This website attempts to collate stories, photographs and information about Cane Hill Hospital from people who lived and worked there, in order to create a lasting record of the hospital’s involvement in the provision of services to people in South London.
Contributions such as photographs and memories are gratefully received.
I was born in the Cane Hill catchment area in 1986 and became interested in mental healthcare in 2005, whilst my father was involved in a social care initiative in London and the Thames Valley. In 2007 I commenced work for a supported housing provider, and now lead a housing association providing accommodation for people with complex support needs including learning disability and mental illness.
In 2007 I visited Cane Hill with the intention of creating a photographic record of the hospital’s remains, and visited a further 15 times to do so. My interest led to further research into the hospital and the decision to create this website as a lasting record of the hospital’s work.
In 2011 the website was selected by the British Library for permanent archiving.
(Ali Costelloe, 2020)
48 thoughts on “About this site”
was good to chat with you about the hill last night,
Had a look on flicker for those old cane hill cafe photos, but found nothing.
Would be very interested to see those shots in the hall you told me about or any links to photos up on flicker when cane hill was in use.
See you sunday the 20th.
hey Ali, great work documenting cane hill.
I was wondering if you can help me find patients from the hospital still alive now, or if you know any? seems like there are some anecdotes in your site.
im working on a film, i can tell you more about it
Hi Ali, I work at Cane Hill from 1982 to 1985. I met my wife there. I was led to understand the Mr Townsend was writing a book some years ago? I have been looking for some old Photos of staff who work at Cane Hill. Maybe we should look and find some of the old staff who work at Cane hill. I have a lot of very good memories working at Cane hill. Please email me and keep me inform.
From a newsletter published in 2002, Mr Townsend was indeed writing a book. I don’t know what came of it though. Finding photographs of staff is quite difficult, although the archivist at Croydon Library holds a box of general images from the hospital. I’ll let you know if anything new comes up.
Ali, I have a scan of a canehill handbook. It’s a sort of recruitment type thing, entitled :
TRAINING SCHOOL FOR PSYCHIATRIC NURSING
If you’re interested in adding it to this site I can email you the files. let me know at my email.
Hi there, I have a full survay of fire equipment on the wards and blue prints of the hospital I took of some of the older sites and made into two PDF files. If your interested contact me via email. (the ‘o’ in nothing being a zero ‘0’.
Sounds great Adam, thanks for this.
This site is amazing, I am currently doing my Art A-level and Cane Hill heavily features in my coursework unit as I decided to do it about decaying buildings but since then I have become fascinated with the history and tales of Cane Hill. So do you mind if I use some of the articles and photographs in my project? I stumbled across another website and this photographer has some copies of original documents you might be interested in, however I tried to contact her myself but have had no luck and her website was last updated in 2008 so I am not too sure where she has disappeared to. This is the website http://www.amelieriis.co.uk/cane_hill.htm she also looks at other asylums too… the documents are under interesting things.
Thanks Alexia, a lot of work has gone into it so I appreciate your comment! You are welcome to use the images in your coursework, however I would appreciate a credit where you do – a link to the site would be nice. There’s plenty of other sites about Cane Hill around too – if you follow the links you may like what you find. Re: Original documents, I acquired some from somebody authorised to salvage at the site – let me know what you’re looking for, and maybe we could sort something out?
amazing site .
would love to meeeet for a drink with any cane hill lovers and show some of my photographs .Hear stories, that kind of thing 🙂
I couldn’t find any other way to contact you but I’m currently in the middle of doing picture research for Bizarre magazine and we are doing a feature on the closure of Cane hill and really need some archive images, everything you have on this site is amazing so if it was possible would you be able to send me some high res examples of what you have and of course the pictures would get credited and the website would be mentioned.
Also, would you happen to know of any other good places that I can obtain archive images?
Thank you for your help
I have reason to believe that a relative of mine died in Cane Hill in the 60’s, having been hospitalised for about 30 years. Does anyone know how I can check hospital records for patients who died and were buried there?
I live just down the road from the old hospital site and have found your website absolutely facsinating. If I find anything while researching my family tree which will help you…I will let you know.
Thanks Jackie, I’d appreciate that.
