Mad in Middlesex

Shenley Hospital opened by Middlesex County Council in 1934 built on a long tradition in the county of enlightened care for people with mental illness. This began with the bluntly titled Madhouse Act of 1828 which provided for the first  publicly funded purpose built asylums, resulting in the opening in May 1831 of the Middlesex County Asylum in Hanwell. Here the first resident physician Dr John Conolly was a pioneer in abandoning physical restraints for patients. The handsome asylum building, soon to be overlooked by Brunel’s equally fine Wharncliffe Viaduct, is still in use today as St Bernards Hospital. St Bernards is the headquarters of the West London Mental Healthcare NHS Trust which treats more than 20,000 people a year spread across 32 different sites including Broadmoor High Secure Hospital.

The Illustrated London News of 1848 shows a Twelfth Night party for inmates at Hanwell. The paper praised the revolutionary regime there: "Seven years have elapsed since the experiment of non-restraint has been fully tried in the Hanwell Asylum; and Dr Conolly, in the spirit of a Christian philosopher, thanks God, with deep and unfeigned humility, that nothing has occurred during that period to throw discredit on the great principles for which he has so nobly battled".

The Illustrated London News of 1848 shows a Twelfth Night party for inmates at Hanwell. The paper praised the regime there: “Seven years have elapsed since the experiment of non-restraint has been fully tried in the Hanwell Asylum; and Dr Conolly, in the spirit of a Christian philosopher, thanks God, with deep and unfeigned humility, that nothing has occurred during that period to throw discredit on the great principles for which he has so nobly battled”.

20 years after it opened Hanwell was joined by the Second Middlesex County Asylum, also known as Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum. Colney Hatch was used by Londoners to mean any mental institution. It had 1250 beds at its opening in 1851 growing to care for 3,500 patients, living in wards arranged around the longest corridor in Europe. Unlike Hanwell Colney Hatch is no longer open; the site was redeveloped in the 1990s as luxury flats.

Colney Hatch in 1856, when a visitor wrote: ‘We were indeed gratified on finding so universal an air of homeliness and comfort pervade the establishment. The patients in general spoke in high terms of their treatment, and assured us that everything was done that could be to make them feel happy. What a difference in the condition of the lunatic at the present time, compared with what was some fifty years past!‘

Colney Hatch in 1856, when a visitor wrote: ‘We were indeed gratified on finding so universal an air of homeliness and comfort pervade the establishment. The patients in general spoke in high terms of their treatment, and assured us that everything was done that could be to make them feel happy. What a difference in the condition of the lunatic at the present time, compared with what was some fifty years past!‘

The public asylums largely replaced private establishments outside London. These have become famous in literature through The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, published by Charles Dickens as a serial in 1859-60.  The first of the so-called ‘sensation novels’ this is the story of a young woman who we meet in the Finchley Road  having escaped from the asylum where she had been wronglyfully committed in order to steal an inheritance.

From the first edition of The Woman in White the hero, art teacher Walter Hartright, first meets the mysterious woman on the outskirts of London

From the first edition of The Woman in White the hero, art teacher Walter Hartright,  meets the mysterious woman on the outskirts of London

Here are some of the names of these establishments, as traced by this blogger. The first, for wealthy patients, may have been Irish’s, which opened in Guildford in Surrey, in 1700, and which was followed by madhouses in Chelsea in the mid 18th century, also Hoxton House just north-east of London, Normand House, Fulham, Ann Pope’s in Hanwell, Manor House, Chiswick (1833), Earls Court House in Old Brompton, and Wyke House and Inverness Lodge in Brentford. In Hanwell John Conolly opened his own private establishment called Lawn House after leaving his position at the county asylum. One of the last was Stilwell’s in Hayes in the mid 19th century.

Dr John Conolly, 1794-1866, first resident physician of Middlesex County Asylum, Hanwell, and later proprietor of a private asylum there.

Dr John Conolly, 1794-1866, first resident physician of Middlesex County Asylum, Hanwell, and later proprietor of a private asylum there.

