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.
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.
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 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.
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.