The new Nottinghamshire County Asylum was planned and developed to replace the existing structure at Sneinton, which was inconveniently placed to accommodate future developments, outmoded and becoming increasingly dilapidated. The new complex, located on farmland to the south of the Grantham road to the west of the town of Radcliffe on Trent, itself located 7 miles to the west of Nottingham.
The complex was designed by the architectural firm of Hooley and Sander of Nottingham to the complex arrow plan. Edgar Purnell Hooley was also the County Surveyor for Nottinghamshire the majority of whose experience was of road construction. His claim to fame had been the discovery and invention of the tar-macadam process, having patented it he set up the construction and building materials company ‘Tarmac’.
Hooley’s design consisted of a layout typical of asylums of the time with a range of male and female wards arranged en-echelon, enclosing male and female service areas to the centre and north. The services consisted of laundry and sewing room on the female side and maintenance, boiler house and workshop complexes on the male side divided by an administration block, visiting rooms, stores, kitchens, recreation hall and assistant medical officers residence running north to south. Opposite the administrative block stood the detached chapel with superintendent’s residence to its’ west. further to the west was sited the isolation hospital. The grounds were entered from Hensons Lane to the east and Grantham Road to the north where pairs of cottages served as gate lodges and homes for married attendants. Airing courts were provided within the grounds attached to each ward with an unusually complex shelter arrangement provided in each. The complex had capacity for over 450 inmates and the adjacent farm, formerly known as Radcliffe Lings was purchased to provide agricultural support for the estate.
The foundation was laid on 25th July 1899 by Lady Belper, whose husband was Chairman if the Notts County Council. The asylum was ready for use and opened in July 1902, with patients being transferred from the old asylum at Sneinton. Once this process was complete, the Sneinton site was permanently closed and all services operated from Radcliffe asylum.
Expansion of the site was already required by 1913 when new ward blocks were constructed on either side of the asylum accessed from the main corridor system. These blocks were similar in style and scale to those already built and continued the echelon arrangement.
World War I brought about the requirement to vacate a number of civilian asylums for military usage and initially Radcliffe Asylum was under Group 2 which had been formed from the asylums of Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire together with those of the East and West Ridings of Yorkshire, from which the Wadsley Park Asylum was to form the ‘vacating’ unit and the others would form receiving units, taking Wadsley’s inmates between them. As such the majority of the war passed with Radcliffe accommodating Wadsley inmates in addition to their own but all were vacated by the summer of 1918 ad it also became a war hospital and the inmates were again spread across the remaining receiving hospitals. The role of the asylum as the Notts County War Hospital was to be short lived with the cessation of hostilities and reverted to civilian use after August 1919.
In 1922 a dispute broke out between the management of what was now the Nottinghamshire County Mental Hospital and members of the nursing staff when the former insisted that the latter increase working hours to a 66 hour working week, sacking them when they refused to comply. The aggrieved staff and their supporters responded by barricading themselves into the wards with their patients in a siege which lasted four days until dismantled by police and bailiffs. During this time the nurse’s had continued their regular roles of caring for patients and working as normal. Although the siege was ultimately unsuccessful the story made national news and brought to the fore the issues for public discussion.
By the 1930’s further developments at the hospital led to the construction of villas in the grounds for chronic working patients each for 50 patients, the first two for female patients became ready in 1932, followed in 1937 by a male villa. Staff housing was constructed on the hospital drive and on Hensons Lane. Notts County Council also formed a committee for the development of a colony for the mentally defective at this time with a site purchased at Balderton, near Newark. The Balderton Colony was in the early stages of construction with the completion of a series of villa homes and a water tower alongside the existing mansion when World War II broke out and the premises were managed as a farm colony annexe providing food to Radcliffe mental hospital through the war.
The hospital passed to the National Health Service’s Sheffield Regional Health Board on it’s inception in 1948 and was the headquarters of the Nottingham no.4 Hospital Management Committee which also included Balderton. Under the NHS the hospital was renamed Saxondale Hospital and by 1951 had 1,200 inpatient beds. New developments during the 1950’s and 60’s new male and female detached villas in the grounds, xray and operating theatre facilities, occupational and industrial therapy services and the creation of a staff club, branch library. Balderton hospital was completed in 1957 and mentally handicapped patients relocated there from Saxondale and various other institutions. Saxondale’s functional areas were remodelled as the old laundry became a new stores department, the old one becoming a staff canteen. The former bakery was refurbished to form a conference centre and the old doctor’s residence now became the new hospital reception. Airing court fences and hedges were removed and the main gates and piers taken down.
With the reconfiguration and merger of the two mental health hospital management committees for Nottingham in 1970, Saxondale joined with Mapperley and Aston Hall, both former Nottingham City institutions, as well as The Coppice Hospital under the Trent Vale HMC. The services of Saxondale, Mapperley and The Coppice had last been managed together as long ago as 1855 when the union forming the committee for Sneinton Asylum split for the first time. The Trent Vale HMC was a short lived exercise and by 1974 reconfiguration of local authority boundaries wrought a similar effect on the health service. Saxondle wa slinked under the new Nottingham Health Authority along with a number of acute and specialist hospitals in the city area and beyond unde rthe new Trent Regional Health Authority.
The hospital was investigated during 1981 as part of an inquiry into untoward deaths and the following year was once again merged with Mapperley in 1982. Closure of Saxondale was announced in the autumn of 1983. This resulted from a number of factors including the location of the hospital and its comparable isolation, the development of outpatient services and community care, the gradual reduction of the long stay inpatient population and the creation of new facilities within the district general hospitals of the health authorities serving the area. Mapperley, being more conveniently located for the city and transport links, had spare capacity which could absorb some of Saxondale’s wards, services and patients and would therefore have a stay of execution. Services were then correspondingly reduced at Saxondale as new units in the Central Nottinghamshire, Nottingham and Bassetlaw DHA areas came into being and nurse training was transferred to the Queens Medical Centre and Mapperley sites. Once the last of the services vacated the complex in 1988 the hospital was finally closed after only 86 years of use, 4 years less than it’s predecessor at Sneinton asylum and one of the first large ‘water tower’ type hospitals in the Trent RHA to close.
After closure, the site was sold for a new housing development with conversion of some of the existing buildings. The main echelon wards including the 1913 additions survive as housing as do the respective airing court shelters and much of the ornamental tree planting. The administration block is now a restaurant and the chapel and former Superintendent’s residence also remain. Staff housing on the Hospital Drive, Hensons Lane and within the farm is now in private occupation as are the buildings at Home Farm.. The villas, isolation hospital, original AMO’s residence and other later additions have been demolished and their sites redeveloped by new residences. The estate on the hospital site is now known as Upper Saxondale.