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The abandoned hospital where psychiatrists experimented with drastic treatments

Nikola Petrovski

This psychiatric hospital built in 1910 was once a fully functional hospital that was home to about 2,000 patients. It is located in Colchester, Essex, United Kingdom and was designed by the architect Frank Whitmore.

Severalls Hospital. Author: Glyn Baker CC BY-SA 2.0

Severalls Hospital. Author: Glyn Baker CC BY-SA 2.0

Sitting on top of 1.21 square kilometers of land it was based on the Echelon plan, which is a specific arrangement of wards, offices, and services within easy reach of each other through a network of neatly connected corridors. This way, hospital employees could move freely around the site without the need to go outside under poor weather conditions.

One of the Severalls mental hospital wards. Author: Becky CC BY 2.0

One of the Severalls mental hospital wards. Author: Becky CC BY 2.0

Most of the buildings are in the relatively plain Queen Anne architectural style that was typical of the Edwardian period.

An orange corridor. Author: Rob Walker CC BY 2.0

An orange corridor. Author: Rob Walker CC BY 2.0

The doctors at this hospital were unconstrained by regulations and were free to use any treatment they saw fit. Drastic procedures such as frontal lobotomy were not rare in this hospital. This place even housed female patients that had nothing wrong with them but were confined because they had borne illegitimate children or been raped.

Hospital door. Author: Rob Walker CC BY 2.0

Hospital door. Author: Rob Walker CC BY 2.0

In this hospital, rape victims who were suffering from severe trauma were considered insane and subject to electroconvulsive therapy and lobotomy before being returned to the outside world.

Nature encroaches. Author: Rob Walker CC BY 2.0

Nature encroaches. Author: Rob Walker CC BY 2.0

During the Second World War, the hospital received heavy damage when some 200-kilogram bombs were dropped on top of the West wing of the hospital. 38 patients lost their lives during the bombing.

The structures are deteriorating. Author: Becky CC BY 2.0

The structures are deteriorating. Author: Becky CC BY 2.0

A change in approach to psychiatric treatment, Care in the Community, was the main reason for the closure of many Psychiatric Institutions in the early 1990s, including the Severalls Hospital.

Long, empty corridor. Author: Rob Walker CC BY 2.0

Long, empty corridor. Author: Rob Walker CC BY 2.0

Just a small section of the campus remained functional up until the 1970s for the treatment of elderly patients suffering from the effects of severe strokes.

Push to open. Author: Rob Walker CC BY 2.0

Push to open. Author: Rob Walker CC BY 2.0

Nothing has changed from the 1970s, and today these buildings are a perfect example of an Echelon asylum plan. Needless to say, the hospital–just as happens with many other abandoned places–became a serious target for vandalism. So serious that in 2005, Main Hall was subjected to a suspected arson attack and was therefore demolished in 2007.

The Hospital Halls. Author: Rob Walker CC BY 2.0

The Hospital Halls. Author: Rob Walker CC BY 2.0

There was an attempt to sell the hospital site in 2008 which failed due to the hard times the building industry was facing as a result of the real estate crash. For more information and a thorough explanation of what really happened in this institution, one should read The book Madness in its Place: Narratives of Severalls Hospital, 1913-1997 (1998) by Diana Gittins, which is the most comprehensive study of this institution to date.