Bexley Hospital

Old Bexley Lane, Bexley, Kent DA5 2BW

Medical dates:

Medical character:

1898 - 2001


The seventh London County Asylum opened in 1898 on a 750 acre site adjacent to Dartford Heath, bought by the LCC four years previously.  Known as the Heath Asylum, it cost £34,000 and would eventually accommodate over 2000 patients.  However, only four male and three female ward blocks had been completed when the first patients were admitted; all had been committed, that is, they were not voluntary patients.  A chapel which could seat 850 was commissioned soon after the Asylum opened.

By 1905 the Asylum was almost full; ten years later it held more than 2500 patients.  Designed to be self-sufficient, the grounds contained a farm with livestock - cattle, pigs, chickens and ducks - and a large market garden which supplied fresh vegetables, all tended by the patients.  In fact, the patients were also involved in the maintenance and upkeep of the Asylum - doing laundry, making beds, cleaning the wards and corridors - but received little in the way of treatment for their mental illness.  Manual labour was regarded as an important occupation, as were recreational activities - indoor games (billiards, cribbage and darts - which surprisingly led to no casualties), art classes, pottery, workshops, drill classes, team games and other sports.  Weekly dances were held in the huge recreation hall, which was also used for theatrical productions and concerts, communal singing and, later, cinema shows.  Psychotherapy and medications for mental diseases were in their infancy and only began to be introduced after WW1.

In 1918 the Asylum was renamed Bexley Mental Hospital.

By 1939 the main Hospital had 18 wards and a further three villas had been built.  The operating theatre closed at the beginning of WW2.  In 1944 a bomb destroyed a ward block, killing a male nurse and 12 patients.

The Hospital joined the NHS in 1948 and the war damage was repaired, the wards repainted in pastel colours and the furniture modernized.  There was no X-ray department, but a mobile unit  visited every week.  An emergency call bell system was installed.  Fluorescent lighting replaced the old system in the kitchen, nurses' sitting room and dental room.  A Garden Party was held for the staff to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Hospital; the patients had theirs one week later.  At this time there were 2141 patients (954 males and 1196 females), with 162 male nurses and 213 female nurses (82 of whom were part-time) caring for them.  The night shift was covered by 16 male and 20 female nurses (a ratio of about 60:1).

Psychotherapy, leucotomy, ECT and insulin coma were the treatments available for nervous and emotional illnesses (as opposed to the psychoses).  An injection of curare before ECT for patients with chronic depressive states enabled those with contraindications (TB, extreme debility, severe heart disease or fractures) to receive treatment.

After WW2 the proportion of patients aged over 65 had increased and represented one-third of the Hospital's population; a quarter of admissions were elderly patients with dementia.  Several factors had played a part in this development:  life expectancy had increased; women now went out to work, which meant that they could no longer take care of demented parents; and the number of beds for the chronic aged sick had decreased by half the pre-war amount because they had been destroyed during the war, or were being used for other purposes, or had closed due to lack of staff.  This had resulted in the congestion of old people in psychiatric hospitals who did not need skilled psychiatric nursing or treatment.

In 1949 a hairdressing department opened on the female side of the Hospital.  At this time there were 2195 beds, but a shortage of staff.

In the 1970s the Hospital had six wards for acute admissions and 32 wards for medium- and long-stay patients.  In 1974 it had 1633 beds, but a gradual decline in bed occupancy began at this time and, in 1977, less than 1000 patients remained.

By 1985 goverment policy was dictating that mentally ill patients should be treated in the community and not in huge Victorian asylums.  Acute psychiatric wards were established in district general hospitals while day hospitals, such as Castlewood, provided out-patient care for those with mental health problems.  Community mental health units and community psychiatric nursing teams began to take over the work of the mental hospitals.

As with the other mental hospitals in the process of becoming redundant, Bexley Hospital with its 1000 beds became more difficult and expensive to maintain.  In the 1990s the buildings on the west side of the campus were demolished.

Bexley Hospital finally closed in 2001.

Present status (July 2008)

The site was cleared for redevelopment, but some land was retained by the Oxleas NHS Trust for their Headquarters, Pinewood House. In 2002 the water tower was demolished.  The Hospital site is now a housing estate known as Bexley Park.   

Some buildings survive.  The Hospital chapel is now a gym and the Social Club is still in use.   Baldwyns Mansion,  former home of Sir Hiram Maxim and then the Hospital Superintendent's residence before becoming the Occupational Therapy Departmen, is a listed building.  It has been extensively restored and converted to 14 private apartments by Laing Homes.   

The Bracton Centre, built in the 1980s, provides medium secure services on 4.5 hectares of land.  A futher  3.7 hectares of meadowland south of the Centre were bought for £75,000 by Oxleas NHS Trust to enhance the environment and to provide additional therapeutic space.

old main entrance

The old main entrance to the former Hospital, showing the East and West Lodges.

East LodgeEast Lodge

The East Lodge bears a plaque dated 1896.

West Lodge

The West Lodge.

Sports and Social Club

The Bexley Park Sports and Social Club.

Pinewood HousePinewood House

Pinewood House, Headquarters of Oxleas NHS Trust, once faced the main Hospital building, but now looks onto a row of new housing.

current main entrance

The current main entrance to Bexley Park, just past  Pinewood House.  The gate posts from the former Hospital have been retained.

view from east

The view from the east, looking towards Pinewood House, shown on the left.

new housing

New housing built opposite Pinewood House.  

Nurses Home

The former Nurses' Home.


new housing

New housing in the central part of the site.

new housing new housing

New housing on the west side of the site.

former chapel

The former chapel.

former chapelformer chapel

former chapelformer chapel

Various views of the former chapel, which could once seat 850 people.  It is now a gym.


Kelly SJ 1997 The Bexley Hospital population nine years on.  Psychiatric Bulletin 21, 542-544.  http://pb.rcpsych.org

Von Zweigbergk B, Armstrong M 2004 The Village on the Heath.  A History of Bexley Hospital.  Park Crescent Writers Group.

Wolfson P, Paton C, Jarrett P 2002 Clinical governance in the asylum.  Psychiatric Bulletin 26, 430-432. http://pb.rcpsych.org


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