Unfortunately the patient records that were left in the hospital were destroyed during demolition. Croydon Archive (above the library) and the City of London Archives may be able to help if further records were kept off site. As far as I know, there is no definitive record of who was buried in the cemetery but individual records may reveal some secrets.
I am interested to film a short film segment for TV? Would that be possible…are the buildings still up. Please can you email me a contact number its for Channel Four on Thursday. We hoping to walk around the site and some of the old buildings.
Hi Tim, the majority of the buildings are now demolished, but the administration block and chapel are still standing.
Hi Ali, fantastic site you have here, I’ve been fascinated by Cane Hill since I first went there back in 2004. I had 1000s of photographs of the place until my HDD went ‘fssst’ now sadly I only have a couple of dozen 🙁
I wonder if you have a hi-res copy of the actual site plan at all Ali and if I might have a copy, I plan on enlarging some ofmy photographs as art to use around the house and would love the builing plan from 1883 as a centrepiece, a bit odd I grant you but it was such a magical & mysterious place it has a lasting effect on you. Regards
As far as I remember from talking to the site security just before demo started, Admin & the Chapel are being kept and renovated.
Lets hope they are.
I hope so, although the fire to the Admin Block could see it’s end.
Thanks Kane, I don’t have any copies of the site plan, but Simon Cornwell has some hi-res scans. http://simoncornwell.com/urbex/projects/ch/index.htm
I was the Personnel and Services Manager at Cane hill from 1981 to 1983 working for the legendary Jim Kiley and Steve Sheath. I ran Personnel, library, Occuptional Therapy, Hairdressers and all staff accomodation. It was quite and experience in which I learnt a tremeddous amount for someone age 23. I drove past it last week and was saddened to see the magnificent buildings and grounds (including the cricket pitch) all lost. It was a place which exuded a strange mixture of happiness and misery for its staff and patients – and was full of history.
Im doing my Family Tree at present and have found that my grandads half brother died in the hospital in 1930, is there any way to found more details about this.
Hi Nigel, unfortunately records are very sparse, particularly prewar. Have you tried the archive of London City Council, as they were responsible for the hospital in this period?
I found the messages on Canehill very interesting particularly as I had an aunt who had a stay in there possibly in the 1950’s?, I recall being driven past it by my father and he told me that one of his sisters was in there, I believe her name was either Doll or Nell O’Brien and her upbringing was in Bermondsey, London. I have no idea how long she was there or if she is alive or dead but I would love to know for family research. Kevin O’Brien.
Hi Kevin, thanks for the comment. I’m sorry but I have no information on individual patients, except for those famous patients mentioned elsewhere on the site. Hopefully the information that I’ve collected can give you an idea as to what the hospital was like when your father’s sister was there.
My mother was a patient at Cane Hill at the time you mentioned and her maiden name was O’Brien. Can you let me know your father’s christian name. It may just be a coincidence as my mother also grew up in Bermondsey.
I was interested to see Kevin O’Brien’s message. I believe he is talking about my mother. All the facts he has given fit. If he would care to post a message back to me I will happily give him more information.
I worked at Cane Hill in the eighties as a medical secretary and have found this site very interesting. I have some good memories of Cane Hill and was saddened to see the pictures of the derelict site. My office was at the front of the building which I think is still standing. I lived very near to the hospital so it was only a short journey to work. It is so sad to see the derelict wards with all the abandoned items – beds, suitcases, pianos, etc and even patients’ notes. I loved working at Cane Hill and remember with fondness my colleagues, doctors, nurses and the patients.
I am a writer currently doing in depth research on the history, architecture and social impact of British Mental Asylums for my debut novel (can share more on this if you wish.)
This site is a rich source of information for me, especially the memories section which gives me a detailed impression of what life might have been like in my own fictional Asylum.
I would love to learn more about Cane Hill; (one of the first British Asylums I discovered during preliminary research)as it seems like a rich and colourful model upon which to base my Asylum. Furthermore, if there are any other sites that are this rich in Asylum history, please let me know!
Hi Marion, thanks for the feedback. For the sake of accuracy, you’d do well to note that there’s no such thing as a ‘mental asylum’. The terms that have been used are ‘lunatic asylum’, in Victorian times, and more recently, ‘mental hospital’.
