Cell Barnes Hospital

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Cell Barnes Hospital
Opened 1933
Closed 1998
Demolished 2000
Current Status Demolished
Building Style Pavilion Plan
Location St Albans, Hertfordshire
Alternate Names
  • Cell Barnes Colony


In the late 1920s as 82-acre plot of land adjacent to Hill End Hospital was purchased from the Earl of Verulam by the Hertfordshire County Council for use as a 'colony for mental defectives'. The Cell Barnes Colony, with accommodation for 650 mentally handicapped patients, was officially opened in March 1933 by the then Minister of Health, Sir E. Hilton Young. The Colony site also contained Great Cell Barnes House, which was extended for use as a Nurses' Home. The Victorian gardens of the House, with a formal rose garden and a lake, were preserved.

The Colony had a farm, which produced foodstuffs for the institution. The farm produced various crops, and livestock and poultry were kept. The patients provided most of the labour both on the farm and in the gardens. During WW2 it became an Emergency Hospital when St Bartholomew's Hospital in London was mostly evacuated in September 1939. Some 52 nurses were sent to Cell Barnes, while 308 went to the neighbouring Hill End Hospital. In 1946 Tenterden House, three miles away in Lye Lane, Bricket Wood, was purchased as an annexe for the Colony to ease overcrowding. In 1948 the Colony joined the NHS, when it had 701 beds. It was renamed the Cell Barnes Hospital and came under the control of the Cell Barnes and Harperbury (later, Verulam Group) Hospital Management Committee.

During the 1950s additional buildings were erected to accommodate staff, and also to provide administrative offices, lecture rooms and recreational centres. In 1958 the Duke of Gloucester opened the Sports and Social Club. In 1965 the farm closed, in compliance with government policy that hospital farms should cease. By 1974 the Hospital had 779 beds, including those in Tenterden House (50 beds) and at Bennett's End Hospital in Bennett's End near Hemel Hempstead (87 beds).

Patients lived in large spacious wards containing about 20 patients on average. Most wards were single-sex, but a few were mixed. Each ward had a large dormitory (there were very few single bedrooms), and large sitting and dining areas shared by all the patients. Most patients attended the Occupational Therapy Department for day care, while a few attended activities outside the Hospital.

By 1990 the Hospital had 580 patients, but attitudes to the treatment of the mentally ill and mentally handicapped had changed. Instead of being segregated from society, such patients would be integrated into the community. The large mental hospitals were gradually run down as the patients were transferred to small units of care or hostels. The Hospital came under the control of the Horizon NHS Trust, along with Harperbury Hospital and Leavesden Hospital. Thus, the Trust could facilitate the closure of the area's three mental handicap hospitals. Leavesden Hospital closed first, in 1995, Cell Barnes Hospital in 1998 and Harperbury Hospital last, in 2001.

The Hospital buildings have all been demolished and nothing remains. Laing built 41 detached houses on part of the site in 1999. The remainder of the land is now part of Highfield Park. A small circular rose garden, using roses rescued from the gardens of the Hospital, has been created in commemoration of it. The Hospital's orchards are being restored. Tenterden House is now a 40-bedded nursing home for the frail elderly and young physically disabled. It also provides palliative care.