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.

Round Barrow 1

The history of the area around Charlton Down goes back to very ancient times. The most visible evidence for this is the number of round barrows in the landscape. These are the tumuli that are marked with an asterisk symbol on Ordnance Survey maps. There are quite a few around the village of Charlton Down and a short walk from Greenwood House. They are burial mounds that were constructed about 3,000 years ago in the Bronze Age.

Some survive better than others after all this time; many are in fields where generations of ploughing have reduced the height of them and rendered them almost invisible to the untrained eye. Some remain spectacularly intact but hidden in plain sight. One such is preserved on the brow of the slope near the highest part of Charlton Higher Down, where it is barely visible at this time of year in the middle of a field of flowering rape (SY68859575). I couldn’t see it till I was very close because of the tall stalks and the curve of the land, but the establishment of a small shrub (I think it is Elder) on the summit of the grassy mound acted as a marker. I had to hold the camera in the air at full arms’ length to get the shots against quite a dramatic background of rain clouds.

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.