Normansfield was founded in May 1868 by Dr John Haydon Langdon-Down and his wife, Mary, as a private home for the mentally handicapped, especially for the children of the upper classes whom they sought to educate and train to the full extent of their capabilities.
The hospital opened in a recently built house in extensive grounds in Kingston Road, Teddington, close to Hampton Wick. By the end of the year 19 patients were in residence. From 1858 to 1868 John Langdon-Down had been Medical Superintendent of the Royal Earlswood Hospital, then known as the Asylum for Idiots. He brought with him from Earlswood to Normansfield some of his patients and three admission and discharge registers 1855-1868 which now form part of the Normansfield Hospital archives. (ref H29/NF/B/1/1-2, H29/NF/B/2/1).
John Langdon-Down continued to fulfill his responsibilities as physician to the London Hospital while establishing a consulting practice in Harley Street. Mary Langdon-Down was responsible for the day to day management of Normansfield and the supervision of the patients, conducting an extensive correspondence with many of their parents and other relatives. Most of the letters received by her from 1881 to 1888 and from 1897 to her death in 1900 survive. (See H29/NF/A/1/1-25, H29/NF/A/1/84-103).
Normansfield rapidly expanded firstly with the addition of two wings to the main building in 1872 to 1873, by which time the number of patients had risen to 57. The villas facing Kingston Road were purchased, as well as additional land including a plot of land running down to the River Thames on the far side of the lower road. By 1877 there were 115 patients and the building of the Entertainment Hall or Theatre and the farm was started. Broom Hall, now known as Conifers, was purchased in 1878 and in 1882. Eastcote, renamed Trematon, was bought.
Further additions were the laundry built in 1883, the boathouse in 1884, the drill hall in the grounds of Trematon in 1889, and the clock tower in 1891/2. By 1892 there were 200 patients in residence.
John Langdon-Down died suddenly on 7 October 1896 aged 67. His elder son, Reginald, succeeded him as Medical Superintendent. On the death of Mary Langdon-Down on 5 October 1900, their two sons, Reginald and Percival, took over the management of Normansfield. Reginald's wife, Jane, a former nursing organisation of the establishment.
Under the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913, the main building became a certified house. The North Wing accommodated male patients while the South Wing was for women and children. Conifers and Trematon became approved homes, Conifers for higher grade women and Trematon for higher grade men. Education, occupational therapy, theraputic work on the farm and in the kitchen garden, and daily exercise in the hospital grounds were provided for the patients. Annual visits to the south coast were arranged for almost all the patients up to the Second World War.
Jane Langdon-Down died in 1917 and Percival Langdon-Down died in 1925. In 1926 Normansfield became a limited company with Reginald Langdon-Down and Helen Langdon-Down, Percival's widow, as the directors.
The outbreak of the Second World War caused many problems for the running of Normansfield. Several bombs fell in the hospital grounds, damaging buildings, but fortunately without causing any injury. Stella Brain returned to Teddington with her family to assist her father in managing Normansfield. In 1946, Percival's son, Norman, became Deputy Medical Superintendent. In 1945 there were 160 patients in the main building at Normansfield with an additional 21 girls not under certificate, who had been transferred from Conifers which had been rendered unhabitable by enemy action in June 1944.
The problems of maintaining a private establishment after the War and with the advent of the National Health Service proved overwhelming. Negotiations to sell the hospital to the Government resulted in the transfer of Normansfield to the North West Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board on 22 June 1951. The hospital came under the immediate control of Staines Group Hospital Management Committee. The Langdon-Down family involvement with Normansfield continued with the appointment in 1951 of Dr Norman Langdon-Down as Medical Superintendent and with Lady Brain's appointment to the management committee in 1952. Many of the higher grade patients left. Conifers and Trematon ceased to be approved homes and the whole establishment became a certified institution until the advent of the 1959 Mental Health Act.
Money for repairing and upgrading the buildings was initially lacking, but gradually extensions and improvements were made, including the building of new day rooms in 1960, the installation of a new central heating system, rewiring, the conversion of an old farm building into an industrial unit in 1960, and the construction of two new wards and a block of staff flats in 1968. In 1971 responsibility for the education of children resident in the hospital was transferred to the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. A few children attended local special schools, while the Normansfield Education Unit now run by the local education authority was in 1974 transferred to Trematon.
An active League of Friends of Normansfield was formed in 1957 by Lady Brain, who became President, and Colonel Symmons, the Chairman. Money was raised to provide amongst other things, a school, a shop and club room for the patients, a hydrotherapy pool, and a holiday home, Bill House at Selsey, Sussex.
In 1970 Norman Langdon-Down retired. He was succeeded as consultant psychiatrist by Dr Terence Lawlor. As a result of the 1974 reorganisation of the National Health Service Normansfield was managed from 1 April 1974 by Kingston and Richmond Area Health Authority and the South West Thames Regional Health Authority. In the 1970s Normansfield became known as a "problem" hospital with bad relationships between Dr Lawlor, his medical colleagues and most of the nursing staff, the lack of adequate physiotherapy, speech therapy, dental care, and occupational therapy for the patients, low staff morale, the difficulty of recruiting and retaining sufficient good calibre trained nurses, the problems of caring for patients in run down, badly maintained and dirty buildings, combined with complex management structures and increased union activity within the N.H.S. This resulted on 5 May 1976 in a strike by most of the nursing staff who demanded the suspension of Dr Lawlor and walked out leaving the patients without proper care.
In order to resolve the strike the Regional Health Authority decided to suspend Dr Lawlor and to hold an inquiry. The Inquiry into "Staff Morale and Patient Care at Normansfield Hospital and in particular the circumstances leading to the withdrawal of labour by staff at the hospital on 5th May 1976, the action taken to deal with the situation and to make recommendations thereon" opened on 8 November 1976 sitting in private under the chairmanship of Gerald Kidner. It was adjourned sine die after six days owing to the withdrawal of Dr Lawlor and the medical member of the panel, Dr Hatrick.
A new Committee of Inquiry under the chairmanship of Michael Sherrard Q.C. was appointed by the Secretary of State for Social Services in pursuance of his powers under Section 70 of the National Health Service Act 1946. This gave the committee power to receive evidence on oath, to compel the attendance of witnesses and for the production of documents. The proceedings were to be held in public unless some "grave and weighty reason" was shown otherwise. Its terms of reference were "To inquire into patient care and staff morale at Normansfield Hospital and in particular into complaints made by staff at the Hospital and others; to inquire into the causes and effects of the unrest at the Hospital and the action taken to deal with the situation; and to make recommendations."
The Committee of Inquiry sat for 124 days from 10 February 1977 to 10 February 1978. Its report was published in November 1978. A copy of this (ref H29/NF/F/8/1) can be found amongst the archives relating to the Inquiry deposited in the Greater London Record Office by the Administrator of Normansfield Hospital in 1986. The archives also include an almost complete set of transcripts of proceedings of both inquiries, copies of documents submitted to the Sherrard Inquiry, some of files from which these documents were copied, transcripts of displinary proceedings resulting from the report, and some of the Area Nursing Officer's files relating to nursing at Normansfield after the Inquiry.
By 1993 Normansfield Hospital had become part of the Richmond Twickenham and Roehampton Healthcare NHS Trust.