Sometimes the missions we plan go pear shaped, other times they are a complete success, you get used to it and roll with the punches as the feeling of success far outweighs those of failure – tenfold and score. Having previously failed miserably to gain access to this location, twice on the same day, the last time I was there I was anxious that we would not fail, in fact I think it’s fair to say we all were. After an excellent mission to a certain former national turbine testing facility the previous day spirits were high. D-Kay, superiwan and I had planned an early one. Armed with a bag full of cheap but effective energy drinks and some access information provided by top blokes mattphotog and vmlopes we hit the road.
Now the previous visit here was conducted under very different conditions, namely snow, which probably added to our chances of being rumbled as we would have stood out on cctv against the white snow like standy out things on national stand out day. But this time, no snow.
On arrival we parked in the usual parking area a short walk from the location. Enroute and filled with the usual mix of excitement and hope a car passes by the three of us and turns into the Asylum. Security! We have literally arrived just before the on-site security guards are doing their shift change. We ponder the same issue, did he notice us – 3 conspicuous looking blokes with backpacks (tripods attached) walking down the road in single file? Had we been rumbled before the day had even begun, or was he hopefully filled with early rise/minimum wage apathy and therefore unaware of the three gentleman who were about to breach their efforts and rinse the place for pics? Clearly, as you are reading this, you realise that we were successful as there would be no article to read if not
However, this does not mean that it was a walk in the park or so to speak. In fact, access was rather like a special ops mission or a jail break in reverse.
Considering the changeover of security we reckoned it highly likely that the the offcoming dude would be busy getting his gear together ready to handover to the oncoming dude, his mind on leaving and getting home whilst the oncoming dude would be getting ready to start taking over, signing in, taking any points or issues from the offgoing dude and whatever else those security types do, possibly a little smalltalk about their plans for the weekend or the latest football scores etc. This, we hoped, would buy us some valuable time.
With time being of the essence we pressed onwards, again following the Urbexer’s standard operating procedure of using whatever cover is available, in this case the treeline. The first area we check has an open space to traverse which is visible to one of the many cctv cameras in operation throughout the site, too risky, we retreat back into cover and try an alternative which on checking looks good. One at a time we crawl beneath the Heras fencing, cushioned by a soft blanket of wet, rotten leaves. Keeping low and communicating in whispers and hand signals I move ahead to check if our now intended route is visible to those who watch and attempt to deny us access. We are painfully close to the Security base but it looks do-able and we have it on good authority that it is. One at a time we scurry from cover to cover in silence until we are all out of site and at our intended access area. A quick recce of the immediate area shows us that the access we had been kindly provided with was no longer available, security move quick around here. With time running out we moved quickly and silently checking all possible angles for access. Convinced that at any time the oncoming security dude would have settled in and was probably ready to commence the routine perimeter checks etc our adrenalin was beginning to kick in stronger than before. At last, the guys find an access point that is not readily visible to those not in possession of such a keen eye and we’re in. We can now relax, a little.
After seeing the recent and excellent shots of this location by vmlopes and mattphotog we quickly decide on a few specific areas that must be found and then agree in unison that it’s best that we start at one side and work our way through the many wards, corridors and wings. With all three of us being Fairmile virgins each and every corner presents excitement at what lies beyond.
#1 What lies beyond
Until the late eighteenth century mentally ill people in Britain were usually locked away in appalling conditions in prisons, workhouses, or private ‘madhouses’ and treated with cruelty. Many people still thought that immoral behaviour or witchcraft caused mental illness, and that extremely harsh treatment could ‘drive out the devils’. The notorious Bethlehem Hospital (Bedlam) even charged spectators to visit its chained, naked inmates as a sort of freak show attraction.
#2 Watching the ‘Freak Show’
Public attitudes began to change when King George III (1760 – 1820) suffered from periods of mental illness. In 1792 William Tuke, a Quaker, revolutionised care for the mentally ill by founding The Retreat in York and creating a humane system of ‘moral’ treatment. A series of reforms and legislation followed, but it was not until the Lunatic Asylum Act 1845 that all counties were compelled to make provision for the treatment of the mentally ill, which would be inspected by a central government body called the Commissioners in Lunacy.
