View from Wood Hill 1

For the first time in many years, on a lovely sunny day at the end of August, I managed to walk to the top of Wood Hill and look down from that elevated position to the village of Charlton Down nestling among the trees and surrounded by beautiful rolling countryside. This picture shows the older Victorian buildings from the original Herrison Hospital days, with Greenwood House (where I live) on the right, and Redwood House on the left.

Click the image to enlarge and see the details.

Greenwood History 3

Herrison Hospital was for the most part a self-contained and self-supporting community. It produced a lot of its own food and a surplus for sale. Just a five minute walk from Greenwood House was the Home Farm, run by an employed manager and staffed by patients. It was located in the northwest of the present day village of Charlton Down, perhaps between Deverell Road and Rowan Walk. It was a large mixed farm with at one time over 400 acres of land. One of its claims to fame was its prize-winning herd of pigs. I think that it bred different varieties at different times but it was most famous for its Wessex Saddleback pigs. There were 500 of them in 1968. There is a documentary reference to the sale of 100 breeding Wessex Saddleback pigs and 3 Pedigree Large White boars from the Herrison Herd by Symonds and Sampson in Dorchester in 1969. I know that some villagers today complain about the smell of muck-spreading on the fields around us (!) but back in the days of the farm, Greenwood residents would surely have been hoping each day that the wind was blowing from the south rather than from the piggery. To illustrate what the pigs would have looked like I have used some pictures that I took at the Dorset County Show back in 2014.

The source of my information is In the Course of Time: a History of Herrison Hospital and of Mental Health Care in Dorset 1863 – 1992 edited by Jennifer Rogers.

Greenwood History 2

South face of Greenwood House in the sunshine

A new video about Herrison Hospital has just been put on YouTube. It has been released by Dom White who allowed Ryan Carpenter to put it on-line. It is called Herrison Hospital Tour – “Herrison in Decline” and was shot by Tom Caples in 1995/1996. It presents a two hour walk through the dilapidated and vandalised buildings after the NHS moved out of the site and before it was redeveloped into the housing we see today. I have so far watched about the first half hour of the amateur filming in which two of the former staff members investigate the abandoned buildings, starting in what we call Redwood House and moving on to Greenwood House. At the time, the two buildings were still connected via what we now know as the Village Hall.

I am particularly interested to identify that part of the hospital which my flat now occupies, but it is not easy to do because it looks so different. I think I live in what was Radipole Ward. The main clue is the location of the conservatory which was built onto the south-facing wall of the ward – which is in effect a sheltered area between two protruding parts of the building. I had already been told that the area just outside my French windows had been a glassed-in sun lounge. I can see why they chose to put it there. It is indeed a remarkable sunny spot, and the flat has the advantage of solar gain year-round.

Greenwood History 1

Could this be Forston House where the first Asylum was established?

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.

Our Conservation Area (1)

I have known for years that Greenwood House is a part of a Conservation Area but, to be honest, I was not sure what that meant. I have now looked it up on-line and found what seems to be the key document from West Dorset County Council.

Longer-stay residents will already know that we live in a Conservation Area, and this influences our decisions concerning what we can and cannot do as residents of Greenwood House and part of the village of Charlton Down. Conservation Areas are places considered to be of special architectural or historical interest. The West Dorset District Council has a legal obligation to formulate and publish proposals for the preservation and enhancement of these areas. Charlton Down was designated as a conservation area in 1991. A conservation appraisal for the ‘Charlton Down or Charminster Herrison Conservation Area’ was put out for public consultation in 2012 with the involvement of Charminster Parish Council, Charlton Down Local History Group, Charlton Down Village Hall, Dorset County Council, Dorset Gardens Trust, English Heritage, and Meadfleet. There was also a public information event in the village before the appraisal was amended and formally accepted as a technical document supporting policies in the West Dorset District Local Plan.

The full appraisal can be found on-line and it is a fascinating document containing lots of interesting details if you have time to read it. It is a useful source document for discovering many things that I personally have been wanting to know about this area.

What you will find here in my GREENWOOD blog, is just a paraphrase of the official content. The main part of the appraisal focusses on the ways in which Charlton Down is considered especially interesting by describing its location and setting; its historic development, and archaeology; providing a spatial analysis, notably the sequences of spaces, views in and out and landmark buildings; and undertaking a character analysis – listing building uses and types, the key listed buildings and the contribution made by local buildings, building materials and details, and ‘green’ elements.

The appraisal then outlines recommendations for management action, including landscape and tree monitoring; and ways of improving essential repairs and maintenance, with suggestions for environmental enhancement, for consideration by local authorities, land and property owners and the wider community.

Next time: a summary of the key characteristics of the Charlton Down or Charminster Herrison Conservation Area.

View from my window 1

A constant delight for me at Greenwood House is the ever-changing panorama from the window of my flat. Transitions through the seasons, day by day, different times of day, and in different weather conditions, It never seems to stay the same for any length of time. Sunrises and sunsets can be spectacular. Right now the trees are bare but showing the first signs of new life as we are blessed with at least the occasional day or moment of warmth and sunshine.

Greenwood House

It is surprisingly difficult to get a good shot of Greenwood House in its entirety because of the way it sits on a rise and is surrounded by trees. This time of year is probably the best for a photograph that shows most of the building because the wonderful specimen trees that adorn the grounds to the south are not yet in leaf. I thought the building looked warm and grand in this sunny early spring image.


Greenwood House from the south

Greenwood House in Charlton Down, Dorset, is unique. I have lived a quiet and inauspicious life here for 20 years and I love being here. I enjoy learning about the natural world and I am often out and about with my camera to record what I see and the way everything changes. I am curious about the history of the building, the village, and the surrounding areas. I like to know what’s going on. So I thought I would write this GREENWOOD blog – a sort of diary – to share my enthusiasm for living here by posting lots of photographs – together with snippets of information about all sorts of things that might interest other residents.

So a big “WELCOME” to GREENWOOD. If you are a fellow resident, and you would like to contribute something to this light-hearted newsletter, please just get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.