Knowle Hospital, Fareham

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Hospital Name: Knowle Hospital
Previous Names: Hampshire County Asylum, Wickham Asylum, Knowle Mental Hospital
Location: Mayles Lane, Wickham, Hampshire
Principal Architect: James Harris
Layout: Corridor Plan
Status: Converted to housing
Opened: 13th December 1852
Closed: 1996

In order to comply with the 1845 Lunacy act, the County of Southampton, or Hampshire, was required to provide asylum accommodation for lunatics within its care and a site was chosen at Knowle Farm between Fareham and Wickham. The surveyor James Harris was employed to develop a plan for the site which incorporated a corridor plan structure integrating the usual service areas behind a grand administration block and separating male and female wings. The building was constructed from red brick with grey slate roofing. Harris was also responsible for additions to Hanwell Asylum, Middlesex and the design of the Hatton Asylum, Warwickshire. The simple two storey ward wings were later supplemented by day rooms with bay windows to expand the original galleried areas. The southern boundary of the site lined the London and South Western Railway’s Eastleigh to Fareham Line although at that time little use was made of the convenient rail connection. The site was approached from the north via Mayles Lane from Wickham, which wound through the site itself, leaving by a bridge over the railway toward the village of Funtley.

Soon after opening in 1852 demand for space meant that extensions were necessary, with extensions added to either end and south fronts of both male and female wings. Further extensions took place around 1870 when a separate three storey block for chronic lunatics and Idiots was constructed south of the main frontage to free up space for curable lunatics in the main building. Similar structures were constructed around this time at other county asylums, most notably for Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Norfolk and Durham. A detached chapel was also built in 1875 which freed further space in the main building.

Portsmouth borough inmates left the county asylum and were accommodated in a new complex in Milton, they were soon followed by Southampton Borough inmates although these were accommodated in other authorities institutions as the proposed Borough Asylum was never constructed. With the 1888 local government act the Isle of Wight became an administrative county in it’s own right and the newly formed county council provided their own institution at Whitecroft Farm near Newport.

The Hampshire Authorities were at this time already contemplating supplementing their own accommodation by providing a second asylum site serving the north of the county with Park Prewett Farm near Sherborne St.John purchased for the purpose. In the event, the county postponed further development repeatedly until shortly before the Great War. In the meantime, further space was achieved by relocating staff accommodation from the main buildings to houses within the grounds, which also made employment at the asylum a more attractive prospect. Access to the rural site was also improved with the addition of the Knowle Asylum Halt on the adjacent railway line which was opened to the public in 1907.

The First World War brought hardship as many male staff left to fight in the military. A memorial commemorated those who did not return. Patients were relocated from the West Sussex asylum at Graylingwell when it was requisitioned and overcrowding worsened when the Portsmouth Borough Asylum was also turned over to military use. Park Prewett Asylum, although largely completed was still not available for use and had been taken over by the Canadian military.

Peacetime and the interwar period saw the return of patients to their respective asylums and finally the opening of Park Prewett in 1921 after a protracted struggle by the County Council to take it back from the Ministry of Pensions. An admission hospital, Ravenswood, was opened to the north east of the main building during the late 1930’s prior to World War II.

In 1948 the creation of the National Health Service brought about a transfer of management away from the County Council and closer links with other hospitals within the area although these were slow to develop. The first stages of the decline of the hospital commenced with the closure of Knowle halt in line with rationalisation of the surrounding railway services.

Wards in the main building were modernised as patient numbers were reduced with the introduction of new antipsychotic drugs such as Chlorpromzine and Thioriidazine which meant patients once stabilised could live outside the hospital. A modern boiler house was constructed to replace the old coal fired plant and the heating system upgraded. Ultimately, despite improvements Knowle hospital was still considered outdated and isolated by modern standards, with sprawling, ageing buildings which were proving costly to maintain and operate conveniently. Wards were closed and concentrated closer together with outlying buildings abandoned. Acute services for the Southampton area were relocated to hospitals in the city itself and eventually those for Fareham and Gosport followed. The long stay services were gradually replaced by community and nursing home care and Knowle finally closed in 1996.

Since closure the site has been redeveloped as Knowle Village, a large housing development with incorporates most of the original hospital buildings. The grounds include many of the former staff residences as well as the former chapel. The extensive hospital burial ground to the west of Mayles Lane has been managed as a woodland walk and wildlife habitat although only the foundations of the old mortuary chapel remains. Both lodges survive in private occupation on Mayles Lane but access to the site is now provided via a new driveway across farmland from the Wickham to Fareham Road to the east. Mental health services continue at Ravenswood house at present where the regional forensic unit was opened in 1985. Both the main hospital and chapel are listed Grade II by English Heritage,

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18 responses to “Knowle”

  1. Venny says:

    Awesome great history. Having recently moved into the area I’ve been fascinated by the incredible past that this part of Hampshire has. Chronic Lunatics and idiots was a telling phrase and 4500 people buried largely anonymously in a tiny area.

