Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum

Was this once-magnificent edifice to Victorian philanthropism the final home of Jack the Ripper?

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Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum

Colney Hatch Lunatic AsylumImage courtesy: Chrstine Matthews (Geograph)

"Housing, Friern Barnet Road, London N11 - - 901219" by Christine Matthews - From Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -,_Friern_Barnet_Road,,_Friern_Barnet_Road,


Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum once housed 2500 inmates within its walls. Today, like other former asylums, it has been converted into luxury flats - its long decline coming to an end in 1993 when it was finally closed.

When built, it was the largest such asylum in Europe, costing £400,000 and the foundation stone being laid in 1851 by no less a luminary than Prince Albert. It was supposed to herald a new era for mental care, being based on the pioneering work of Dr. Conolly, who had broken with tradition at Hanwell Asylum in Middlesex. There, for the first time, patients were allowed free from restraints such as straitjackets and allowed to do work to stave off boredom and add meaningful impetus to structure to their lives.

The building's colossal size - the frontage was 1884 feet in length and there were 6 miles of corridors - show how ambitious the scale of the project was, but demand for places soon outstripped capacity. Designed to house 1000 patients, the site was extended rapidly and by end of the decade it held 2000.

With the sheer number of patients, the standards the asylum was supposed to upkeep began to flag. Unable to cope with the volume of patients, staff began to resort to the use of straitjackets and restraints. Still the problem grew.

By 1898, 2500 patients lived on the site - many in temporary wooden outhouses which had been built in the grounds. In 1903, a fire swept through 5 of these wooden wards, killing 52 patients.

For students of the weird, the most interesting patient was probably†Aaron Kosminski - a suspect in the notorious crimes of Jack the Ripper who was incarcerated at Colney Hatch for 3 years in the 1880s.

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Author: Ian Freud   |  Last updated: 22nd September 2014 | © Weird Island 2010-2019
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