Posted on April 27, 2021
The story of Greenwood House actually starts long before it was actually opened in 1895 when it was an extension to the Dorset County Lunatic Asylum to accommodate female patients. There is quite a bit of information around and it is an interesting subject. There is the book In the Course of Time: A History of Herrison Hospital and Mental Care in Dorset 1832-1992 by Jennifer Rogers and published by West Dorset Mental Health NHS Trust, 1992. It is currently out of print – although quite a few Charlton Down villagers will already have a copy because there have been two reprints issued and sold in the village in the last decade. There are also several well-researched and comprehensive on-line accounts of the history of the Herrison Hospital on which to draw for information. One example of these can be found in the Charlton Down Village Hall web-site. [I will give links to other sources of information in further instalments of Greenwood history].
Apparently, It all started in 1827 when Francis John Browne offered his Forston House mansion, with land, and money, to establish an asylum. Astonishingly, before that time, there was no official or widespread free provision of care for this vulnerable group of people in the community. The County accepted Browne’s offer, and the Forston Asylum opened in 1832 with 65 patients. It proved to be a much needed facility, and before long the increasing numbers of people requiring this kind of support meant that the institution had to extend – until the point where it was no longer a practical proposition to continue on that site. An additional problem was the damp: the main building did not have adequate foundations, it was near the river, and subject to flooding. Floors were needing replacement. By 1860 they were planning a move to new and larger premises on higher and drier ground here on Charlton Down.
It took me a while to identify the location of Forston House, or what remains of the original asylum following some demolition. I believe I captured a glimpse of it accidentally some years ago near Forston Lower Farm about a mile along the public footpath from the lower part of the village (see the picture above). I took a photograph of a winter flooded field that I now think lies next to Forston House bounded by its long stone wall. I may be wrong so tell me if you know better.