    • Josie Graham says:

      Hiya, I’d love to hear more

      • Eric Atkins says:

        I shudder at the things that went on under the auspices of “treatment”, that would never be allowed today. Narcosis therapy- patients kept asleep for days with Barbiturate’s, Straight ECT with no relaxants, or sedatives, the students job was to lay across the convulsing patients so as not to harm themselves.
        Aversion therapy/Electric shock therapy.
        And yes there were two padded cells at the end of one wing of the male side at Ravenswood.

  2. Eric F. Atkins says:

    I trained at Knowle Hospital from 1967 – 1970 for my RMN. Lived in the male nurses home. I can tell a lot about the care and goings on in that place, but were some of my happiest years as a nursing student.

    • Josie Graham says:

      Please tell me more

    • Michael Clark says:

      Hi Eric ,can you tell me if you knew Netley ward ? I was there sadly after a break down I suffered .

      • Eric Atkins says:

        Yes I knew of Netley ward, it was a female ward, but in those days male nurses never worked on the female side. Except a male Bill Campbell was the first male charge nurse of Lyndhurst ward the female locked ward. This caused a stir, as his husband ? Longmeure was a student at the time,
        Administration had given them a staff house to live in together, quite progressive for that time to have two males living in a staff house, as being Gay was still considered a mental illness.
        There was a tolerance for the gay life style, very progressive, I in fact was having an affair with one of the married male charge nurses who’s wife was a sister on the female side, ( just a little bit of gossip i can spill. )

    • Richard Avery says:

      Hi Eric, I started my train in 1967 at The Old Manor Hospital in Salisbury. I recently found a prize giving photo of Knowle and OMH nurse. The presenter was a psychiatrist at knowledge. He was slightly balding with ginger/blond hair and had a ginger moustache. I remember taking a lobotomy referral to see him in about 1968/69. Can you remember his name pleas?

    • JOHN murray says:

      I would love to here more of what happened at knowle hospital

  3. Gary Wall says:

    My Grandmother, Ella Warner (nee Biggs) lived (1911 census) and worked there in the early 20th century. Wonder if any records still exist from that period !

  4. Andy says:

    Hi, thanks for putting some information on here and images, really interesting. My GGreat uncle was in this asylum 1884-1917.

  5. Karen May says:

    The 1939 census shows my grandfather was ‘an inmate’. It would be very interesting to know more about his time there, he must have had a severe problem because he died at another similar institute. There must have been a lot of stigma because when I asked my elderly aunt about her father she was quite evasive. Such a shame because these conditions are dealt with more openly today.

  6. Saira Holmes says:

    Hello, my great grandfather William Joseph Bound (1859 – 1916, from Wales originally) worked at the Fareham Lunatic Asylum (later Knowle Hospital) as a tailor. He is listed in the 1891 census along with my grandmother Amy Elizabeth Bound – aged 7 at the time. I think the ‘Park Cottages’ which are shown on your ‘external photos’ could be the ‘Asylum Cottages’ mentioned here in the 1891 census. Perhaps the cottages were re-named as ‘Asylum Cottages’ don’t sound that appealing for staff and their families to live in.

    1891 census details:

    William J Bound, aged 31, occupation Tailor at the Hants County Asylum, living at Asylum Cottages, Fareham with:

    Wife Emma. E., aged 29, no occupation stated, born Hants, Alverstoke
    Daughter Amy. E., aged 7, born Hants, Alverstoke (my grandmother)
    Son Charles. A., aged 4, born Hants, Alverstoke
    Daughter Daisy, aged 1, born Hants, Fareham
    Visitor Ada Taylor (Emma’s sister), aged 28, born Hants, Alverstoke
    Boarder Agnes Carter, aged 8, born Basingstoke, Hants (described as ‘idiot from birth’)

    I’m 54 years old (in 2020) and doing research into my family tree and very interested in the asylum and its history. Thanks for this site and the amazing photos.

    Saira Holmes

  7. Paul Simpson says:

    Hoping to move into Knowle and would love to see a map of the old hospital overlaid on the modern map. The flat i’m trying to buy is just north west of the chapel and has bay windows as mentioned in the history section.

  8. Michael Clark says:

    After a break down I was taken to this hospital , I had no say in the matter .I was looked after by well . I think I was in the Netley ward. I watched a pretty girl carving herself up with a Sharp knife .also be a very well known actress spent time there . I was lucky I was only there for just over a week

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