Europe, Severalls Hospital, Colchester, UK
Severalls Hospital in Colchester, Essex, UK was a psychiatric hospital built in 1910 which first opened in May 1913. The 300-acre site housed some 2000 patients and was based on the “Echelon plan” – a specific arrangement of wards, offices and services within easy reach of each other by a network of interconnecting corridors. This meant that staff were able to operate around the site without the need to go outside in bad weather. Unlike modern British hospitals, patients in Severalls were separated according to their gender. The architect of the asylum was Frank Whitmore.
Villas were constructed around the main hospital building as accommodation blocks between 1910 and 1935. Most of the buildings are in the Queen Anne style, with few architectural embellishments, typical to the Edwardian Period. The most ornate buildings are the Administration Building, Larch House & Severalls House (originally the Medical Superintendent’s residence).
Psychiatrists were free to experiment with new treatments on patients seemingly at will using practices now considered unsuitable such as electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) and the use of frontal lobotomy. These practices reached their climax during the 1950s. In her book Madness in Its Place: Narratives of Severalls Hospital, 1913-1997, Diana Gittins notes that often women were admitted by their own family, sometimes as the result of bearing illegitimate children or as they had been subjected to rape. As they would not always (or were unable to) carry out daily tasks, they were considered to be insane and some were even subjected to ECT and lobotomy. A change in management during the 1960s (and likely a change in social acceptances) saw reforms introduced including the creation of art and music therapy programs and the widespread use of drugs and medication.