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Leavesden Hospital Reunion
2nd of July 2022
From when it opened its doors in 1870 to when they closed for good in 1995, the Leavesden Asylum/Hospital was one of the largest employers in the area employing thousands of staff who came from as far away as Mauritius, Ireland and Liverpool to work at what was then, a state of the art medical and mental health facility. This allowed for several generations of families to work at the hospital while raising their families in the nearby communities. Many of which still live in the area today.
In 1948, the newly formed National Health Service took over the administrative running of the Leavesden Hospital and its more than 1000 staff and volunteers who provide care for some 3500 patients.
The creation of one of the first Mental Health Nursing Colleges on the site of the hospital in the early 1950’s brought many more people to the site in the pursuit of a career in mental health/learning disability nursing. Nursing students, their teachers, volunteers, patients and staff formed many lasting friendships with each other during their time working at the hospital and many were saddened to have to say goodbye to their colleagues and friends when the hospital closed in 1995.
On Saturday the 2nd of July 2022, The Leavesden Hospital History Association invited former staff, volunteers, patients and anyone who had connection to the hospital, to a reunion event held at the YMCA Community Hub and the Leavesden HIVE Heritage Centre in the middle of the award winning Leavesden Country Park.
This was the first time in over 27 years that staff would have a chance to meet up with former colleagues, reminisce about their time at the hospital and take a walk down memory lane. By all accounts, the daylong event was a huge success with over 73 former staff of the hospital attending the main event as well as visiting the Leavesden HIVE Heritage Centre.
The oldest former staff member to attend the event was 89 years old and another visitor worked at the hospital back in 1967. There were 6 people who met up with former colleagues that they had not seen for over 27 years which was one of the highlights of the day and the main reason the Leavesden Hospital History Association organized this much overdue event.
Martin T Brooks, Founder of the Leavesden Hospital History Association, who has been planning this reunion for over 3 years stated, “Over the last 13 years, I have spoken with many former staff and volunteers of the hospital and all of them have very happy memories of their time and experiences at the hospital and of the friendships they formed while working or studying there. Since the hospital closed, many of these staff members and volunteers have lost touch with their friends and co-workers and this reunion was a fantastic opportunity for them to meet up, share memories and some old photographs, remember their work at the hospital and the people who made it such a memorable experience for them”. It was fantastic to finally see this event happen.
Along with the extensive displays of Leavesden Hospital artefacts and memorabilia brought in specially for this event by the Leavesden Hospital History Association, attendees went on a history walk around the old hospital site which was led by Emma Frost whose enthusiasm and passion for the history of the hospital was recognized and appreciated by those who joined her.
Those who did not join in on the walk where treated to a showing of a film which captured the closing day ceremonies held on the 31st of October 1995. More than a few people in the audience were delighted to point out even more former colleagues that they spotted on the screen and marvelled at just how the hospital looked “back in the day”. The film also featured the Coldstream Guards and the then Mayor of Watford, Norman Tyrwhitt who was not only at the closing ceremonies of the hospital in 1995, but in the audience watching the film on the day of the reunion.
The day’s events also included visits from some VIPs one of which was Dean Russell, MP for Watford and parts of Three Rivers and a big supporter of the work of the Leavesden Hospital History Association who commented “I had a fantastic time at the reunion and would like to thank Martin for organising such a wonderful event. It was fascinating to learn more about the history of the site, and I really enjoyed listening to the stories that the former staff and volunteers had to share.”
A Service of Thanksgiving was also conducted by the Reverend Becky Leach of St Stephens Church, St Albans, in the East Lane Cemetery in remembrance of all the former staff and patients who are at rest there. The Reverend Becky Leach led a procession of 35 people as she followed in the footsteps of the Bishop of Rochester when, in October of 1870, he walked from the main hospital to the south side of East Lane, were he consecrated the original cemetery.
For Martin Brooks, this was the highlight of the day as he recalled, “ For me, personally, this was the best part of the day and one of the most moving services I have ever attended. It has been my personal mission since 2008 to see the East Lane cemetery restored to the place of peace, reflection and respect that it once was and to properly recognize and honour all those who are at rest there. Fourteen years later, and with the help of some awesome volunteers and Three Rivers District Council. I have now achieved that mission. Which to say the least, was a bit emotional for me on the day”.