapist. I now have a doctorate in art therapy and have been working in mental health for many years – retired now; I still use art as a mode for health and self-understanding. I have started writing a memoir

  31. I met a young woman who worked at Brookwood Hospital, her name was Gerda Shipper. I grew fond of her but sadly lost touch when she returned home to Germany. I’m not sure what her position was at the time, I don’t think she was a nurse but may have been an auxiliary worker. It would have been between 1962 – 1965, as I worked later in Suffolk and Gerda came to (hopefully) stay awhile… but, my Father wouldn’t allow it. It proved to be an unhappy time for us two.
    I did receive a letter from her soon after, but mislaid it after keeping it for years. I should have packed my things and gone to Germany with her there and then. Strange how we were in those times, it probably wouldn’t be like that these days!!

    I do recall the outside of Brookwood being very austere and unfriendly. It didn’t feel it was a place I’d like to have ventured inside…really strange because for the last 30 years I’ve supported young people with disabilities, maybe Brookfield planted something in me to do such work.

  32. I am currently writing a biography of my mother Mrs Ingrid Elizabeth Price (nee Schiel) who was born in Germany on 30th January 1930. My mother was in Berlin in 1945 and was subjected to terrible brutality from the Russian troop that entered the city during those terrible days. I realised, during research, that my mother was a patient at Brookwood Hospital up until 1951 when she married my father Gordon Lewis Price, who was a paratrooper in the Grenadier Guards, stationed at Pirbright. I assume she was evacuated to the hospital somehow after the war. My mother and father have since passed away.
    I know very little about my mother early years however she went on to become a world class sky diver in Malawi and achieved great things for which, as her son, I am very proud of.
    I am writing her story as a tribute to her. I have written to the Hospital direct seeking any information but I am also looking for help or advice about how I can obtain any further information about her.

  33. Pauline Bailey on

    In one of your previous magazine, you mentioned someone who had written a book about his time spent as a patient in Rockwood hospital. It was available on Amazon. Could you give me any details ‘re author and title.

  34. hello Pauline,

    I am enquiring to see if you know of anyone who would be willing to hold a talk on the
    History of Knaphill for us at The Vyne Community Centre, Knaphill.
    Customers here have been asking if it would be possible to hold a talk on the subject.
    would you please be kind enough for pass my contact details on:
    Mrs Gillian Waine (Manager) The Vyne Community Centre. 01483 743558/7

    warmest regards.

  35. Alison Courtney comment 2014 – Hi Alison I think I remember you – were you Alison Steadman – if so , I certainly remember you – in fact you were Emmett ‘s girlfiend as I remember – you may remember me I trained from 1976 – 1979 , then left in 1980 to join the Prison Department. My name is Dave Lewis and as the name suggests I was a young man direct from South Wales at the time.
    So many wonderful memories of such a wonderful teaching hospital at the time , and such wonderful characters at the time – Little Joe Duffy , Big Joe Duffy, Walter Noble , Sister Jerrard , Sister Healey , John Watson , Dave Jelley , Chris Punith , and loads and loads of others – a wonderful place to be in the day !!!!!

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