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By the mid 1800s the County Asylums Act and Lunacy Act had made it a requirement that every United Kingdom county should build an asylum if they had not already done so, or should join with another neighbouring county to achieve the same goal. For the Hampshire asylum, a 100 acre site was located, known as Knowle Farm, close to Fareham. Purchased towards the end of the 1840s, work began on the asylum - to be known as the Hampshire County Lunatic Asylum - in 1850, and the asylum took its first patients in December 1852.
By 1856 the asylum had expanded to take 400 patients, and the growth continued throughout the century - with over 1,000 patients at the asylum by 1900. Both male and female patients were admitted, and were expected to work on the farm, in the kitchens and in other trades to help support their community. Knowle Halt, a small railway station on the Eastleigh to Fareham line, served the asylum from 1907. The station, close to the village of Funtley, was closed in 1964. Trains from the Meon Valley Railway, a cross-country railway in Hampshire, also served Knowle Halt.
The asylum was renamed Knowle Mental Hospital in 1923 and then became Knowle Hospital in 1948, finally closing in 1996. Secure accommodation for patients with mental illness is still provided by Ravenswood House, whose buildings are adjacent to the old hospital.
From 2000 onwards, the site was redeveloped by Berkeley Homes as Knowle Village - an exclusive development of apartments (using the former hospital buildings) and new houses over 53 acres of the grounds. The principal northern (east-west) building, northern administration building, administrator's house, chapel and staff cottages were retained and converted to other uses, whilst the central north-south connecting structure and south block were demolished. 130 of the 520 new dwellings were created within existing buildings.
Over 5,500 former patients of the asylum are buried in Knowle Cemetery, south of the grounds. Prior to 1886 the burial locations were not recorded. Up to four patients could be buried in the same plot, although never on the same day. The last burial at the site took place in 1971. A few remaining iron crosses, used to mark the graves, were removed from the site in 2001 for secure storage, pending a decision to relocate them.