East Sussex County Asylum, Hellingly Hospital

Originally known as the East Sussex County Asylum (Hellingly Hospital), Hellingly Hospital lies on the hills of East Sussex just outside Hailsham on land that wad formally the Park Farm near Hellingly Village. With the First Sussex County Asylum, St Francis changing hands and becoming solely operated by the Brighton Borough Authority after East & West Sussex ended their joint ownership of the buildings. East Sussex decided to construct a new and modern Asylum at Hellingly and West Sussex constructing a similar complex at Graylingwell Farm in Chichester.

East Sussex purchased the land of Park Farm, which covered 400 acres, from the earl of Chichester for £16,000. Hellingly Hospital was to be one of the most advanced Asylum designs of its time, being designed by the prominent architect George Thomas Hine, Consultant Architect to the Lunacy Commissioners, and planning began in 1898. Hine designed the hospital in the ever popular compact arrow form, with the male wards to the west of the site. There was also an Acute Hospital, known as Park House that was built on the site and designed to hold approximately 15% of the total patient population, as well as a number of villas and a separate isolation hospital. Opening on July 20th, 1903 and came to a total cost of £353,400 – it was to become a very large hospital, accommodating just under 2000 patients at its peak. The hospital finally closed its doors 1994 and has lain abandoned and derelict since.

Hellingly was a unique hospital by the fact that it had an electrified railway – the rest of the County Asylums that had railways were served by steam trains. The purpose of the railway was to supply the hospital with coal for the boilers and to also offer a passenger service. The total cost was £3000, with sidings being built at the main station. The line was constructed in 1899 for the purpose of supplying construction materials to the building works, much like the line for the Epsom cluster. The decision to electrify it was made in 1902 and was served by one electric locomotive, two coal wagons and a single passenger wagon with a 12 person’s occupancy. Because of the supplies that were needed by the hospital, the train never followed a set timetable. In 1932 the line ceased to serve as a passenger line, with the platform at the hospital being converted into a coal bay – the passenger wagon was moved into the grounds and converted into the cricket pavilion. The line was considered for ambulance trains during WW2, to serve the Canadian Military who had taken over park house. However the line was never used for this function. The line finally closed in 1959 and the hospital converted from coal to oil fuel, the train shed was turned into a works store. During the lifetime of the hospital, there was little extension work carried out on the buildings, apart from a number of small ancillary buildings constructed around the site. In the 1980s, the hospital was one of five hospitals to be selected to have a medium secure unit onsite, this was known as Ashen Hill and it is still in operation today.  Plans to build a new facility of the old Hellingly Hospital are currently in progress.

The main building currently stands empty and in a severe state of disrepair caused by numerous vandalism and arson attacks; in 2008 the main hall, main kitchen and stores all suffered from arson. Many of the villas have found a new use in either the public health sector, or as private homes and the chapel is currently used by the NHS for storage. The site has had proposals for a number of housing schemes, however these have been rebuked by the local authority and currently the site is owned by David Lock, who plan to develop a village style community there. As of November 2009, contractors have moved onto the site and started to clear away debris from the surrounding land, Park House is to be the first to be demolished. Work is expected to start in the beginning of 2010 and ended as of 2013.

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Modified: 10th Feb 2014