Middlesex Fourth Asylum

Essex asylum plan_530x354

Middlesex Fourth Asylum
Engraving: published in The Builder (1889)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library

Architecturally, Claybury was one of the best known asylums in late Victorian Britain. Regarded as a model institution, it was designed to house two thousand patients. With its large workforce, this was as big as a small town.

Claybury’s plan was based on the pavilion system, common to hospitals from the mid nineteenth century onwards. Wards were well spaced out, usually two or three storeys high, ensuring plenty of light and fresh air, and to cut down infections. Patients could be kept well apart, and given plenty of space for exercise in the many walled airing courts.

This plan, published in The Builder (1889), suggests much about contemporary ideas on mental illness. Patients are divided up by their diagnosis: the sick, acute and chronic. Provision for those suffering with epilepsy seems especially high. Men and women were separated, patients and staff alike. Interestingly, there was more accommodation for female patients: a statistic of the gender injustice of the period? At the asylum’s heart is the chapel: the patients’ relationship with God was still regarded as central to their recovery.


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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