There are several other sites with a lot of information on asylum history, and the books that I’ve recommended are well worth reading. Any factual accounts from staff are worth reading, as is ‘Madness in it’s place’, by Diana Gittens, a collection of accounts from staff at Severalls, a hospital in Essex.
If you want to know more about Cane Hill, there’s a lot of interesting documents at the archive at Croydon library.
Hi All, My Grandmother Guiseppina Esposito died there in 1946, i have here death cert. she is also one of the many who were buried in the “Hospital Cemetary”
Here are the NAMES OF DECEASED & DATE OF BURIAL
Mary Smith 12 FEB 1946
Guiseppina Paolillo 22 NOV 1946
George Röthenberger 03 JAN 1947
Gertrude Traverso 18 MAR 1947
Gertrude Gillard 03 MAY 1947
Margaret Holliman 01 JUL 1947
James Keating 23 OCT 1947
The seven persons buried in plot 119 (R/C section) at Cane Hill Cemetery.
only to be exhumed cremated and DUMPED!!!!
The cemetery was destroyed in 1981. The remains were cremated and mingled with those of 5,750 other patients and eventually deposited in an unmarked pit at Mitcham Road cemetery, the existence of which was indicated merely as a label on a chart as, “Cane Hill Remains.” The entire operation, from the preparation of a Private Members Bill (which received Royal Assent towards the end of 1980,) to the eventual disposal of the remains, many years later, was a gross breach of both Anglican Canon Law and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church on cremation as promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1963.
I am not aware of ANY family member being contacted.
The Cane Hill Cemetery Act (1980) published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. According to Simon Gough, (an Officer from the Parliamentary Archives,) the document (i.e. Act) was prepared by Messrs Attersoll-Smith, a firm of solicitors based in Redhill.
Removing human remains from Consecrated Ground requires a Faculty, which no Diocesan Chancellor would ever grant under such circumstances, (e.g. here in Portnall’s Road, so that the land could be used for commercial purposes; in this case, a housing development costing £1/2 million – £4.5 million at present-day house prices.)
How did you get to be so interested in Cane Hill Hospital. For me it was because my Mother was a patient there for nearly twenty years. You have set up this really interesting site and I would love to know why.
Hi Vivian, I work in mental healthcare and was interested in the services that were provided prior to those that exist now. I also visited the hospital in it’s abandoned state and was taken by the size of it and the history of the hospital. As there was no online record at the time of the people that worked at Cane Hill or were patients there, I wanted to create a website that would allow people to share their memories.
My grandmother’s name was Florence Wright. My mother (now deceased) was born out of wedlock in the early 20’s and so far as I can gather, my grandmother went to Cane Hill suffering from depression. Are there any records available?
Hi just stumbled across this site as i used to be a nurse in Cane Hill and met my husband there. I remember Ernie Townsend, did the book get published?
Hello. My grandfather worked here as Chief Nursing Officer from the late 50′ / early 60’s onwards. He had his own home and office in the administration block from what I’ve heard. What a remarkable place to work. Especially in those days,
Hi im looking for help to find out what or where did Allan Keith Taylor go when he died in cane hill on April 1St 1951 hw was 61 yearsof age .
Any help would be very much appreciated
Hi I used to visit Cane Hill with parents. Too young to go inside. We had great uncle who was in cavalry charge Mesopotania WW1. His horse blown up under him and his brain stop.he was 18 and spent rest of his life there .died about 1958 ? Surname Percy Dobbins or Cleak
According to my parents there many war casualties there both WW1 and WW2. There should be a memorial for them
My grandfather George Graer was a patient in Cane Hill for many years. I met him once in the hospital, that was 1955/6 My father Wm Bernard Graer searched for any family in 1953/4 he may have. He found his mother Mary Maiden name Brennan living in Tottenham with her youngest son Arthur & daughter Margaret Richardson (Nee Graer) Ny grandfather George Graer had been a brushmaker by trade before admitted as a patient. I was given to understand he took the equipment into hospital & they set up a brush making workshop there. Details & date of his death would be very much appreciated. M E Angel (Nee Graer) With thanks hoping for a reply & info.
