Sussex County Asylum, St Francis Hospital


With the passing of the County Asylums Act in 1845, the counties of England and Wales were required to provide accommodation for their pauper lunatics.  It took nine years for the Sussex county to begin planning there asylum, being the last county in the country to do so, due to the political wrangling between the East and West division.  The County finally decided in building their Asylum roughly in the middle of the County, at the small village of Haywards Heath.  It was positioned on the South Downs, at the site of Hurst House Farm, which was purchased for £5,750 and contained 120 acres.

The County next appointed  the architect H.E.Kendall JNR of Brunswick Square in London, who had previous experience designing the Essex Asylum at Warley, and was also the cheapest for tender.  The Asylum was designed on a typical Corridor plan, and was able to accommodate 400 patients, with the females to the East.  Work on the building begun in Easter 1857, with works being completed on the 25th of July, 1859.  Within five years of the hospital opening it was already suffering from overcrowding and an extension was required.  The two storey ward blocks at either end of the building were expanded and extended to house an extra storey, dining rooms were also built for the male and female wards.  The next extension involved moving the superintendents house to the west of the site and expanding facilities into the old residence, this included a recreation hall.  An isolation hospital was also built on the edge of the site.

By the 1890’s, overcrowding was becoming a serious problem for the Asylum, and over 100 hundred patients were houses in temporary buildings.  In 1893, West Sussex left the union that was originally formed due to the passing of the Local Government Act.  The built there own Asylum at Graylingwell in Chichester, and nearly 200 patients were transferred there.  This did little to the over crowding problems and the space that was reclaimed was quickly filled.  The Borough of Brighton was under pressure from the Lunacy Commission to build their own Asylum, and in 1903 a solution was presented, East Sussex would construct its own Asylum at Hellingly, and Brighton would take control.  By October of 1903, 300 patients had been transferred to the new hospital.  the control of Brighton saw a new water tower be constructed on the site, and further accommodation for Nurses.

World War One saw the return of the West Sussex patients to the Hospital as the military had commondered Graylingwell.  The years between the two wars saw the construction of married nurses accommodation Beechmont house was purchased and converted to a private fee paying hospital.  An admission hospital was also built on the site in 1938, and was very quickly put to use for WWII as a neurological hospital, a function which it retained when it was returned in 1946.   With the advent of the NHS, further improvements to the site, with a number of facilities being built.  By the 90’s, with the care in the community act, the original building was being run down for closure and a new general hospital was built to the east.

The hospital finally closed its doors on the 17th November 1995.  the site lay derelict for approximately four years until it was converted to flats.  The Water Tower, stores, Beechmont House & the neurological building being retained by the new general hospital.  The conversion saw the majority of the buildings being restored, with only a small number being demolished.

Further Information


Modified: 1st Jun 2022