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The current 57 acres of Leavesden Country Park is the former site of the Leavesden Asylum/Hospital and was constructed by the Metropolitan Asylums Board between 1868 and 1870 for the purpose of “administering care for the numerous quiet and harmless imbeciles" who were an all too familiar sight in the streets of metropolitan London during those times.
Leavesden Asylum was situated almost halfway between North Watford and Abbots Langley Parish on College Road which was known as Asylum Road from 1870 to 1947. The 85 acres which hosted the asylum cost approximately £7,600 (£80 an acre) to purchase with the 18 acres of buildings, furnishings and fixtures costing approximately £145,600. Building materials for the hospital are believed to have been transported by canal boat from London to Hunton Bridge and then by horse and cart to the building site.
Original designs of the hospital allowed for the accommodation of 1,500 (800 females and 700 males) inmates, as they were first referred to, in 12 separate 3 storey blocks, or wards, situated 6 each on the sides of the main administration building which is one of 5 original hospital buildings standing today. The asylum was officially opened in October 1870 by the Bishop of Rochester with the hospital’s Medical Superintendent, Dr. T. Claye Shaw, reporting to the managing committee that there were 100 residents.
By October of the following year there were 739 male and 899 female patients. An 1881 census recorded a local population of 3,643. This included a total population of 2,085 in the renamed Metropolitan District Asylum (1638 patients and 447 staff), 639 residents in the St Pancras Workhouse Orphanage/Schools (located across the road) and an Abbots Langley Parish population of 919.
Taking care of the 2085 staff and patients of the hospital was, to say the least, a challenge as Tesco home delivery was 120 years yet to come. This was dealt with in a truly British fashion by the hospital producing 90% of everything it needed in house.
The Home Farm, later to be renamed Warren Farm, and its associated Farm Cottage as it is referred to, was the residence of the chief gardener Mr E. Buckingham from 1869 to 1884 who earned 25s a week, and the use of the two-bedroom cottage, “to crop the 44 acres of farmland and kitchen gardens and ensure a supply of vegetables for the inmates”. The farming operation also included cows, horses, and by 1879 employed 64 patient workers.
Other items of necessity that were produced on site were patient clothing, staff uniforms, shoes, mattresses, mats, and baskets. The lower floors of the main administration building were used for the storage of beer, wine, and ale, as well as vegetables from the farm and gardens, with senior staff having their own accommodation in the upper floors.
Staff also had a chance to participate in sport, when in 1908 the Leavesden Hospital Football Club was formed, hosting matches on the football pitches located in the north end of the park, which is still used by sports clubs today. The Leavesden Hospital FC participated in an Amateur FA Cup match and is said to hold a "Guinness Book of World Records" record for the longest match ever played - 6 weeks. We have recently been able to name all the players in this photograph of the 1954 football team.
In 1932 the hospital, which was by now known as the Leavesden Mental Hospital, annexed the old St. Pancreas Workhouse/Industrial School to handle the increase in patients which by 1948 would grow to 3,000. It was at this time that the newly created National Health Service took over operation control of the facility and created one of the largest and most recognised mental health nurses training colleges in the country.
The NHS took over control of the hospital in1995