Conolly also lived on in literature, according to a contributor to the British Journal of Psychiatry who argues that he is the model for a doctor in another novel dealing with the issue of wrongful commitment to asylums. This is the best selling Hard Cash (1863) by Charles Reade. Despite Conolly’s progressive regime in Hanwell, Reade represents him as his fictional alter ego, a Dr Wycherly, is happy to fall in the (sane) hero’s dishonest father and commit him to imprisonment while spouting jargon about ‘an organic affection of the brain’.

 

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German Lessons

Evening Mood on the Schlachtensee by Walter Leistikow, 1895. The way Berliners flock to the woods and lakes to the west of their city contrasts with our relative neglect of such treasures as Ruislip Woods

Evening Mood on the Schlachtensee by Walter Leistikow, 1895. The way Berliners flock to the woods and lakes to the west of their city contrasts with our relative neglect of such treasures as Ruislip Woods

The houses of London and its suburbs made a big impression on Germans, largely through  Herman Muthesius, the author of Das Englische Haus , later employer of the influential Berlin city planner Martin Wagner. But it was a two-way exchange. Greater London which after 1965 became the single governing authority swallowing Middlesex whole appears to have been inspired by the creation of Greater Berlin in 1920 which itself swallowed what had previously been seven neighbouring towns. Berlin also influenced the rebranding of London Transport in the 1930s by its managing director Frank Pick with architect Charles Holden followed their research tour of Northern Europe by the pair in 1930 which took in Holland Denmark and Germany. If 19th and 20th century London struck visitors as an example of how to combine buildings and nature, 21st century Berlin has now overtaken it, with its extensive greenery and woodland linked everywhere by cycleways. The debate over the future of the disused Tempelhof airport foreshadows that over the future of a possibly-abandoned Heathrow. The biggest  difference between the two cities: just as London itself dominates the rest of the country, the centre overshadows the suburbs and makes them appear mean and second rate. Greater Berlin by contrast feels like a partnership of equals.

A cyclepath beside what was Albert Speer's East West axis through Berlin's Tiergarten

A cyclepath beside what was Albert Speer’s East West axis through Berlin’s Tiergarten

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Harmondsworth — a terminal case ?

Heathrow-north-west-option-6411980

 

The Airport Commission’s Interim Report on expanding the UK’s airport capacity proposes, as one of its three shortlisted options, creating a new runway (pictured above) to the northwest of Heathrow on the site of the village of Harmondsworth. The other proposals are enlarging the existing northern runway and a second runway for Gatwick.

Harmondsworth is a village of exceptional historic interest, as the report acknowledges, and is home to one of the most exceptional medieval structures in Britain, the Harmondsworth barn, hailed by Sir John Betjeman as ‘the cathedral of Middlesex’. It says its proposal would ‘require a significant number of demolitions, totalling approximately 1,500 houses and including the loss of the village of Harmondsworth, much of which is a conservation area. A second conservation area in Longworth would also lose listed buildings. Around 30 listed buildings would be lost, including the Grade I listed Great Tithe Barn and the Grade II* listed St Mary’s Church. While Heathrow Airport Ltd has indicated that it will continue to examine the potential to avoid the most severe of these heritage impacts, it is difficult to see currently how this may be achieved other than by relocating the barn and church.’

HARMONDSWORTH BARNHarmondsworth is a landmark too in the history of British publishing. Between 1937 and the 1990s all Penguin books paid tribute to the village giving as their publishing location ‘Harmondsworth, Middlesex’ rather than London. The village helped inspire the naturalist Richard Mabey, an editor at Penguin in the early 1970s, who created a classic account of his walks around the fringes of London in ‘The Unofficial Countryside’. Whatever future is found for the Harmondsworth barn the core of the village (below) would be lost under tarmac should the third North West Heathrow runway go ahead.

