The City of Norwich ‘s provision dates many years before the belated creation of the asylum at Hellesdon. The Bethel Hospital in central Norwich had existed since 1713 and was supported by public subscription up until it was taken into the National Health Service. Bethel was to also provide a limited number of beds to the city of Norwich for the care and custody of its rate aided lunatics, usually forming no more than a quarter of the population, with a capacity of around 40 in the early years, eventually reaching 130 before the NHS takeover.
Bethel’s limited space meant that the provision of a second institution became necessary and space was laid aside at the Workhouse Infirmary near the St. Augustine’s gate area of the city. Part of the site had originally been the location of a lazar hospital and the asylum block was ready for use in 1828, with extensions taking place in 1838 to accommodate further numbers of inmates. The workhouse infirmary left the site in 1859 for Bowthorpe Road, later forming the West Norwich hospital complex and the asylum became the sole occupant of the site.
The commissioners in lunacy were less than happy with the facilities provided for the inmates and pressured the corporation at every available opportunity to provide suitable new accommodation. Dissatifaction with the corporation’s efforts led to the transfer of fifty inmates to the Thorpe Asylum, boarded out to the care of Norfolk County.
Initially the Norwich corporation had aimed to provide a joint site to include the Ipswich authorities and a site close to Tivetshall station on the Great Eastern Railway Mainline. Negotiations with Ipswich foundered and they built their own asylum opeining in 1870. Matters came to a head in 1874 when the Secretary of State took the Norwich Corporation to court to force them to comply with legislation.
A 51 acre site at Hellesdon, north west of the city was selected to accommodate the new asylum and preparation began in 1876.Norwich was to combine with the other Norfolk authorities including Lynn, Yarmouth and Thetford boroughs who each received a share of the capacity of 350 inmates.
In May 1877 the designs for the new asylum by Richard Makilwaine Phipson had been published in ‘The Builder’. Phipson had been a diocesan architect for Norwich as well as County Surveyor for Norfolk, Norwich and Ipswich. He developed a plan consisting of three blocks for each sex separated by the usual central services including combined administration block and superintendent’s residence, steward’s stores and recreation hall. Workshops and a laundry with boiler house and water tower were also included in the layout. The gated main entrance was located on the corner of what are now Drayton High Road and Hospital Lane, with a lodge and adjacent mortuary block. A chapel was provided for in the original plan but was never executed, the recreation hall being utilised instead, its’ site was eventually taken by the boiler house complex in the mid 20th century.
The building was constructed from predominantly of red brick but also featured polychrome decoration and with grey slate roofing. The water tower to the north of the complex featured decorative patterning and a shallow pitched roof cap. The superintendent’s residence formed the northern section of the administrative block and access was gained through a separate entrance to the side maintaining the symmetry of the structure from the front.
Extensions took place to the site at the turn of the century with expansion of the 3-storey male block, which involved further banking up of the sloping grounds to the west. The corresponding female block was to be extended in the same fashion by the 1920’s. Additional single and 2-storey receiving blocks were added along the spine corridor.
During the Great War, the Thorpe asylum was turned over for military use and its population spread across the 10 other asylums in the East Anglian area including Hellesdon which took on the role of taking civilian admissions for the entire Norfolk area. The Norfolk War Hospital was handed back to the County of Norfolk in 1919 and the patients were subsequently returned.
The asylum became the Norwich Mental Hospital during the 1920’s in an attempt to rid the institution of negative associations. In 1930 joint outpatient clinics were held at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, a facility that eventually extended to other general hospitals within Norfolk.
Additional facilities for admission and treatment of patients became available from 1937 with the opening of the David Rice Hospital in Drayton, approximately one mile from the Hellesdon site. Dr. David Rice had been the superintendent at Hellesdon, a post he had held since 1907, having previously worked at Bethlem Royal and Cheddleton Asylums and had died on 31st July 1935 at the age of 64. The building was formed of single storey wings for males and females, each with their own entrance and a 2-storey central section approached from the north on Drayton High Road. The purchase also included Drayton Old Lodge, a short distance further up the road, which was adapted and extended for nurse’s accommodation with some of the outbuildings converted to form staff residences.
