Report - - Harperbury Hospital Overnight Stay (June 2017) | Asylums and Hospitals | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - Harperbury Hospital Overnight Stay (June 2017)


28DL Full Member
28DL Full Member

At the end of World War One, the Royal Flying Corp's London Colney aerodrome was abandoned. In 1924 Middlesex County Council purchased the Porters Park estate, comprising a total area of 420 acres, upon which the aerodrome had been built. The area would eventually become the site of both Harperbury and Shenley hospitals. On October 25th, 1928, a new mental hospital was opened on the site utilising the old aircraft hangers as ward accommodation and it would become known as The Hangers Certified Institution. The first patients were eight males and they were immediately set to work clearing out the hangers and converting them - talk about making your own bed!!!

Before too long there were 86 male patients living and working on the site and in 1929 several new buildings were constructed forming the nucleus of what would become both Harperbury and Shenley hospitals. Three looping roads were laid to service the buildings with an administration block at the front just off the main B556 road, Harper Lane. The first of these new buildings was opened in February 1931 and by December of the same year the institution housed 342 male patients. Various other buildings were built to service the daily routine of the complex together with proper dormitory blocks and a recreational hall which could seat 700 people. A nurse's home was built to the west of the administration building and tennis courts and an extensive sports field were laid out. The sports field is still there today and in regular use as football pitches.

By completion of the work required for the site expansion the new hospitals could accommodate 1355 patients - male, female and children. In May 1936 the Minister of Health, Sir Kingsley Wood, officially re-opened the site naming it The Middlesex Colony. Although the job of nursing at mental institutions in Britain at that time was not very desirable, and the administration was extremely strict, the Middlesex Colony was always able to find plenty of nurses willing to work there, such was their reputation. Staff were recruited from Great Britain but also from Europe, especially Belgium.

The Middlesex Colony was intended to be as self-sufficient as possible, with patients working in various jobs. Most of the farm labour was provided by the male patients who raised cattle, pigs and chickens, and any excess milk produced was sold locally. The male patients also worked in the workshops providing clothes, shoes, brushes and upholstery for the hospital. Female patients worked in the laundry and kitchens and helped to clean the wards. Even some of the child patients worked in a limited capacity when they were not attending the new school built on site.

After World War Two the newly elected Labour government created the National Health Service which took over control of the colony in 1948. Changes in county boundaries at that time also meant that the colony had "moved" to Hertfordshire, so in 1950 the institution was renamed Harperbury Hospital. During the 1950s there was continual expansion at Harperbury, the institution had 1,464 beds and an annex at Hemel Hempstead with a further 30 beds. Four more patient villas were built together with another nursing home for male nurses, a department of clinical psychology was established, the school was enlarged, and an indoor swimming pool was built. In 1960 a cerebral palsy unit was opened which also provided services to mental hospitals throughout the area.

In 1961 the Minister of Health, Enoch Powell, visited Harperbury. Overcrowding was beginning to become a problem by this time and what he witnessed led him to question the future role of large mental hospitals. Harperbury had beds for 1,354 patients but by 1964 it was over quota by 233 patients and the overcrowding was so severe that nurses often had problems reaching patients in need of emergency intervention. As a result of the increased requirement for beds Harperbury continued to expand. In 1965 the Kennedy-Galton Centre opened to study clinical genetics and to diagnose chromosomal abnormalities in the unborn, and in 1969 an activity centre was opened to provide a "stimulating environment for patients". Expansion at Harperbury continued right into the early 70s, the activity centre was enlarged and a new children's playground was added.

As a result of Enoch Powell's earlier examination of the mental health care system moves began to be made in the early 70s to rehabilitate as many patients as possible back into the community - in essence what we now know as "Care In The Community" had begun. Patients were taken out on day trips and they were taught skills which would help them to function outside of the hospital environment. They were encouraged to take better care of their appearance, encouraged to participate in sports events at the hospital, and to participate in various groups. Musical events were held at Harperbury and severely handicapped deaf patients were taught the Makaton sign language. In essence the patients were subjected to a program of de-institutionalisation.

The hospital farm was closed in 1973 as the first part of the scaling down operation, and by 1974 a discharge programme had begun moving patients out of Harperbury and back into the outside world. The Kennedy-Galton Centre was moved away in 1987 and by the 1990s plans were in place to close Shenley, Napsbury and Harperbury hospitals, however, in 1995 and again in 1998, Harperbury experienced a temporary influx of patients from two other institutions that were closing. But the discharge program continued and by late 2001 there were only about 200 chronically sick patients in residence.

The Explore:

Day 1:
After a long day on trains and hiking, me, @jack watkins and a non member arrived on site and set about getting into one of the buildings which we stayed in for the whole trip as we could see a few security vans and weren't sure which parts of the hospital are actually in use so we played safe. We found an open window and proceeded to explore the building, which we found out had live birds all round it making you think there are other people in there. We then looked through every room systematically on three of the four sides of the building on the hunt for anything of interest.


We then realised that we had forgotten to bring any food with us so had to go on a walk to Sainsbury's a few miles away to get provisions for the night and morning. When we got back we set up sleeping bags for the night.


Day 2:

Morning came and we finished the explore by looking into the forth and final side of the building that we had missed the night before where we found a file room with many documents dating back years. I had a scare when I stepped on a rusty nail and thought I got tetanus and another when we saw some chairs that we thought were people but we were soon on our way back to London to go home.



28DL Regular User
Regular User
Your in the best place if you stood on a nail. Not slept in a derelict building in a while I kind of miss it. Nice report too.
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