I am reading “Explore Everything” by Bradley Garrett for an anthropology class entitled “Street Ethnography.” Garrett referred to this website in Chapter 3. I look forward to reading about the memories of Cane Hill!
Hi I have recently bought a mantle clock, which has a dedication plaque on it to one of the workers at Cane Hill Mental Hospital. His name was Martin Beadle and the clock was presented to him in 1924 from his Colleagues.
Just wondered if anyone knows of Mr Beadle and his job at the Hospital?
I also noted in some documents concerning the Hospital that it was renamed ‘mental Hospital in 1930’ from the former Asylum, yet as I have stated the inscription on the plaque reads Cane Hill Mental Hospital. Maybe it was because even in those days the word Asylum was thought to be not acceptable?
Any information would be gratefully accepted, kind regards, Ian
At school (Purley High For Girls) back in the mid-70s, as part of our Social Science classes, we visited Cane Hill and even helped out in our small way, talking with the patients etc. Can you even begin to imagine such a thing being possible today?! It was truly the most incredible part of my education.
Leaving school I got a job as a ward auxiliary there for a while, before my music career took off.
It never stopped influencing me one way or another.
Here is one of my early punk/new wave songs, based on my experiences there:
Thanks for this great website!
HI I WORKED AS A COOK IN THE KITCHENS THERE.UNDER A GREAT MAN CALLED HARRY KING.HE WAS THE CATERING OFFICER.I WORKED MOSTLY COOKING THE DOCTERS MEALS IN THE STAFF CANTEEN.THE DOCTERS HAD A SPECIAL SILVER SERVICE RESTAURANT IN THERE.I STARTED WHEN I WAS 17YEARS OLD.WORKED THERE FOR 4 TO 5 YEARS.LOVED IT.I WORKED WITH PEOPLE FROM OTHER COUNTRIES.WE ALL GOT ON VERY WELL.I WORKED WITH LADIES FROM SPAIN.MADE GOOD FRIENDS OF THEM.I LIVED IN THE DOMESTIC BLOCK.BECAUSE I LIVE 350 MILES AWAY.BUT HARRY KING GAVE ME DAY RELEASE TO GET MY CITY AND GUILDS 7061 AND 2 AT CROYDON COLLEGE.I HAVE MANY A HAPPY MEMORY.WORKED WITH SOME EXCELLANT COOKS.WOULD BE LOVELY TO MEET THEM AGAIN.HATE TO SEE THE HOSPITAL KNOCKED DOWN.A BIG PART OF HISTORY THERE.
My great grandfather was the Gate Keeper in the Lodge House at Cane Hill and my Nanny was born in the Gate lodge in 1893. I would love to have more information about them. My great grandparents were buried in the Portnall Road Cemetery which I remember being built on. Where can I find out more information? Many thanks.
I visited Cane Hill Hospital once for a long weekend in the early 1960s. It might have been the winter of 1962, I’m no longer certain. At that time I was living in my home town, Middlesbrough in North Yorkshire. My best friend David Lonsdale had answered an advertisement in our local paper for student nurses. David and I were both laboratory assistants at ICO at that time and we had discussed finding work in the medical field. We sent off for application forms and David more certain of himself than I was accepted for training. Some months later, in the middle of a bad winter, I came to visit him with another friend to see for myself what he was up to with a view to joining him. I decided that psychiatric nursing wasn’t for me.
I’ll pass over the visit for the moment because my real reason for writing this is the hope that I might find out what became of him. David qualified very quickly as a nurse and then a senior nurse. Eventually, I believe achieved status as Matron.
He married a nurse at the hospital, they had a child, and then they migrated to Alberta Canada where he worked as a senior nurse in another psychiatric hospital. (Indian Hat?)
I still have some happy memories of that visit but I didn’t have the necessary to be a nurse.
I wonder if anyone out there remembers David Lonsdale and whether he is still living. He would be 80 years old now like myself.
Hi Richard, thanks for sharing your story, hopefully a reader will have some memories of David to share. Best wishes, Ali
Hi I am looking for an Asian guy who worked there in the early 80s he was a porter and he was in his early 20s think he was a rockabilly drove an American car .