Powick Hospital was a psychiatric facility located on 552 acres (223 ha) outside the village of Powick, Worcestershire. Founded in 1847 as the Worcester County Pauper and Lunatic Asylum, it was designed by architects John R. Hamilton & James Medland of Gloucester and opened in August 1852. Situated between Worcester and Malvern on former farmland known as White Chimneys, the asylum was originally erected for the accommodation of 200 inmates but was later extended and by 1858 had 365 patients. By the 1950s it had around 1,000 patients and major research and experimentation in the treatment of chronic depression and schizophrenia was being carried out. The asylum closed in 1989 leaving Barnsley Hall Hospital in Bromsgrove as the remaining psychiatric hospital in the county. Most of the complex has been demolished to make way for a housing estate. The main building, however, was converted into flats and the Superintendent's Residence was converted to company offices.
Overseeing management of the asylum was carried out by a committee of visitors, while treatment of patients was the responsibility of a resident physician and qualified assistants. Patients were employed to carry out much of the everyday work and maintenance in a variety of workshops for various trades, a gas works, a farm, brewhouse, bakehouse and a chapel.
The doctors at the Asylum in the 1870s showed a remarkably enlightened attitude when they instituted a series of orchestral concerts there, as well as the Friday night dances for the inmates. Elgar, as a young violinist in the district played in the concerts from 1877, and in January 1879 succeeded Fred S. May in the post of Band Instructor. In 1879, at the age of 22, Elgar composed a number of works, the Powick Asylum Music, for the attendants' band. His job consisted of conducting the Asylum Band, made up of the staff of the Asylum, and composing music for the Friday dances. The authorities paid him £4 per annum less than his predecessor, no doubt because of his inexperience, but he received about £30 per year, plus 5 shillings for every polka and quadrille and one shilling and sixpence for accompaniments to the Christy's Minstrels ditties of the day.
In 1952, after visiting Sandoz in Switzerland and meeting Dr. Albert Hofmann, Dr. Ronald Sandison moved to Powick and began pioneering British work in the psychiatric use of LSD, developing a program he called "Psycholytic Therapy" (literally "mind loosening therapy") for treatment of illnesses such as severe depression and schizophrenia. An LSD treatment unit was established at the hospital in 1958 in which Dr. Sandison administered his therapy until he left the institution in 1964. Medical Superintendent Dr. Arthur Spencer continued the program until Sandoz abruptly withdrew supplies of the drug in 1966, due to the problems of illicit recreational use. Records indicate that 683 patients had been treated with LSD in 13,785 separate sessions before the program was discontinued. In 2002 the NHS agreed to pay £195,000, in an out of court settlement, to 43 former psychiatric patients who were treated with LSD between 1950 and 1970.
Sandison writes about his early years at Powick:
...the amenities were bleak in the extreme compared with Warlingham. The hospital had been built in 1852 for 200 patients... Arthur (Spencer) and I were the only consultants, and two assistant doctors completed the staff. There were nearly 1,000 patients, 400 of whom were living in the four large wards of the 'annexe' built in the 1890s. I discovered that the heating system was defunct, many of the internal telephones did not work, and the hospital was deeply impoverished in every department. This state of affairs had been allowed to develop by the previous medical superintendent, Dr Fenton... who had spent 43 years at Powick. He practised the utmost economy and Powick became the cheapest hospital in the country... After discussion and consultation with my colleagues at Powick, and with the professor of Psychiatry in Birmingham, I undertook the clinical use of LSD at Powick Hospital towards the end of 1952.
In 1968 Powick Hospital featured in a controversial edition of the leading British investigative television programme World in Action, showing elderly patients in Ward F13 being left soaking in their own urine. The programme also featured other notorious examples of how the institution 'cared' for its patients in overcrowded conditions without dignity or privacy. This footage was subsequently re-used in a current affairs strand in 1993 - 1994. The footage of Ward F13's patients was superimposed on a picture of an asylum wall while a reporter disguised as a homeless schizophrenic looks back at how psychiatric patients were treated.
The asylum wall at Powick itself was knocked down in the 1950s as part of Dr. Arthur Spencer's initiatives in updating and modernising the hospital. In the World in Action programme, Dr Spencer speaks of having to take the decision, as Medical Superintendent, to spend the limited funds available on acute rather than chronic care. The shocking revelations of the Ward F13 programme contributed to Powick being amongst the first wave of mental hospitals selected for closure in favour of community care developments.
Acute admissions ceased in 1978 and the last patients were discharged in 1989. The hospital closed in 1989 and was bulldozed and redeveloped for housing. The main building was converted into flats and the Superintendent's Residence was converted to company offices.
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