Park Prewett Hospital was one of a number of large psychiatric hospitals inspired by the Victorians and embodying many of their values. The institutions were not unlike the large country houses of the time, being situated in large grounds, often with a farm attached, and being a good local employer.

General view of Park Prewett Hospital

The fact that the site of Park Prewett included a farm was no accident, as many inmates of the asylum would be expected to work there, fresh air and hard work being a remarkably good therapy.

Although not opened until 1921, the ‘second county asylum’was first proposed in 1898. This came about following concern that Knowle Hospital in Fareham had reached the limits for its expansion, and that a new location in the north of the county would be more suitable. The committee of visitors of the Hampshire County Council asylum, chaired by Mr. W.H. Deane had narrowed it down to two sites in the vicinity of Basingstoke, Winklebury Farm and Park Prewett Farm.

At this time, the London architect George T. Hine, who had already designed a number of asylums, was called in for advice. Although both sites were favourable, Park Prewett was chosen, although the provision of a line of trees to serve as a windbreak was recommended. A suggestion for which we may be thankful, even today.

The Council bought Park Prewett Farm of 300 acres, part of the Vyne estate, for £30 an acre. In November 1899 Mr. Hine's firm, Hine and Pegg was appointed as the architect. Although held in abeyance for some years while demand had dropped, the building was firmly back on the agenda by 1908, and preparations for building began in 1910. It was announced in the Hants and Berks Gazette of 16 August 1913 that the tender for construction from Thomas Rowbotham had come in at £258,777.

Plan of Park Prewett Hospital

The main building was to consist of 15 wards housing 804 patients and 100 in admissions. In addition there were to be 10 villas for various types of patient and a private wing for 100 patients. In all, accommodation for 1300 patients, 167 nurses and attendants.

On 11th July 1913, the Joint Asylum Committee had been very pleased with progress on the foundations and the bridge over the railway line being built to service the hospital was complete. Incidentally, this LSWR branch line served both in the construction of the site, and to bring coal and other supplies twice weekly up until its closure in September 1950. The line was not suitable for passenger traffic owing to its steep gradient (up to 1 in 53) and tight turns. The gradient was such that the loco had to be at the rear to prevent runaways should a coupling break. When tested for passenger use at the start of the second world war during the only confirmed run, the coach buffers were fully compressed, and one of the coaches got stuck in the bank of the cutting on its return journey.

Park Prewett Branch Line Map

By the summer of 1914 a number of one storey buildings were ready for roofing. Even the water tower had reached a height of 50ft. Of course 1914 was not a good time to be building, and labour soon dried up. This was somewhat relieved by the army requisitioning the hospital in September 1915 and deploying some of their own men.

Park Prewett thus opened in 1917 as a military hospital - Number Four Canadian General Hospital. This designation came from the Canadian Army Medical Corps unit, newly returned from Salonica as part of support for the Gallipoli campaign.

The hospital remained in military hands for two years, and then the long process of conversion back to the original purpose could commence. Finally, in August 1921, the hospital opened, accepting its first patients in the week beginning the 29th.

The Hospital Opens

Four wards opened to begin with, many of the others were still full of the furniture acquired from the military and although the hospital was more or less ready it still bore many traces of its wartime experience and took some time to settle down to peacetime use.

Mr. Hines's brief had been to produce 'a plain building', and it was indeed quite utilitarian but the proportions were generous and designed to please - even the façade had a secret - one of the windows above the front door is blind, only there for the sake of symmetry.

The design of the main hospital was symmetrical with two main entrances. The front door opened into a long corridor with administrative offices on either side and doctor's quarters above. The corridor led to a central hall from which the other entrance door opened. The porter's lodge was here and the hall was used for all the general business of the hospital; The dispensary and the path lab opened form it. Behind it was the main (assembly) hall and behind that the kitchen. From the entrance hall corridors led to the wards which formed wings on either side of this central block; one side for men and one side for women. The wards were built round an open rectangle; On their outward side each ward opened onto its own airing court surrounded by iron railings discretely covered by laurel hedges.

On the women's side of the hospital were the laundry and the sewing room and on the male side the shops of the tailor, shoemaker and upholsterer. Behind the tradesman's shops was the engineer's yard, including plumbers, carpenters, painters, electricians and the tinsmith.

The main hall was very much the centre of hospital life, with its large high vaulted roof and well sprung floor, including a stage and an orchestra pit it was ideal for concerts dances and all kinds of entertainment.

During the 1920's and 30's there was very little therapeutic care, although patient's often recovered there were many for whom the hospital was their life. There were few drugs prescribed, apart from paraldehyde, with its characteristic smell of stale whisky. A breakthrough in psychiatric treatment came with the introduction of malarial treatment for neurosyphilitic patients. Insulin shock treatment also came into use in the 1930s, and later on there was a major development with the discovery and introduction of therapeutic electro-convulsive therapy..

In the early days of Park Prewett, nurses worked a thirteen hour day often dealing with difficult patients. At mealtimes patients ate at long trestle tables using enamel plates and mugs with the so called lunatic knives and forks designed to prevent their use as weapons or for self harm.

By 1936 the patient population was already over 1300 and apparently set to go on rising, it was decided to build four more wards. Idsworth and Kingsclere on the female side and Vernham and Winchester on the male side. in February 1937 the proposals were accepted to provide the 128 new beds. Building work began in January 1938 and was scarcely complete when war broke out.