Cambridgeshire County Asylum

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Cambridgeshire County Asylum
Established 1848
Construction Began 1856
Opened 1858
Closed 1992
Current Status Preserved
Building Style Corridor Plan
Architect(s) George Fowler Jones & Samuel Hill
Location Fulbourn, Cambridgeshire
Alternate Names
  • Fulbourn Hospital
  • Isle of Ely and Borough of Cambridge Asylum
  • Cambridgeshire, Isle of Ely and Borough of Cambridge Mental Hospital
  • Cambridge District Asylum


The Lunacy Act and County Asylums Act of 1845 consolidated Lunacy Law in England and required the provision of a public asylum for all pauper lunatics by local authorities. Fulbourn Asylum for the Borough of Cambridge, Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely opened in 1858 after 12 years of wrangling and lengthy legal battles, as well as disputes over its design. It accommodated 250 patients. The new regime imposed was fairly liberal; the prevailing approach to treatment was one of ‘non-restraint’. At Fulbourn there would be ‘neither belt, straightjacket, manacle, (or) strong chair’.

In the early days of the hospital patients were occupied with laying out garden paths and cultivating a skittle alley and bowling green. Practical outdoor activities such as gardening and farming, were seen as beneficial to the overall health of the patient. In 1862 a cemetery chapel was opened. Paupers were often buried two to a grave. The burial ground continued in use until 1955.

When Dr David Clark became Medical Superintendent in 1953, however, Fulbourn had come to be viewed as a dreaded institution, with the mentally ill kept behind bolted doors and attendants acting as virtual jailers. His appointment initiated genuine change and improvement in mental health care. By the time Clark retired, patients were living in open therapeutic communities; the staff were partners in the proper provision of care and the hospital was internationally renowned as a pioneering centre of social therapy and rehabilitation.

Fulbourn is still in use as a mental health hospital and has been considerably enlarged over the years. In 2002, it became part of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust.


A history of the hospital can be found here