Feature: fascinating insight into former Hatton asylum

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Hatton Park’s most prominent feature is its old bell tower but what of the 
Victorian gothic-styled building it was a part of?

Hatton Park’s most prominent feature is its old bell tower but what of the 
Victorian gothic-styled building it was a part of?

Alastair Robson presents his book to the St Michael's Hospital library. He is pictured with Wendy Townsend  (Library Services Manager) and Andy Owen  (Consultant Psychiatrist).

Alastair Robson presents his book to the St Michael's Hospital library. He is pictured with Wendy Townsend (Library Services Manager) and Andy Owen (Consultant Psychiatrist).

It is common knowledge that the rural housing estate was once the site of a large psychiatric hospital.

But now retired Warwickshire GP Dr Alastair Robson has delved deeper into its history and published a book which is a biography of Dr Henry Parsey, who was the asylum’s first medical superintendant in charge of patients for 30 years after in opened as the Warwick County Lunatic Asylum in 1852.

His book ‘Unrecognised by the World at Large’ offers an unbiased perspective of living and working in a Victorian asylum and discusses extensively the care of mentally ill people before and after the asylum era.

Dr Robson, who was a GP in Southam for more than 30 years and lives in Fenny Compton, said: “During the time in which Dr Parsey ran the Warwick asylum it had a good reputation both nationally and internationally for the quality of care it gave to patients.

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“Not many Victorian asylums were held in such high regard.

“When asylums were first built the idea was that if mentally ill people were well looked after, given three square meals a day and given physical occupations such as gardening and making shoes that they would eventually receive, they could return to their families. But that didn’t happen often and the rate of discharge was very low meaning that the numbers of patients in these places was very high by the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century.

“The asylum was originally built for 300 patients but by the end of the 19th century it had 600 and when it marked its centenary in the 1950s it had 1,500.

“It was not until the use of the pharmacological medication Largactil that seriously disturbed mentally ill patients became more amenable to treatments.

“After that the discharge rate increased and that was the beginning of the care of mentally ill people in the community that we have today.”

Dr Robson carried out most of his research by using the archives at the Warwickshire County Record Office in Warwick.

He had discovered that the ward to which he had been sending patients from his surgery in Southam was named after Dr Parsey, who became the basis of his book.

He said that Dr Parsey, who was a pupil of two of the most famous English physicians to mentally ill people - Dr John Conolly and Sir John Bucknill - died in 1884 and an obituary for him noted that “It was a shame he had not written more about the work that he had done” and that he was not known so well “by the world at large”.

Dr Robson said: “The hospital served people in Warwickshire for generations and families who have lived in the area all that time will probably have had at least one member who was treated there.

“Dr Parsey was a quiet and unassuming doctor but he managed the asylum to the best of his ability and even though he was not looking for approval from his contemporaries the fact he is held in such high regard by them shows the nature of the man.”

Unrecognised by the World at Large is available directly from Troubador Publishing at its {http://www.troubador.co.uk|http://www.troubador.co.uk website, local bookshops and Amazon.

***** Building of the Central Hospital in Hatton began in 1846.

The site had been purchased from the Earl of Warwick and was completed in 1852 with the first patients moving in in June of that year.

It was originally named the Warwick County Lunatic Asylum and from 1930-1948 the Warwickshire County Mental Hospital.

Eventually gaining over 377 acres (153 ha) of land, the hospital patients provided most of their own food from three farms in the grounds and a spring supplied it with water.

Many of the staff lived there too, making it more like a village than a hospital.

In 1948 the hospital joined the National Health Service, freeing up the patients to the outside world as never before.

With the increasing population and understanding of mental illnesses, the hospital was overcrowded for over 20 years between 1945 and the late 1960s.

It was officially closed on July 31, 1995, and St Michael’s Hospital, a psychiatric hospital, was opened in Warwick by Queen Elizabeth II in 1996 *****