Harmondsworth Village

 

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A Commanding View

Brilliant News that Bentley Priory, the Stanmore country house designed by Sir John Soane won’t after all be sold off as flats but is opening as a museum reflecting its role as central command point for the RAF in the Battle of Britain, headquarters of the head of Fighter Command Hugh ‘Stuffy’ Dowding. The handsome building and its grounds were part of the large number of RAF properties currently being sold off mainly around former Middlesex. Now walkers on section 15 of the London Loop can take in two grand suburban houses, with Bentley Priory joining the even more architecturally important Grims Dyke — if that is they can cope with the the missing or confusing signage produced by the beyond-Greater London local councils who seem to resent visitors (and, possibly, the fact that the London Loop was wished on them by Ken Livingstone.)

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Why can 1930s semis only be homes or B&Bs?

Georgian and early Victorian streets look rigid and geometrical whereas suburban streets bend and sprawl. But the older flat fronted houses are used or converted in any number of ways, from Prime Minister’s residence, to offices, restaurants, to pubs and from pubs to houses, shops, the rag trade from sweatshops (traditionally in Spitalfields) to Savile Row …

North Korean Embassy in Gunnersbury Avenue, W5

North Korean Embassy in Gunnersbury Avenue, W5

Contrast the media’s amusement at finding that the North Korean embassy is housed in a semi in Ealing. This is because the point of suburban house design is to advertise that it’s residential — a refuge from the working world. So the only accepted commercial uses are quasi-homes, as in family hotels or B&Bs ( or, at a stretch, brothels.) It doesn’t even really feel comfortable when a restaurant is housed in a 1930s semi rather than a purpose built location in a shop parade: when I pass the Japanese restaurant in Hanger Lane, Ealing I do a double take. The most incongruous use of a semi was Crespigny Road, Hendon, during World War 2, as the place where double-agents misled the Germans via short-wave radio about the Allies war plans. But of course this traded on the very privacy that prevents semi detatched houses being accepted as the scene of public and civic life.

Momo restaurant, Hanger Lane, Ealing W5

Momo restaurant, Hanger Lane, Ealing W5

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Relaxed about difference

Greater London has been unbothered about ethnic and cultural mixing since time immemorial and it’s good to see from 2011 census data that this tradition lives on. Dollis Hill, developed pre-World War I on the grounds of a 19th century country estate, is one of the two most ethnically diverse electoral wards in the United Kingdom. At the same time analysis of the data shows a local decline in neighbourhood ethnic segregation.

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Two terrible business ventures that shaped modern Middlesex

 

What Watkins’ Tower would have looked like

The most famous place to have Middx in its postal address must be Wembley,  the home since 1923 of England’s national stadium. Equally vital to the economy of west London are the 500 hectares of Park Royal, Europe’s largest area of industrial and business parks. Both were planted in the fields of Middlesex as a result of projects that failed to interest the public. Wembley was put on the map by what became known as Watkin’s Folly — more formally ‘The Great Tower of London’ — the brainchild of Sir Edward Watkin, the chairman of the Metropolitan Railway, who tried to outdo the Eiffel Tower on a site close to his trains. The foundations were laid in 1892 and the partially built tower was opened in 1896. But the structure was unsound, visitor numbers were disappointing, and it closed in 1900 being demolished between 1904-1907. However the project did succeed in raising Wembley’s profile and the ‘Empire Stadium’ built for the British Empire Exhibitions of 1924-25 cemented its place in history. Park Royal, which seems an odd name for a sprawling expanse of warehouses and light industry, is so called because of the decision of the Royal Agricultural Society to buy up 102 acres of land to create a permanent show ground. The society had run touring annual shows since 1839  to teach farmers about best current scientific practise but felt that, with modern transport, it would be more appropriate to bring audiences to the show then take the show out to the audiences. They were wrong. Despite patronage by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra audiences fell from 65,000 in 1903 — a figure which meant a substantial financial loss — to 24,000 in 1905, the lowest ever recorded. Londoners apparently were unwilling to jump on the train to the new Park Royal stations to survey prize livestock. The Royal Agricultural Society cut its losses and sold the land for industrial development.

