The hospital attractively located on a hill off the A52, eight miles from Nottingham and within walking distance of Saxondale Village and Radcliffe-on-Trent, once owned acres of farmland. It kept its own livestock, ran a pasteurising unit and a bake house and generated its own electricity.

The original hospital can be traced back as far as 1810 when an institution was established at Sneinton. Before the County Asylum Act of 1808, “pauper lunatics were found to be chained in the cellars of garrets and workhouses, fastened to the leg of the table, tied to a post in an outhouse or perhaps shut up in an in uninhabited ruin.”

Nottingham’s asylum, later split into Saxondale, Mapperley and Coppice Hospitals, was the first that came under the Acts non-deterrent treatment.

It was not until 1839 when John Conolly preached a “non-restraint system” that such developments were generally put into practice.

The original silent at Sneinton, funded by the county, the town and voluntary subscribers, costs less than £20,000 and had 60 patients. By 1839, nearly £40,000 had been spent on the building and its protectors and doctors were exceptional because they were genuinely concerned about the hygiene and general running of the asylum. And Dr Storer, its chairman and originator, was keen to back one of the first attempts in the county to treat patients as human beings.

The Lunatics Act of 1845 marked an era of reform. The old physical methods of bleeding, purging, leg locks and straitjackets were discredited and progress began to be made in the education and rehabilitation mentally ill. The Lunacy (Consolidation) Act, 1890, according to many commentators was a considerable setback to advancement. By 1900, there were 77 public asylums in England, and most of them with about 1,000 patients – and the age of enlightenment still to penetrate their foreboding walls.

It was in this uncompromising period that Saxondale, built at a cost of £147,000 opened its gates in 1902 to provide accommodation for 452 patients. In 1913 a further £529,000 was spent extending the main block for another 148 patients.

The general rules for the management of the Notts County Asylum – as it was known – make revealing reading today. “An ample supply of books, newspaper and cheap publications of a cheerful nature shall be provided and maintained in every ward, and be always accessible to the patients.

“No stranger or visitor except the Committee of Visitors, or the Commissioners in Lunacy, or the Lord Chancellor’s Visitors, shall be admitted into any part of the asylum accompanied by patients, or be shown through the asylum, without leave from the superintendent.

In some aspects, though, the rules seem enlightened for the times. Relatives were able to visit for a couple of hours on Wednesday or Saturday afternoon and patients, with the superintendent’s permission, were allowed to take walks in the grounds and could be granted home visits for up to four days.


The Closure of Saxondale Hospital

The proposal to close Saxondale Hospital was not a new idea. As long ago as 1961-2, the then Health Minister Enoch Powell produced a ten-year policy document declaring that large mental illness hospitals, such as Saxondale, should be phased out.

Ever since that time, Saxondale’s long-term future had been thrown into doubt. The intention was to provide a better service for the mentally ill. Most people consulted by the government said that providing treatment in District General Hospitals and caring for patients within the community offer the real prospect of improvement.

This view was, of course, not universally shared. But it was believed that Nottingham adopted a sound and sensible approach for securing suitable results from the DHSS policy. Indeed the district was at the forefront of new, exciting developments projects, such as community mental health centres. It was seen as a model of good practice by MIND – the National Mental Health Organisation.

One of the reasons for care in the community is that one in six people need psychiatric help at some stage in their life. Yet most mental health lasts only a short time and can be best treated in areas where patients lived and belonged rather than in remote institutions.

The plan to close Saxondale Hospital was only one feature of a review of mental illness services of the early 1980s. A significant increase in community provision was envisaged for long stay patients that were affected by the closure of large institutions. It was believed that such patients would benefit by having the opportunity to live as normal life as possible within the community and would have the support from professional staff to enable them to do this.

This type of service for long stay patients at Saxondale gradually evolved and developed over a seven to eight year period. Various groups, after a period of intensive rehabilitation were able to be discharged to the community to live in small family sized units called Group Homes.

It was appreciated that this arrangement did not suit every long-term patient, which is why the patients were carefully selected and underwent a lengthy period of training.

Saxondale was for many years the main psychiatric hospital for the whole of the county population, excluding the city. When the Central Nottinghamshire and Bassetlaw became self-sufficient in terms of hospital beds for the mentally ill, Saxondale Hospital became too large for the resident population that it was built to serve.

The 1959 Mental Health Act laid a duty upon County Council Social Services Departments to provide hostels for the mentally ill, who needed help and supervision in their day-to-day living but no longer required the full resources of a psychiatric hospital.

Recent Posts