Detail of Abergavenny Asylum

Hospital architecture was transformed during the Victorian period. The rapid changes in science, technology and government meant new expectations in health care. Certain architects specialised in hospital design, providing functional buildings that conformed to the latest medical advances, and with greater budgets than ever before. Hospitals specially catering for the mentally ill emerged, set apart in large grounds, places for therapy, treatment and convalescence, rather than incarceration. 

For their time, these hospitals were enlightened. Patients were given space, remarkable facilities, and hospitals were carefully ordered, as the plan of Claybury below suggests. Gradually, however, the buildings became out of date, in need of repair and refurbishing, and their reputation sank. The crisis in mental health care in the later twentieth century was in part blamed on the hospital buildings of the Victorian era. Most have now been closed, the land sold and buildings demolished, an architectural loss, certainly.

About the online exhibition

'How We Built Britain' is a major collaboration with the BBC


Images in the exhibition are from RIBApix, a growing database dedicated to providing you with exceptional and unique images from the RIBA British Architectural Library's collections.

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