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Harperbury Hospital, Radlett

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Alternative name(s):
  • Middlesex Colony for Mental Defectives (Formerly known as)
  • Hangars Certified Institution (Formerly known as)
Date: 1980-2001
History: In 1923 Middlesex County Council purchased land on which to build a hospital "for mental defectives" outside Radlett in Hertfordshire to ease the problems of over-crowding in its institutions. The hospital was initially based in three aircraft hangars built for the London Colony Airfield, which had been established during the First World War and was indeed known as Hangars Certified Institution, when the first eight patients were admitted in 1928. New buildings were constructed in 1929, and the complex soon became known as the Middlesex Colony for Mental Defectives at Shenley. It provided a sheltered and segregated environment for people who would now be described as people with learning disabilities or special needs. A major part of its activities revolved around farming within its grounds of 420 acres, which was regarded as therapeutic for the patients involved. The numbers of patients steadily grew. By 1931 there were 243 and at the outbreak of the Second World War 1194. It was originally planned that there would be 2000 patients, but that figure was never reached, the highest number being 1587 achieved in 1964. It was administered by the Middlesex County Council Mental Deficiency Committee (from 1945 the Mental Health Committee).

On the creation of the National Health Service in 1948, it became part of the Verulam Group Hospital Management Committee in the North West Metroplitan Regional Hospital Board. Its name was changed to Harperbury Hospital in 1950. During the 1950s and 1960s there was a change of emphasis, moving towards rehabilitation and re-integration into the community. There was also a gradual move away from therapy by farming towards industrial or occupational therapy for patients. A pioneering cerebral palsy unit was set up in 1960. Another pioneering operation was followed the Kennedy Galton Unit, set up in 1964 in the field of subnormality and causes of congenital defects (later moved in 1987 to Northwick Park in Harrow). In 1974 it passed to the North West Hertfordshire District Health Authority within the North West Thames Regional Health Authority. During the NHS reforms of the early 1990s, it became one of the facilities run by the Horizon NHS Trust (established in 1992). As the NHS policy of care in the community came into force over the next decade, the hospital was gradually run down, although it did take in patients from similar institutions being closed down, namely Leavesden Hospital (in 1995) and Cell Barnes Hospital (in 1998). The hospital officially closed in 2001.
  • Radlett, Hertfordshire
Sources of authority: Idiots Act 1886; Mental Deficiency Act 1913
Functions, occupations and activities: Health and social care > Hospitals
History Links: webpage for Harperbury
Historical context: The 1886 Idiots Act allowed local authorities to build asylums for 'idiots' or 'imbeciles'. These people were distinct from 'lunatics', who had simply become mentally ill and were possibly recoverable. The Mental Deficiency Act 1913 introduced a hierarchy of categories of mental deficiency, from Idiots at the bottom of the scale, to Imbeciles, the Feeble-Minded, and up to Moral Defectives. All had to be deficient from birth or from an early age. The Act set up a Board of Control, in effect those who had been the Lunacy Commissioners. The objective of such institutions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries largely lay in providing a secure but isolated and segregated environment away from the wider community. From the middle of the 20th century, the emphasis moved away from that concept and towards the idea of rehabilitating, educating and supporting patients not in large institions but in residential homes within the public community. By the end of the 20th very few of such institutions remained open.
References: Hosprec database; Hospital Yearbooks 1949-1999; Lost Hospitals of London website; Kevin Brown, Harperbury Hospital: Fom Colony to Closure, 2001
Name authority reference: GB/NNAF/C48848 (Former ISAAR ref: GB/NNAF/O102856 )
  Description Held by Reference Further information
1980-2001: records, including minutes and correspondence
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
See Annual Return 2002

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Related record creators
  Record creator Description of relationship Dates Category of relationship
Harperbury Hospital was founded by Middlesex County Council
Harperbury Hospital was under the authority of the North West Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board
Harperbury Hospital was under the authority of the North West Thames Regional Health Authority.