On the Hellesdon site 4 additional villas were constructed for working chronic patients and a new boiler house complex was constructed after WWII to meet the demands, replace the aging equiptment and allow expansion of the laundry. A new doctor’s house, The Orchards was constructed at a new entrance to the site opposite the administration block, replacing the original at the south east corner.
World War II saw the Thorpe Mental Hospital once again pressed into war use with beds in the annexe handed over to the Emergency Medical Service and again County patients arrived at the City mental hospital with the EMS beds only handed back fully in 1947. The David Rice Admission Hospital was handed over to the management of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital for the duration. Bethel was bombed and was also evacuated. Peak occupancy was reached with 771 patients at the Hellesdon site.
Under the National Health service changes were initially slow, but by 1960 major changes to the areas mental health services were planned which were to place Hellesdon Hospital at the centre of the developments. The David Rice Hospital provided a variety of facilities and treatments including cardiazol treatment replaced after 1947 with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), operating theatres for leucotomy, electroencephalography (EEG) and mother and baby provision.
St. Andrew’s hospital at Thorpe as the older, albeit larger of the two main mental hospitals was gradually redesignated to deal with primarily long stay and psychogeriatric services. Acute and specialist treatments were concentrated at Hellesdon with Child and Adolescent psychiatry located at Bethel.
By 1974 Norfolk’s catchment areas had been reconfigured resulting in Kings Lynn and Yarmouth areas health authority services being largely detached from the Norwich based mental hospitals. Admission services for Central and north sectors were concentrated at the David Rice hospital, the Waveney Clinic at Hellesdon serving the south and east Norfolk admissions and the new Yare Clinic at the West Norwich Hospital taking the central and Norwich areas. Bethel was closed to inpatient services, which went to Hellesdon instead.
Pressure increased at Hellesdon into the 1980’s, with inpatients numbering around 450. St. Andrew’s was being wound down and services were intermittently transferred to Hellesdon as long stay patient rehabilitation and discharge continued. The areas ambulance service headquarters were provided with a site on Hospital Lane at the south west corner of the hospital site. Plans to transfer services to the Norfolk and Norwich or a proposed new second district general hospital at Colney Lane came to nothing, having been scrapped in 1994. New units were provided at Wensum Meadows, located on the lower ground between the ambulance station and the main building, where the newer inpatient facilities were to be concentrated. The Yare Clinic transferred to Hellesdon in order to provide a site for new facilities at the old West Norwich hospital. This provided a new complex of buildings named the Julian Hospital, which formally opened in 11th July 1998 with St. Andrew’s closing the same year.
Developments at Hellesdon continued with the demolition of the 3-storey female ward in 2002 and one of the male villas. The David Rice Hospital was closed and also demolished in 2005 and Drayton Old Lodge sold. The cricket pitch provided the site for a new intensive care ad low secure unit, Justin Gardner House.
The site of the Workhouse Infirmary and asylum at St. Augustine’s Gate was demolished shortly after being vacated and was developed during the 20th Century as a Straling Road with the site occupied by shoe factory buildings and post war local authority housing.
The David Rice Hospital site has remained vacant since demolition as plans to build a church on the site foundered. The nearby Drayton Old Lodge has become a venue for weddings and events.
The Hellesdon site remains in use under the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS foundation trust which provides mental health services for the area. Inpatient services have moved into the newer buildings lower on the site although other services continue to occupy the original asylum. Of the four hospitals, Bethel, St. Andrew’s, Hellesdon, and David Rice, which made up those formerly covering the Norfolk and Norwich areas only Hellesdon surviving in health service use. It is ostensibly in its’ original form at least for the present time and remains one of the very last of its kind in the NHS.