Kingsway Hospital, Derby


Hospital Name: Kingsway
Previous Names: Derby Borough Lunatic Asylum, Derby Borough Mental Hospital
Location: Kingsway, Rowditch, Derby
Principal Architect: Benjamin S. Jacobs
Layout: Dual Courtyard
Status: Demolished
Opened: 13th November 1888
Closed: December 2009


Derby?s first lunatic asylum was the privately-run Green Hill House (at Green Hill, where the Hippodrome would later stand) and was run by a Dr Brigstockes. Although it appears to have been running for several years prior, it is recorded that there were 32 patients there in 1846 when the Lunacy Commission, the national body who oversaw all public and private asylums, first supplied its licence. A few years later it was taken over by a Mr & Mrs Morris and a Mr & Mrs Fisher, two couples who had previously worked at the Nottingham Asylum (Sneinton) and Lincoln Asylum (The Lawn) respectively.

While Green Hill House would have handled some of Derby?s insane patients, both Derby County and Derby Borough had been boarding the majority of their pauper lunatics out to the Leicester and Rutland asylum since the 1830?s. The Derby Mercury recorded on 7th January 1846 that the Justices of the County of Derbyshire and the Recorder of the Borough of Derby had both given notice of their individual intentions to build an asylum in response to the 1845 County Asylums Act, which made mandatory the building of at least one asylum for each County, and at least one more for any Borough within each county. For Derby Borough, a public meeting on the matter was swiftly held, taking place on the 8th February 1846. Plans were commissioned and produced with little delay, and submitted to the Lunacy Commissioners (whose approval was required before any building could begin) before the end of the year. After several months? wait, a rejection letter arrived appearing to suggest the Derby Borough authorities had been over-generous with their plans, with the Commissioners saying:

  1. ?On examining the plans for the proposed asylum, it was found that provision had been made for 360 lunatics, when the total number of pauper lunatics for Derby does not exceed 216.
  1. The style of the proposed buildings is of an ornamental and costly character, much more so than is required in a residence for pauper lunatics.
  1. The size and proportions of the cells and single rooms are greater than is necessary for the housing of pauper lunatics.
  1. The object of that part of the scheme which is included to render the asylum fire-proof, adds greatly to the weight and expense of the building.”

Whilst the above may sound deeply parsimonious on the part of the Lunacy Commissioners, all but the last point closely reflects their duty to ensure that asylum buildings were kept to a standardised set of both mandatory and ?desirable? design elements. These had been debated at great length prior to drawing up the Act, and were all specified quite clearly within it. Among the above issues, point 1 was intended to ensure that a particular County or Borough did not deliberately build an asylum with excess capacity in order to profit from the higher rates which could then be charged for boarding-in lunatics from other counties ? as was in fact recorded as being raised as a profit-making venture by a member of the Derby Town Council during these planning stages. The Commission likely felt that such a practice might also serve to discourage other counties from getting on with the task of building their own asylum, if they felt they could get away with boarding-out their lunatics elsewhere. It is worth noting however, that this policy conflicted somewhat with other concerns on the part of the Commissioners, since most asylums built by that point were already being expanded every 10-20 years to cope with increasing demand, and the likes of Dr John Connelly of the Middlesex County Asylum at Hanwell (St Bernard?s Hospital), an influential advisor to the Lunacy Commission, had recommended that all new asylums be built to excess capacity in anticipation of the ever-increasing need he could see developing. Points 2 and 4 both fell well within the Commissioners? remit, as the Act made clear that excessive ornamentation was not appropriate and general ideal sizes for patient cells had also been agreed upon and specified in the Act. Point 4 makes less obvious sense, as fire-proofing was indeed part of the recommendations of the Act, and numerous asylums built around the same time had special fire-proof elements incorporated into their structure. These original plans also included a burial ground, beer garden and brewery (or ?beer house? – breweries having been a standard addition to many earlier asylums, but one which had fallen out of favour by the 1880?s when Kingsway was finally built) but none of these were to be part of Kingsway?s design once finalised.

This initial setback seems to have taken the momentum from of the Derby Borough authorities, as while Derby County moved forward swiftly and saw the opening of the Derby County Asylum (Pastures Hospital) by 1851, it would take another 42 years for Derby Borough to get around to doing the same. Their problems and setbacks were many, but not untypical of the numerous issues faced by local authorities attempting to build their asylums, all the while with one eye on meeting the mandatory central government requirements of the Lunacy Commission and another on the purse-strings of themselves and their rate-payers.

