Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum
Timeline

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  • November 1849
    Foundation stone laid
    Albert, Prince Consort, lays the foundation stone in a ceremony to mark the construction of the facility.
  • November 1850
    Construction completed
    At a final cost of £300,000 the asylum costs double its estimated cost - and at £240 per bed is the most expensive asylum built.
  • 17th July 1851
    Officially opens
    The asylum's first designation is as the "Second Middlesex County Asylum"
  • 1857
    First extension
    With demand already exceeding supply, extensions are built to increase the capacity of the asylum to 2000 patients.
  • 1891
    Aaron Kosminski admitted
    A suspect in the "Jack the Ripper" crimes, Kosminski is admitted to Colney Hatch - where he will spend the next 3 years.

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  • 1896
    Temporary wooden accommodation is built
    With the unabated influx of patients, a temporary wooden and corrugated iron dormitory is built in the grounds to house 320 female (and mostly infirm) inmates. This goes against the advice of the Commissioners in Lunacy, who warn that such buildings pose a substantial fire hazard.
  • 27th January 1903
    Fire
    The 'temporary' wooden accomodation built in 1896 catches fire. In the resulting blaze no fewer than 52 people are killed.
  • 28th January 1903
    The Times reports details of the fire
    A fire, attended with the most disastrous consequences and involving a fearful loss of life, occurred early yesterday morning at Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum, the large hospital for the pauper insane belonging to the London County Council, and situated at New Southgate...

    A few minutes after half-past 5 yesterday morning the steam siren at the asylum sounded the fire alarm, and the inhabitants of New Southgate, Barnet, and Edmonton, the parishes surrounding the asylum, who swarmed into the streets, saw a startling glare showing from the asylum grounds. It was evident that a disastrous fire, which had already obtained a strong hold, was in progress. A number of local residents climbed the wall of the asylum at the rear with a view of rendering assistance, but their aid was refused. The fire which had broken out so suddenly and was destined to end so tragically began at the bottom block of the temporary wards. It burnt from the outset with great fury, and in a few seconds the whole of the southern block, known as X ward 5, was involved. The buildings, being erected on timber frames and lined with matchboarding, of course fed the flames, and there being a high wind blowing at the time, every element necessary to assist the blaze was present. The asylum house fire brigade at once resolutely attacked the fire, but apparently they were in difficulties owing to the lack of water, and they were also short-handed for a task of such magnitude as that which confronted them, there being less than a dozen of the asylum staff drilled as firemen resident inside the walls. The heat and smoke created by the fire were also bad elements to contend with, it being im- possible to approach the burning block. In these circumstances it was not surprising to the spectators to observe after a very few minutes that X Ward 4 had burst into flames, which had swept along the commu- nicating corridor, meeting with no opposition, while by this time the iron sides and roof of X 5 were almost at a white heat.

    The Hornsey Fire Brigade had been the first to get their steamer to work, but they were unable to do any effective duty until they had dammed a brook at the bottom of the slope, about 400 yards from the fire. When they began to play upon the flames it was too late to prevent the total destruction of the temporary wards, which, in little more than an hour after the outbreak was discovered, had been burned out from end to end and had crumpled down. One after another the doomed huts burst into flames. For a while each burned with a brilliant glare, the flames shooting high into the air through the slightly-constructed roof. Then the roof and walls collapsed amid a shower of sparks, and the fire swept on to claim its neighbours. One by one in this rapid way all five of the wards tumbled down, a heap of smouldering ruins.

    When day dawned, while some of the firemen pumping water from the brook below continued to play on the red hot débris, others began the terrible task of searching the ruins. Then it was discovered that the fire had claimed many victims...
  • 1930
    Renamed as Colney Hatch Mental Hospital
  • 1937
    Renamed as Friern Mental Hospital
  • 1989
    Decision to close the hospital
    The process of closing the asylums began as early as the 1950s as it was decided that mental care could be better handled in the community or in smaller homes. From its peak of almost 3000 patients, the home has fewer than a thousand at this point and the process of moving them to alternative accomodation begins in earnest.
  • 1993
    Final closure
    The last patients are moved from the building and its use as a hospital comes to an end. It is sold to developers for conversion to luxury flats.

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