Sunday, 23 October 2016

A Cell Re-occupied

Some of you may have been wondering about the pause between the previous post and this one; it has, I believe, been the first month since 2012 when there has been a only single post within the  month.  Commitments have been heavy recently and blog posts have taken a back seat.

If you have lived in St Albans for more than twenty years you will be very familiar with the names of two, now former. institutions: Hill End and Cell Barnes.  Although they were not copies of each other, both cared for patients with a wide range of mental conditions.

Former Cell Barnes site being redeveloped.
The earlier – and certainly the larger – was Hill End and the former site is now occupied by a housing development.  The open space which surrounded the hospital is now in the care of Highfield Park Trust and is managed as an urban heritage park fully open to the public.  Hill End was not the only hospital to be closed 20 years ago, for Cell Barnes, which sat next door, also began closing its doors in 1996 (completed in 1998) for the last time.  Its many buildings have also been replaced by a new housing development, and like Hill End, the Metropolitan Green Belt regulations limited new building to  the footprint of the hospital buildings, so retaining the parkland.  All parkland except what was needed for a new link road, that is. Part of Highfield Park Drive now sweeps through the old playing field before linking with Highfield Lane.

While an example of a Hill End ward block and a lodge house from Cell Barnes remain, most other evidence has been obliterated, and it is probably not surprising that recent incomers have only the scantiest of information about former hospital settlements – or even earlier communities – below where the new homes have been built.

Last November Highfield Park Trust held a history event at the Trestle Arts Base, Russet Drive, where photographs, oral recollections and maps of Hill End could be viewed.  The evening included a lecture on  the history of mental care and the story of Hill End, under the title Hill End: What Lies Beneath.

A similar evening called Cell Barnes: What Lies Beneath, will be presented on Friday 4th November at 7.30pm, also at the Trestle Arts Base.  The story of Cell Barnes is remarkable in its own right, but equally heart-warming are the stories of staff who, though six decades cared for the residents, the lives of whom had been improved and enriched because of their care.

There are a few tickets left for this event, but you will be severely disappointed if you leave it until the last minute, because the seating available is limited.  The booking details are below.