By 1863, a site at Rowditch had been identified as suitable, but the 24 acres available wasn?t quite large enough, and a Miss Trowell who owned a large house to the north refused to sell up any of her land to make up the shortfall. So meetings were then held to look into whether it would indeed prove cheaper and more practical for Derby Borough to build their own asylum, or simply continue boarding Derby?s patients out to other asylums and it appears the latter was chosen at the time. But by 1871, the decision seemed to have been forced, when the Leicester & Rutland Asylum sent a letter stating they could not receive any more patients from Derby, due to their own overcrowding. By 1873, Derby was paying ?800 per annum to house its lunatics at Pastures, Leicester and now Burntwood (the 2nd Staffordshire County Asylum aka St Matthews Hospital), and so the decision was confirmed to commission brand new plans for Derby?s own asylum.

A site at Etwall was rejected by the Lunacy Commissioners (whose job included visiting and assessing every proposed site in person) with sites at Spondon and Draycott also inspected but rejected due to inadequate on-site supplies of water, causing further delay. With two more sites rejected, a proposal was made in 1876 that Derby Borough instead pay for the enlargement of the existing Derby County Asylum (Pastures) at nearby Mickleover, on the basis that significant benefits and savings could perhaps be made to both institutions working together. This plan looked to be acceptable to both parties, until the Committee at the Leicester & Rutland Asylum dropped a bombshell – they had read about these plans in the local press and stated that, assuming their contract with Derby would be renewed, had already gone ahead and enlarged their own asylum, with Lunacy Commission approval, purely in order to incorporate Derby Borough?s resident lunatics. They were now writing to propose drawing up a contract for such continued provision at Leicester for the next 20 years.

This came as quite a surprise considering Derby had been given no notice that the building work at Leicester was going to take place. What made the pill harder to swallow, was that the earlier letter stating Leicester?s refusal to take any more Derby patients had been preceded by another letter which went as far as criticising the ?type? of lunatic being sent from Derby, who were ?epileptic, dirty and destructive in habits, and others in a condition which indicated their approaching dissolution?, and complaining that this type of patient both increased the expense to the institution for their care, as well as raising the mortality rate and therefore lowering its reputation and standing among its private clients. Despite this, the Derby authorities apparently chose frugality over any considerations toward their lunatic poor, and agreed to the deal, continuing to farm patients out to distant Leicester and Staffordshire, far from home and family, for the following 12 years.

Despite continued pressure from the Lunacy Commission, and even the involvement of the Home Secretary, it would take until December 1883 before any real movement was made, this time with the Rowditch site now back on the agenda. Miss Trowell had died in the intervening period, and the site then passed to her cousin, Lord Belper, who had no special interest in it, and so he leased out the house privately, and was quite happy to make a bit of quick cash selling the land to the Derby Corporation.

As was normal practice by this time, an advert was placed requesting the submission of new plans for an asylum from any architect willing to submit them – essentially a competition, with the winner receiving the contract to draw up the working plans, and the runners-up often being noted in publicity and sometimes even winning runner-up prizes as an incentive. With guidance from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the winning design by Benjamin S. Jacobs was selected from over 150 entrants and was for an asylum to accommodate up to 300 lunatics, the number who were registered to Derby (and therefore permissible by the Lunacy Commission) having grown in the intervening years. The main building was in red brick in an appealing but unremarkable neo-Jacobean style, given a more imposing air by several large, ornate water towers and turrets. The layout was an unusual dual-courtyard design, a form which was only used at a few other asylums in the UK, including the Hull Borough Asylum (De La Pole Hospital) of 1883 which not coincidentally was built to serve Jacobs? home town of Hull only the year before he submitted his plans, and must surely have inspired and influenced the design he submitted. The buildings formed a rectangle as a whole, with six large ward blocks separated by a row of administrative and service buildings running down the centre, dividing the main rectangle into two smaller squares, with a courtyard at the centre of each, with each square (representing male and female halves) having its own separate services and each having one padded cell incorporated. The whole asylum sat on 26 acres of land, and was specifically designed to be enlarged to accommodate another 200 patients if, or rather when, required.

The Derby Borough Lunatic Asylum was finally opened on the 13th November 1888 to 27 female patients returned from the Leicester & Rutland County Asylum, with others who had been boarded out to the asylums at Burntwood (St Matthews), Mickleover (Pastures) and Nottingham (Mapperley) to follow. As was the case for almost every new asylum which had not yet reached capacity, they were now able to start boarding-in patients from others, with as many as 50 soon brought in from the Cheshire Asylum (Deva: Countess of Chester) in 1889, and others from as far away as the North Wales Asylum at Denbigh. By 1891, a new block was built purely to house patients boarded in from the Worcestershire County Asylum (Powick).

