The Hanwell Asylum, aka the Middlesex County Asylum, is probably better known – if at all – as St Bernard’s. For some reason, I thought it was long-closed, like the Holloway sanitorium in Virginia Water. Or at least moved away like the Bethlem Hospital (“Bedlam”) in Lambeth, now the Imperial War Museum.
Not a bit of it. While out and about yesterday, we popped in to where we knew it to be, mainly to see – out of curiosity – what buildings remained. We quickly discovered two things: first, St Bernard’s Hospital, part of West London NHS Mental Health Trust is very much active. There were small numbers of patients hanging around on garden benches and wandering about. Some kept each other company. Quite a few were smoking. Is it safe to assume that even these poor souls are further tortured by anti-smoking? Second, many of the old buildings, particularly to the east (ie to the left in the above illustration) are very much extant, along with rather nondescript modern two-storey apartment blocks. While the old Holloway and Bedlam buildings are beautiful – uplifting even – overall St Bernard’s is decidedly grim and oppressive.
The complex is fronted street-side (the very busy, dual-carriageway Uxbridge Road), by an imposing, ivy-bewigged, arched gatehouse, unoccupied by an employed keeper for many years, by the looks of it. A long driveway leads to the chapel. One can imagine wagons of supplies rolling up here having collected them from the nearby GWR siding, opened a handful of years after the asylum itself which came into being in 1831.
This was very much the mid -19C time when the authorities undertook a determined policy of shifting prisons, asylums, workhouses and cemeteries to the outskirts. London was expanding at its fastest pace before or since: no room for criminals, the poor, the dead or the mad.
Not quite Victorian, then, strictly speaking by year of foundation, but very much so in many other ways, not least in our imaginations.