The Brecon and Radnor Asylum at Talgarth was founded in 1900 – a relatively late addition to the countries established county asylums.. The relatively poor agricultural counties of Wales like Breconshire and Radnorshire had little hope of affording the cost of a dedicated Asylum on their own and the act specifically forbid the commissioners of neighboring counties collaborating on a joint Asylum project. The lower population density of the Mid Wales counties meant that the need for a Lunatic asylum was less acute than the teeming cities like London and Liverpool so for many years the commissioners of Breconshire and Radnorshire were content to pay for their Lunatics to be housed over the border in the English counties of Gloustershire and Shropshire.
The situation remained unchanged for many years until 1842 when the London Times published a letter by Dr Samuel Hitch, the medical superintendent of the Gloucester Lunatic Asylum, in which he expressed his concerned the poor treatment of Welsh speakers who were forced to seek treatment in English asylums due to a lack of facilities in their home country. Public response to this negative publicity was overwhelming especially in the predominately welsh speaking counties of North Wales, where the commissioners in five of the six counties of North Wales formed a committee to finance and build an asylum to serve their communities. Their efforts eventually resulted in the amendments in the County Asylum act 1845 which permitted the establishment of joint asylums and the foundation of North Wales Hospital.
The reaction in the counties of Mid Wales was less dramatic but following the amendments to the County Asylum act the commissioners of Breconshire and Radnorshire began to plan a joint asylum along with the commissioners of the English counties of Herefordshire and Monmouthshire which was still administratively part of England at the time. Their co-operation was to result in the establishment of the Joint Counties Lunatic Asylum at Abergavenny. By the 1890’s the Joint Asylum was struggling to cope with the lunatic population of four counties so following an amicable parting of the ways it was renamed Monmouthshire Lunatic Asylum and became the sole responsibility of Monmouthshire. Although patients from the former partner counties were still accommodated while Herefordshire pursued a project to establish an asylum of its own and Breconshire and Radnorshire planned a second joint asylum shared between them.
The site selected for the new Joint Asylum was a 261 Acre estate called Chancefield located to the south of the town of Talgarth in Breconshire. It was purchased jointly by the participating counties commissioners of Lunacy shortly before the hospital was formally founded in 1900. The hospital was designed by the architectural partnership of John Giles, Albert Edward Gough and Trollope of London to a compact arrow echelon plan. A compact arrow plan design is focuses on a series of ward pavilions are placed on the outside of central ring corridor which connects the separate wards together and leaves a large area in the centre of the hospital for the service buildings including the kitchens, administration building and recreation hall. Each of the separate wards were designed to cater for different classes of patient depending on the degree of severity and the perceived likely hood of successful treatment.
Six classes of ward were considered sufficient for the relatively small asylum: Acute, Chronic, Epileptic, Infirm, along with an admissions ward and a separate ward for sick patients. Typically for the Edwardian times in which it was built the hospital the wards were segregated by sex so identical but physically separate facilities were required for male and female patients. The six male wards were constructed on the west side of the main building and six female wards were built on the east side. The kitchens, recreation hall and nurses home were located in the centre of the complex dividing the two sets of wards but conveniently within reach of both. The hospitals service buildings were located along the rear façade of the main building which adjoined the access road, On the west side a courtyard was surrounded by the coal bunkers and boiler house. A second courtyard on the east side served as a drying court for the laundry buildings which surrounded it. Between the two on the hospitals central Axis stood the administration block.
Along with the main hospital building a chapel and mortuary were built opposite the administration block. A separate isolation hospital catering for patients with infectious diseases such as tuberculosis was added on the eastern boundary of the site completely separated from the rest of the complex, just like the main building its two wards were divided one for male patients and another for the women. The final buildings on the site actually predate the hospital, Chancefield house a modest Georgian manor was kept and renovated as the Superintendents house and its lodge at the main gate was also kept for the porter’s accommodation. Also included in the sale of Chancefield was nearby Wern-fawr and Rhyd y Beiny farms, in the early years of the 20th Century it was a common belief that employment in the great out doors could greatly ease a troubled mind and aid in the treatment of lunatics it was common for the great Asylums to include farms to provide a place of work for trusted patients. The hospitals plans included an extension to Wern-Fawr completed in 1909 adding villas to the farm buildings to house patient workers and their attendants. The final buildings was a row of houses constructed along Hospital Road as homes for the married attendants working within the hospital.
