Cane Hill Asylum: One of England’s most iconic sites for urban explorers was demolished in 2008

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The Cane Hill Asylum in Surrey County, England, was built as a necessity because the other psychiatric hospitals in the area were filled to capacity. Before the 19th century, there were no institutions for the pauper lunatics and only a few private hospitals existed which were unable to provide the care that was needed.

In 1841 the Springfield Asylum was opened and it was the first institution in the County that provided excellent care for the patients. Twenty years later, the building was over-crowded and the Surrey Magistrates decided to build a second hospital. This was the Brookwood Asylum which functioned until 1994.

Cane Hill was the third institution to be constructed in Surrey after Springfield and Brookwood were unable to provide enough beds. Some of the patients had to be transferred to private hospitals but only for short time until Cane Hill was completed. The asylum was finished in 1882 and it was considered the best in the treatment of the mentally ill.

Cane Hill Asylum. Author: CC BY-SA 2.0

It held a maximum of 2,000 patients who were divided into male and female sections. Besides the sections, there was a large hall used for recreation and couple of stores. The second hall was made for dining and it had several large kitchens. The male patients worked in these stores and also farmed the land and some of the female patients helped in the kitchens and in the laundry.

It was constructed in 1882. Author: Peter Trimming. CC BY-SA 2.0

Outside of the asylum, a chapel was made, as well as a large water tower which still stands today. For over a century Cane Hill served the Surrey area until it was closed in the 1990s. The reason for closing was the lack of patients who went to more modern establishments or were cared for in smaller community centers. The asylum was severely damaged by fire and flooded a couple of times.

The Water Tower which is one of the remaining parts of the asylum. Author: Peter Trimming. CC BY 2.0

In order to secure it from vandalism, as well as to keep people out of the potentially dangerous crumbling property, Surrey council decided to put a razor wire fence all around the site. Many plans were made to restore the hospital but, because of its enormous size with a large number of buildings, every attempt failed. From 2000 until 2008, Cane Hill became the most visited abandoned place in England.

It was one of the most popular places among the urban explorers in England. Author: CC BY-SA 2.0

Situated on a hill overlooking the little town of Coulsdon, it attracted a lot of urban explorers who wanted to photograph the decaying buildings. Apparently, there was a section of a wall in the basement of the administration building signed by many people who ignored the restricted area sign and entered the complex. The popularity of Cane Hill was because it was designed in an unusual Victorian architectural style.

Cane Hill was one of the largest psychiatric institutions in the country. Author: CC BY-SA 2.0

The main building was built by Charles Henry Howell who was also the architect of Brookwood Hospital. Because of its complex construction which was slowly decomposing, an effort was made to include Cane Hill on the list of English Heritage but only the chapel and the water tower were considered for conversation. With no more ideas to save it, the asylum was demolished in June 2008.

The asylum in the process of demolition. Author: CC BY-SA 2.0

There are a few notable people who passed through Cane Hall such as Charlie Chaplin’s mother, and one of David Bowie’s best friends, the cartoonist and comic book artist Michael J. Weller. Weller made the first cover for Bowie’s album The Man Who Sold The World which shows a cowboy who stands in front of the main building of this asylum. There are also some documentaries which can be seen on the internet telling different stories of explorer’s experiences when they walked within the abandoned walls.

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