Royal Earlswood Asylum

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This sprawling 18th century red brick building was Britain's first purpose-built facility for mentally impaired patients - an exercise in Victorian philanthropy designed with the aim of improving the lot of the thousands of learning disabled people for whom society had no place.

Initially, the institute was intended to provide education and training for these unfortunates. However, the attitudes behind even this enlightened exercise was belied by the institute's full official title: "Royal Earlswood Asylum for Idiots".

The institute is most famous for two of its inmates - Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon - first cousins to the Queen herself. For 40 years these two women, diagnosed as 'imbeciles' lived between its walls, not merely forgotten by the Royal family but actively declared to be dead. Their privileged background came to count for nothing as they stayed at the home during its grim descent into squalor following its takeover by the NHS in 1959.

In 1997, the inmates were finally moved out into more community-based treatment centres and many of them were rehabilitated into the outside world. Inevitably, the asylum itself passed into the hands of property developers who turned it into luxury flats.

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Author: Ian Freud   |  Last updated: 15th April 2012 | © Weird Island 2010-2021
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