It took three years to construct the asylum which opened as the Brecon and Radnor Joint Asylum in 1903 its twelve wards could house a total of 352 patients initially originating from the Brecon area. Soon admissions were made from as far afield as Swansea and Shrewsbury. During the Joint Asylums early years the treatment received by its lunatic occupants was little changed from the Victorian system where the asylums were created in the hope that by removing lunatics from the community, they could be restored to health in a therapeutic environment. Treatment involved little more than the provision of a benevolent calm atmosphere with regular meals fresh air and gainful employment with the use of physical restraint and the occasional administration of a dose of bromide to calm the most violent and aggressive lunatics.
As the joint asylum was being built at Talgarth changes were also emerging within the whole asylum system. The growth of scientific medicine resulted in the psychiatric concept of mental hygiene which recognised that mental illness was a disorder of the nervous system rather than the failings of a week personality and sort to identify the biological causes of mental illness for the first time. Psychiatric diseases were now being viewed as medical problems requiring medical treatments. Throughout Britain the great Asylums were beginning to be referred to as Hospitals, as places of treatment rather than confinement. Changes which were most obviously reflected to the outside word in the name of the building, a change which came to the Joint Asylum in 1921 when it became the Mid Wales Counties Mental Hospital.
The early treatments introduced in the 1920’s for mental illness which have since fallen in to disrepute included Malaria treatment which was proven to halt the onset of syphilitic paresis although it was also unsuccessfully used to treat other mental conditions. Deep Sleep Therapy used barbiturates to induce a coma to treat schizophrenia and depression. The similar Hypoglycaemic Shock Therapy was introduced in the 1930’s and used Insulin induce a coma and convulsions in schizophrenic patients. The 1930’s also saw the introduction of Psychoanalysis although it would be many years before Psychotherapy and Medical treatments for mental illness would become integrated in the treatment of mental patients.
Following the outbreak of World War II the military scoured the country for suitable locations for the establishment of military hospitals for wounded servicemen. In April 1940, 315 beds at Mid Wales Counties were made available for military mental patients suffering from shell shock a condition now recognised as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As the number of service men requiring treatment declined during the latter years of the war the military section within the Mid Wales Counties was handed over to the Joint War Organization a collaboration between the Red Cross and Order of St John, as a hospital for Italian and German prisoners of war. Following the end of the war the War Department had released the majority of its beds by the 31st of December 1946.
The years following second word war brought one of the most significant changes in the hospital’s History when the National Health Service was established in 1947. Mid Wales Counties was taken over by the NHS in July 1948. The 1940’s also saw the introduction of newer treatments for mental illness which are also highly controversial today, Electro Convulsive Therapy was introduced to treat depression, schizophrenia and Mania using short pulses of electric currents. Along with probably the most controversial of all medical treatments for mental illness the Pre Frontal Lobotomy.
By December of 1955 the Hospitals population had peaked at 496 patients – 25% more patients than the hospital had been designed to house. An additional Annexe was built at the head of the hospitals main drive not far from the main buildings eastern edge which would house Wards 7 and 8 East along with a new X-Ray department. The 1950’s were also to see a dramatic change in the treatment of the mentally ill with the introduction of medications to treat mental illness. Lithium was discovered as an effective treatment of manic patients and would be a mainstay of the hospital right up to its eventual closure. Largactil eased the symptoms of hallucinations, delusions, agitation and thought disorders and was hailed as a wonder drug in the mental health community. Tofranil the first effective anti depressant soon developed into a new family of treatments for this most common mental illness. The availability of these and other drugs began to transform the practice of psychiatry within the mental hospitals the reliance on the older physical mental treatments began to break as Hypoglycaemic Shock Therapy, Deep Sleep Therapy and other physical treatments were abandoned.