The first Medical Superintendent was Dr Rutherford McPhail, who had previously held the same post at the Cumberland & Westmorland County Asylum (Garlands) and was appointed for the sum of ?350 per annum, which included the occupancy of a separate detached purpose-built Superintendent?s Residence. This house was considered a significant perk to the job and was designed to attract the very best talent, with its furnishings alone costing ?500, well over his own yearly salary, and more than 35 times that of the lowest-paid positions; when the asylum opened, the 2 kitchen maids and house maid received ?14 per annum for shifts which lasted up to 18 hours, 7 days a week, with half a day off each week, and one full day off per month. The job also included lodging for most staff, although doubtless not quite up to the Superintendent?s standards. Married staff lived off-site initially, but received a lodging allowance toward their costs, as married staff were preferred to those who were single.

In 1891 the aforementioned additional block was built for the Cheshire patients, wooden shelters were added to the patients? airing courts, and a store-room was converted into a darkroom so that each patient could be photographed on entry to the asylum. By the 1950?s, the darkroom was redundant and only used for storing firewood. The patients were also set to work building and planting the asylum?s cricket ground in 1891, and clocks were installed on all wards so that attendants didn?t have to keep going to the dining hall to find out what the time was! By 1892, the night staff were left in little doubt about the time, as electric ?tell-tale? clocks (which had to be activated every half-hour) were installed on all wards in order to log the Attendants? patrols and rounds.

Meals at Kingsway during this period, and until the 1920?s, consisted mainly of potatoes, bread and meat ? the Lunacy Commissioners noted on their annual visit in 1892 that the meat was ?too fat to be eaten, and a good deal was left untouched?. ?Melancholia? was the main cause of admission at this time, and many patients were admitted in very ill states, with one patient only lasting four hours from being brought in to being certified dead. The average age of death was around 50 years of age. Death rates were a little higher in Kingsway?s early years than the average for UK asylums, with a 19th Century peak of 47 deaths in 1892, most attributed to ?GPI? (general paralysis) and ?pthisis? (tuberculosis). On a more positive note, and also unusually, Kingsway did not have a single registered case of suicide for the first 12 years of its operation. However, when it did finally occur in 1900, in a case where a female patient tore out her own tongue with her fingernails, threw it on the floor, and was said to have died of shock and blood loss 42 hours later, the case?s details were lurid enough to make their way into the local press, coverage of which in turn was believed to have initiated a spate of copycat attempts at the asylum. Many pauper patients who were discharged as fit but had no home, family or means, would have only had further grim incarceration at the Derby Union Workhouse to look forward to, and in many cases, patients discharged to the harsh regime of the workhouse were back at Kingsway within weeks.

In 1895, smallpox cases were found at Kingsway, and the patients transferred to a Derbyshire fever hospital with the remaining patients vaccinated. B.S. Jacobs was consulted again on the building of a new isolation block, designed to keep infectious patients on-site but still away from the main wards, and this was opened to the north of the main building in 1897. It included 5 male and 5 female beds, with a room above the porch for one Attendant. It was rarely actually used for its intended purpose, instead serving for a while as a house for the Head-Attendant, a ?parole? block for convalescent patients, home to the insulin therapy unit, and even (during the first word war) a temporary home to a family of refugees from Belgium. Ironically, just a few years later in 1904, Kingsway would annexe itself in its entirety, as it was closed to all visitors for several months during an outbreak of smallpox in Derby town itself, where the asylum?s population remained entirely free from the disease. Electric lighting was installed throughout the building in 1897, as well as iron fire-escapes being added to the outside of two wards.

The asylum?s own farms included a piggery and herd of cattle, which supplied milk and meat to the asylum, and provided enough of a surplus to generate additional revenue. In 1899, it was decided that more land was required, and so a Mr Wilson who owned an adjoining field, was told of their wishes to purchase his land, to which he agreed. Soon after, they decided they wanted more, and via the Derby Authorities, resolved that Mr Wilson was to be served notice to quit his land whether he liked it or not, and was to be gone by Lady-Day, 1899.