#3 ‘Moral Treatment’
In the 1840s Berkshire County Council made an agreement to share Oxfordshire’s asylum, Littlemore, but by 1867 there was no longer enough space. Berkshire formed a union with the boroughs of Reading and Newbury to build their own asylum close to the village of Moulsford. Moulsford Asylum, which later became Fair Mile Hospital, opened in 1870.
#4 A couple of the many wards
Moulsford Asylum was designed to accommodate 285 patients and was almost full to capacity within the first year. It was extended in 1880 to 609 beds, and again in 1901 to 800 beds. It admitted pauper patients and also private patients if there was spare capacity.
The asylum was almost a self-sufficient community with its own bakery, laundry, farm and gardens. The Medical Superintendent cared for the patients and managed the hospital, with the support of Assistant Medical Officers, nursing staff, and a wide range of auxiliary staff including a farm bailiff, an engineer, a baker, skilled and unskilled workmen, laundresses, servants and clerical staff.
#7 One of the many grand fireplaces
#8 and another
The hospital also employed a chaplain and held regular services in its chapel. It had a library, and offered a varied programme of entertainments, such as sports, music, dances, and theatrical performances.
Fair Mile’s patients also included the elderly and people with serious learning disabilities, who would not normally be admitted to a mental hospital now. It was not until 1930, when the Berkshire and Oxfordshire County Councils created the Borocourt Institution, that a local alternative to the mental hospital became available for people with learning disabilities.
#9 Time for some ‘learning’
Borocourt offered inpatient care and day care, and a variety of therapies and training to enable many of its residents to move into sheltered accommodation, or to live independently.
Despite a lack of effective medical treatment 30 – 40% of those admitted between 1870 and 1914 recovered. The asylum’s regime consisted of rest and a nourishing diet, fresh air and exercise, and keeping the patients occupied with work and entertainments. Many of the patients were admitted with malnutrition and in a dire state of health, and the Medical Superintendent gave them all available treatment to help them recover.
#11 One of the many corridors that link all the wards together like West Park
Patients worked on the farm and in the gardens and laundry, and did cleaning, sewing, and shoemaking, which acted as an early form of occupational therapy. If they improved they were gradually given greater freedoms, progressing from walking round the ‘airing courts’ to going on supervised walks and outings.
#12 The stairs, is it West Park???
The Commissioners in Lunacy were perceived as being obsessed with ‘non-restraint,’ and required any use of strait jackets or padded cells to be meticulously recorded and justified.
#13 Greater Freedoms
Those patients who had recovered enough to go home were discharged on probation and given a monetary allowance so that they did not have to find work immediately. They were discharged after a month if they managed to cope in the outside world.
#14 Grande Doors
Most of Fair Mile’s many staff lived on site or in purpose-built nearby cottages. In addition to wages they received cooked meals, uniforms, board and lodgings, or an allowance of farm produce to take home, so they had virtually everything they needed provided for them. This was just as well because nursing staff were expected to work from 6am to 8pm, six days a week, and from 6am to 6pm on Sundays. They only had one whole day off a month, and even this would only start at 10am. They were allowed just one week’s annual holiday, on reduced pay.
#15 Dirty work but someone has to do it!
Staff recruitment and retention was a continual problem for the hospital, especially amongst female nursing staff, partly because of the long hours and demanding nature of the work, and partly because female staff almost always left upon marriage.
#16 The lonesome sink
Initially nursing staff did not need any qualifications, and there was no formal training scheme in place until the twentieth century. By the 1940s and 50s the hospital had begun to recruit a large proportion of its nursing staff from abroad, either from Europe or from Commonwealth countries, a trend in nursing that continues to this day.
#17 Care in the Community
The increasing effectiveness and variety of treatment and care available led to the ‘care in the community’ programme, with former residents of mental hospitals and institutions being moved to smaller homes. In 1993 Borocourt closed, with Fair Mile following in 2003. Patient care is now provided at the newly built Prospect Park Hospital in Reading.
#18 It’s surely a crime to leave this empty:
Thanks for looking in, hope you enjoyed reading this report at least a fraction of the amount we did exploring this location.
#20 Brought to you by the letters T & U.
History courtesy of D-Kay, majority of pics courtesy of D-Kay & superiwan (I submitted 1), thanks to both dudes for an awesome day.