The development of Hampshire’s second county asylum consisted of a long and convoluted series of events, eventually culminating in the opening of Park Prewett considerably later than had originally been envisaged.
Accommodation at the county’s first asylum at Knowle, near Wickham was becoming inadequate long before the end of the 19th century, but was sporadically relieved by the development of the Portsmouth and Isle of Wight asylums, and the rejection of Southampton county borough’s inmates.
Despite these factors and numerous additions to the original asylum site, it was clear that a new development would have to take place, and this could be most conveniently located in the north of the county to serve the towns and villages thereabouts. For this purpose, Park Prewett farm, in an area known as Rooksdown was acquired as early as 1899. The location was close to the village of Sherbourne St. John’s, but also accessible from Basingstoke, situated on the London & South Western Railway mainline, which was to provide useful access to the asylum site.
The proposed development was dogged by numerous delays, frequently due to hesitations on the part of the county council. Eventually Mr. George Hine was appointed as architect, having already worked on numerous other commissions since his landmark development at the Claybury Asylum, he once again employed a compact arrow plan for the main complex. This was, in this case, rather modified in form and featured open sided corridors in an attempt to align more closely with the perceived therapeutic ideals of colony style layouts seen in Scotland, Europe and America. This main building contained the usual features with three blocks on either side of the south facing administration block. Opposite was to be sited a detached chapel, although this was eventually omitted as a wartime economy. Female wards and the laundry were located to the west with male wards, boiler house, workshops and distinctive water tower to the east. These were separated as usual by a range of service buildings incorporating the recreation hall, kitchens and stores. Accommodation blocks were incorporated to the rear of each side for the nursing staff.
The colony plan was also reflected within the grounds with the provision of a variety of villa blocks for different types of patient management. Two single storey infirmaries were sited to the north for male and female patients suffering from physical illness, other than frailty. One male and one female villa was placed on east side for the most capable and least dependent epileptics, and other working chronic patients were housed in smaller villas close by, two for each sex. Park Prewett farm was retained and upgraded for the purpose of patient employment in addition to that offered within the main building’s service areas.
West of the male side, an extensive admission hospital was developed, one of the very first to be incorporated within to the infrastructure of an asylum. This enabled patients to be treated separately from the main building and if successful direct removal to one of the adjoining convalescent villas and then to be released. Further east, the main entrance gates stood on the Aldermaston Road, protected by a small lodge cottage and also affording access to the Superintendent’s residence and Steward’s house. Further north, at the extreme edge of the grounds was placed the isolation hospital. The westernmost area of the grounds provided a site for Rooksdown, an commodious private block of the hospital, and adjacent doctors house. A further driveway to the south led toward Basingstoke station and was lined with houses for senior staff and married attendants.
Such an extensive plan was to prove expensive to implement and it was some time before they were submitted and approved. Once building work started around 1912, some progress was made, and it was anticipated that completion and opening could be expected in approximately three to four years. However, other events were to intervene.
World War I saw the work on the incomplete hospital initially halted, but its usefulness for military use was realised and its completion prioritised. The site was handed over to the Canadian Military for use as their No.4 Canadian General Hospital from 1917. With the end of hostilities the Canadians handed over the site to the Ministry of Pensions who made moves to retain and secure the site permanently for their own use. Hampshire County Council however disputed this and the hospital was returned, finally opening as a county mental hospital in 1921.
The railway line from the L&SWR provided a simple and convenient means for carrying materials to the site during its development and was retained in order to provide goods and coal access. It appears that passengers were not officially carried, and the line was to remain for stock and fuel transport only for its existence despite experiments during the First World War to adapt it for troop trains, although the curvature of the line prevented official passenger usage .
Extensions were made to the site with new male and female blocks completed on either side of the main building opening in 1936 and providing 4 additional wards. These were intended for chronic patients and provided convenient access to the working areas of the hospital where they could be usefully employed.
The Second World War saw the Hospita requisitioned for civilian casualties and Rooksdown was passed to the military use in 1940 and developed as a centre for plastics and reconstructive surgery, a speciality at that time in it’s relative infancy. Work at the unit was spearheaded by Sir Harold Gillies, a pioneering surgeon who achieved notable success in literally rebuilding the bodies of military war casualties whilst he and his team assisted in their physical, psychological and emotional rehabilitation. The unit remained on site until 1952 after which time the building was returned to the new National Health Service for mental illness use and Sir Harold Gillies moved into the development of gender reassignment surgery.
During 1954 the railway line from Basingstoke station to the hospital was closed and the rails eventually removed, after which time goods were delivered by road. The designation of Basingstoke as the site of one of the many proposed ‘expanded town’ developments to house overspill from the London area led to the construction of a new district general hospital on part of the Park Prewett hospital farmland, construction of which commenced in 1969. The new hospital opened in 1974 by which time new housing development was also approaching the southern boundary of the site. The Park Prewett boiler house was also replaced, with a new chimney separate from the water tower, although the original remained.
A devastating fire destroyed the main recreation hall on 3rd April 1981, but despite the hospital being considered for eventual closure, the structure was restored and reopened in 1983. Further development of the neighbouring district general site saw buildings erected close to the eastern buildings on the Park Prewett campus to provide maternity services and health service reorganisations saw Park Prewett redesignated and administered briefly as a wing of the newer hospital.
The western area of the site was considered surplus to requirements by the early 1990’s and the buildings in that area demolished including Rooksdown house to be replaced by housing. The process of housing development continued during the run down of the hospital with further residential estates occupying the land south west of the main building with the staff accommodation on the south drive being demolished. Buildings to the east of the site including the former isolation hospital and the former superintendent’s residence were utilised for purposes connected with the adjacent North Hampshire and Basingstoke Hospital.
After closure villas 1-4 and 6 were demolished, with the main building and the Pinewood House complex becoming derelict. The main building has since been refurbished as housing which incorporates the recreation hall, administration block, water tower and original ward blocks. The former superintendent’s house is now used as St. Michael’s Hospice. The main entrance from Aldermaston Road survives as a secondary entrance to the North Hampshire and Basingstoke Hospital.