In 1901, the boundaries of Derby Borough were extended into land which had formerly been classed as Derby County, adding approximately an extra 10,000 persons to the Borough?s jurisdiction, and meaning that around 30 patients then housed in the Derby County Asylum (Pastures) would need to be moved to Kingsway, bringing its population up to 351 by 1906. Dr McPhail had the idea of building a separate annexe for around 30 fee-paying private patients, thereby freeing up space in the main building for the thirty or so paupers from Pastures. B.S. Jacobs was again called upon to design this annexe, known as Albany House, which would open in October 1903, furnished with carpets and mats made by the patients as part of their occupational therapy ? a concept Kingsway had pioneered by also being the first asylum in the UK to appoint a dedicated team who sought to find convalescent patients work in the community prior to discharge.

In 1908 Kingsway was being enlarged again, with three new ward blocks designed to accommodate an extra 126 patients in total being added, bringing the overall population up to around 480 by 1912, when the asylum was formally renamed ?Derby Mental Hospital?. Later that year, it would experience its first fatal accident, as a boiler-house worker and a patient who was assisting him were both scalded to death by an exploding boiler. The asylum Committee made a grant of ?26 to the worker?s widow.

With the outbreak of war in 1915, Kingsway suffered the dual problems of patient overcrowding, as patients were transferred from other asylums which had been emptied to temporarily serve as war hospitals, along with staff shortages as its own staff went off to join the war effort. This was a problem suffered by all British asylums, and saw Kingsway?s patient population rise to 561 by the end of the year. Of course, some staff members would never return from the war, and the Committee notes show a decision to continue to pay 5 shilling a month to the widow of an Attendant with the surname of Prince, who was killed during service. All Attendants and maids were granted additional pay during wartime, in recognition of how much harder the work had become with such depleted staff numbers. The asylum Committee offered the use of the chapel and Albany House for any war-related purpose, but neither was ever used.

In 1918, Kingsway recorded its joint-highest death rate among patients, which was due to the influenza epidemic which had ravaged the whole of the UK that year- 112 patients in total had died from that, and other causes during the year. The death rate would rise to the peak of 112 again in 1965, but it?s worth noting that the whole population of the asylum had almost doubled by then, with many more elderly patients on the wards.

1920 saw Dr McPhail finally retire after 32 years as Superintendent, serving from its opening in Victorian times as a lunatic asylum until it?s progression to a ?mental hospital? in the inter-war period. He went on to a consultative role at an Edinburgh private asylum, and was succeed by the former Senior Assistant Medical Officer, Dr Bain. During the 1920?s, there was less money to spend, as Attendants? fees were lowered by 10% (despite them now being asked to put an extra hour and a half?s time into providing ?entertainment? for the patients), as unemployment rose and belts were tightened. 275 people applied for the post of Steward/Clerk, a combined role vacated when the current holder died unexpectedly. While the staff were not being particularly well-paid, proper structures for training and progression were now in place, and by the mid-1920?s almost two-thirds of the staff had gained the certificate of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association (R.M.P.A.), improving their general standing and future work prospects.

In a quite progressive move, Dr Bain adopted an experimental regime whereby patients were allowed greater freedoms, and the locking of doors was relaxed, as some patients were also now allowed outside the asylum grounds, and given pocket money if they worked within the asylum or its farms, etc. This practice would not become widespread nationally until the 1960?s.

In 1925, radios were installed on the wards for the entertainment of patients, the boilers were replaced to provide better heating and hot water, four new cottages for married staff and a house for the Clerk Steward were built, and one large room was turned into a laboratory (which was later moved off-site, with the room becoming the staff recreation room, and finally the patient?s library). A dentist?s room was also built during this year.

In keeping with trends at other mental hospitals, in 1931 Kingsway established an out-patient?s department at the local General Hospital (Derby Royal Infirmary in their case) so that former patients could be seen there, or those who had concerns could make use of the psychiatric staff?s knowledge and advice without necessarily having any contact with the institution itself. A purpose-built nurse?s home was opened in the same year.

A new admissions block for 60 patients opened in 1938, and the word ?mental? was dropped from the name of the institution, with it formally now changed to simply ?Kingsway Hospital?. The nursing staff now worked a 48 hour week and finally got the Staff Consultative Committee, for which they had campaigned for many years. By this time, male staff members were still not allowed to be outside their quarters after 10pm, and male and female staff were forbidden to speak to each other anywhere in the grounds of the building. By the late 1930?s, it was felt that Kingsway was beginning to look old-fashioned and a project of refurbishment and modernisation was undertaken, with the warm, heavy, but more homely old Victorian furniture, bird-cages, rugs, paintings and carpets thrown out in favour of angular modern tat, a practice which reached its nadir in the stark soullessness of 1960?s and 70?s design.