The effectiveness of the new psychotropic drugs lead to a major changes in the Mental health system with an increasing growth in outpatient treatment by 1959 and shorter stays for those admitted to the hospital. This change has been described as the therapeutic revolution and lay the foundations for the move towards community care which marked the final thirty years of the hospitals life. The government made its first public commitment to community care and phasing out the countries many large mental hospitals in 1961. Outlined by the then Health secretary Enoch Powell in his “Water Tower” speech in March of the year. The plans proposed a ten-year program of transferring mental heath services to outpatient care supported with psychiatric units attached to district general hospitals. The Heath secretary went as far as calling for the out right closure of all the countries “Water Tower” mental hospitals seeing no future role for them. As it happened this plan took a lot longer than 10 years to achieve but from the 1960’s the hospital population began to steadily decrease. The attitudes to mental illness with in the country as a whole was changing during the 60’s and much of the stigma attached to a mental illness was dispelled just as in the 1920’s this changing attitude resulted in a new name for the hospital, the word mental was dropped and it became simply the Mid Wales Hospital.
An increase in outpatient treatment lead to a dedicated modern clinic extension on the west side of the main building which was added in 1965. Increases in the number of patients responding to treatments was resulting in more discharges from the hospital throughout the late 1960’s and 1970’s. In an effort to prepare patients for life outside of the hospital a detached Occupational Therapy building was added to the west of the main building in 1974. Here selected patients were employed in manual tasks paralleling working conditions in the outside world. The Occupational therapy building would later become the Powys School of Midwifery which was not linked to the rest of the hospital’s administration. Around the same time a beauty parlour and hairdressers was added in a small extension within the west airing court.
The move towards care out side of institutions had slowed during the 1970’s although a continued commitment to a community based care initiatives had been made by successive governments few facilities had been developed to allow the wholesale discharge of patients from the old asylums. This provision did not materialise until the election of the Conservative Government in 1979 who placed renewed emphasis on running down the counties network of dedicated mental hospitals towards eventual closure. The “Care in the Community” green paper of 1981 introduced a number of measures to transfer funds for mental health provision away from the NHS to local authorities and voluntary associations, for the provision of community based programs and hostels backed up with acute units and psychiatric wards at general hospitals for those requiring inpatient treatment. The program allowed the NHS a period of seven to thirteen years to develop and implement program to transfer patients out of the mental hospitals identified for closure. The first changes to be seen at Mid Wales was the sale of the hospitals outlying properties Rhyd y Beiny and Wern Fawr farm’s along with 5 of the homes along hospital road.
Powys NHS trust began to implement is care in the community program in 1990 and began a gradual transfer of service from Mid Wales hospital by the mid 1990’s the hospital’s inpatient population had been reduced to an average of 140 mainly geriatric cases. The hospitals total capacity was reduced to a total of 179 beds. The hospital still supported a range of services including occupational therapy, outpatient day care, psychology, psychiatry, physiotherapy, electro convulsive therapy, and chiropody. The district substance and alcohol misuse centre was also based within the hospital. From 1994 onwards the hospital was declared surplus to requirements by Powys NHS Trust as the final stage of closure began, the hospitals remaining services were transferred to the nearby Bronleys Hospital. Mid Wales was vacated by the end 1997 and closed shortly afterwards. The entire site including a 43 acres of land with 200,000 square feet of hospital buildings, plus 5 large family sized houses, a chapel , tennis court and cricket pitch, was advertised for sale in June of that year. It took over two years to find a buyer for the old hospital when the estate was sold by sealed bid in October 1999 for £355,000. The sale of the hospital immediately resulted in a scandal both because of the low sale price achieved and the alleged involvement of a Welsh Office minister and his wife in the sale. The sale was called in for inquiry by the Welsh Audit Office, who found no evidence of wrong doing involved in the disposal of the hospital. One of their conclusions regarding the low sale price concerned the lack of development potential of the hospital buildings.
A conclusion which has been proven by time. The Black Mountains Business Park was established after the sale to offer business space for rental at the former hospital site. Only a few parts of the hospital were occupied mainly around the administration building and workshops. The business park was put into administration in late 2008 and liquidated the flowing year. During the period of administration the slate tiles were removed from the vast majority of the buildings leaving the majority to suffer from water ingress and rapid deterioration as a result. The buildings were sold off by the administrators – the super intendants house, original isolation ward, workers cottages and cricket pitch would be separated. The rest of the site was sold to a property developer, Mr Collins, who has since suffered a number of planning setbacks in his mission to convert/redevelop the site.
As of 2017 the majority of the buildings remain in a extremely bad way with subsequent floor and roof collapses evident.