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Free pre-NHS health care in Middlesex

This online exhibition on Shenley Hospital is a reminder of how the former county council organised a county-wide health service between the wars. In 1930 it rebranded as Middlesex’s ‘County Hospitals’ a clutch of former poor-law infirmaries : North Middlesex in Edmonton, Redhill (now Edgware Community Hospital), Central Middlesex (formerly Park Royal hospital), Hillingdon Hospital (the county council developed this from scratch from a former workhouse) and West Middlesex in Isleworth. Almoners at these hospitals investigated patients’ means and charged them according to their ability to pay. Middlesex CC  had already started some free health care, especially in the fight against tuberculosis. From 1910 onwards any TB patient in the county was treated, and the council found funds to support their families. Then from 1936 onwards all TB treatment became free. Middlesex built two TB sanitoria and also concentrated  on mental health (a particular issue for the thousands traumatised in World War I.)  According to The Times in a 1927 article the council wanted to create in Shenley somewhere that would use the “most modern methods of treatment” and “for a period, at least, be the finest institution of its kind in the world”. The council made full use of its powers under the 1930 Lunacy and Mental Treatment Act to invest in mental health provision just as it channelled other income during the Great Depression (see below) into creating the modern infrastructure of much of Greater London.

A corridor in Shenley Hospital soon after its opening in 1934

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Roads and Bridges — how Middlesex built its place in history

Chiswick Bridge, built by Middlesex County Council and opened together with new bridges at Twickenham and Hampton Court in 1933

Nearly fifty years ago Middlesex County Council was abolished; it disappeared into thin air but before doing so it scattered London and its approaches with monuments to years of frantic activity between the wars; these aimed both  to combat unemployment and build the external skeleton of a modern mega-city.

The county council built the North Circular, Western Avenue, the Great West Road, the Cambridge Road, the Chertsey Road and the Watford and Barnet by-passes. and handsome bridges at Chiswick, Twickenham and (with Lutyens as its archtect) at Hampton Court.

The Great West Road at Osterley

The biggest example of the 30s building programme is mostly invisible: the 70 miles of new main sewers serving the new West London suburbs built under the Middlesex County Council act of 1931 with half of the £5.5 million bill paid for by central government on condition that three quarters of the workforce were recruited through local labour exchanges.  The visible part of this undertaking — comparable with the original Victorian London sewerage programmes of Sir Joseph Bazalgette — is the 55 hectares of the Mogden Sewage works in Isleworth, the second biggest in the UK and serving 2.1 million people. It was built between 1931 qne 1934 and officially opened in 1936. An upgrade was completed in March 2013 which increased its capacity by 50%.

Mogden Sewage Works

Mogden Sewage Works

 

What’s more Middlesex pioneered green politics. It was the first ever local authority to obtain legal powers to prosecute people suspected of polluting rivers and to pay for remedial work. It also, at around the turn of the 20th century, began buying land to create riverside walks. This initiative was came decades before the first act of parliament to promote London’s Green Belt, in 1938; Middlesex in any case spent heavily during the 1930s buying land to keep it free of development — not just in Middlesex itself, but the 110 acres of the Ankerwycke Estate at Wraysbury and the 306 cres of Denham Court, both in Buckinghamshire, the 350 acres of Moor Park, Rickmanshworth in Herfordshire.

Moor Park Estate, Rickmansworth

It’s a record that makes present day efforts to invest in infrastructure during a recession look timid.

 

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When Ratty and Mole met the Home Fleet

Looking north from the Surrey bank. Launches at Thorneycrofts were occasions for local celebrations.

The Clyde and the Tyne are famous as shipbuilding rivers for the Royal Navy; the Thames at Chiswick and Hampton less so. But in the heyday of the British Empire a great shipbuilding name — Thorneycrofts — arose with the unlikely address of Church Wharf, Chiswick Mall, where it made torpedo gunboats before moving operations to Southampton in 1904. To fit under London’s bridges, masts and funnels had to be removed and replaced downriver and Greenhithe, near Dartford.  The picture above shows the launch of HMS Speedy in May, 1893. More on the history of Thorneycrofts here and also to follow on this page.

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