1939 saw the outbreak of war again, and again Kingsway was one of the mental hospitals which remained in normal use, albeit with a dramatically reduced number of staff and more patients. In 1940, 86 patients were transferred from the Kesteven County Asylum (Rauceby Hospital), which had been given over to R.A.F. use, with 30 more coming in 1943.

In 1948, just as with all former County Asylums, Kingsway was incorporated into the newly-formed N.H.S., under the Sheffield Regional Hospitals Board, administered by the Derby Area No.4 Hospital Management Committee. Despite being essentially built to serve the town of Derby and its surrounds, Kingsway?s catchment area suddenly increased rapidly with these changes, as Long Eaton and more rural parts of south-east Derbyshire also fell under its zone, going from 142,700 registered persons in 1947 to a catchment which now included 243,840.

By the early 1950?s, voluntary admissions had become the norm at Kingsway, with around 70% of new patients signing themselves into the hospital, and only around 30% of cases being committed by a doctor?s signature. The out-patients departments were now seeing hundreds of cases. Treatments used from the 1930?s-70?s at Kingsway included malarial therapy, convulsive therapy (both by cardiazol and electric), insulin therapy, and also the dreaded leucotomy, recorded as having found more success with female patients than male. 1954 saw the introduction of television sets to all wards, said to have been widely celebrated (at the time) by patients and staff alike, as many of the chronic patients would refuse to leave the wards to attend film screenings, plays, concerts, or any of the other activities taking place in the main recreation hall. While it had been traditional since Victorian times to rope staff members into providing ?entertainment? for the patients in the form of musical recitals, dances, plays, etc., the patients were generally kept from joining in the actual performances (although joining in the formal dances was encouraged). In 1956 however, the patients at Kingsway formed their own concert party, based around their own social club, all of which was patient-run. A female Occupational Therapy Unit was built in 1955, providing more for those who didn?t want to watch TV ? the men already had one, in the converted coal-shed. In 1956, the Minister of Health decreed that all former asylum farms should all be closed or vastly reduced, and this closed off quite a few avenues of useful employment and education for patients, but they were compensated to some degree with the building of a bowling-green and miniature golf course by the end of the 1950?s. Due to the continued expansion, Kingsway?s population peaked in 1959, with a total of 830 resident patients.

By the 1960?s, the isolation block had become the Nurse Training School. A program of constant renovation ran from 1956 until 1965, and most significantly, in 1963, all the wards were renovated and refurbished again, which involved the removal of the so-called ?strong rooms? (built in the 1890?s for particularly troublesome and noisy patients). As well as being refurbished, most wards were now ?open?, and the majority of patients free to (almost) come and go as they pleased.

The impressive water towers and ventilation shafts that graced Kingsway and Pastures were sadly taken down from both these Derby-based asylums during the 1960?s, when they were functionally redundant and the cost of removing them was lower than bothering to periodically maintain them in a safe condition. In the 1960?s, when the appreciation of pre-war architecture was at its nadir, the idea of keeping them in place purely for aesthetic reasons simply didn’t cross anyone?s mind (or at least not those who had the final say), and this sadly means that, along with many other British asylums, they lost some of their key architectural features.

The 1970?s saw the introduction of more holistic, patient-directed therapy, as staff uniforms were discarded in favour of more casual attire, and practices were relaxed as the patient population gradually ran down, in keeping with national plans to close all the former County Asylums, which began in the 1960?s and were effectively sealed with the passing of 1983 Mental Health Act and the move toward community-based care. Remarkably, although the wards had been gradually emptying, no concrete plans for Kingsway?s repurposing had been put in place even by as late as 2000, and so it was among the last of the former asylums to close. Mental health services are still provided from new buildings built toward the north of the site, which opened in December 2009 with the last dementia patients transferred there from the original buildings, which signaled their final closure.

Despite being placed on a Council list of Derby?s most ?important? buildings in 2010, deals were made for the site to become a housing estate which did not see fit to incorporate the historic hospital buildings, and so the entirety of the main Kingsway hospital was hastily demolished by the end of 2011, before any major objections could be raised. It would take until October 2014 for the plans for the site to be approved – it will now be a 700-home housing estate named ?Manor Kingsway?, with building work scheduled to start in 2015.

External Photos

Aerial view, 1950’s.
Reception, 1970’s
Ward block, 2011

Following images taken November 2004

Following images taken April 2006

Internal Photos



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