Lady Chichester Hospital

A pioneering psychiatric facility

By Harry Gaston

When it closed in 1988, Hove's Lady Chichester Hospital, the first British hospital of its type, became the last of ten or twelve similar small hospitals that had followed in its footsteps. The Lady Chichester was the brainchild of Dr Helen Boyle. Working in London's East End towards the end of the nineteenth century, Dr Boyle was shocked by conditions that forced patients to struggle on under great emotional stress.

Neurosis not recognised disorder
At that time, neurosis was hardly recognised by the medical profession  as a common disorder. No general hospital would accept such patients; and until such time as they had become so disturbed they were certifiable, no mental hospital would either. Dr Boyle was determined to remedy this. She visited clinics on the continent and discussed the problem with psychiatrists. Then, in 1905, she took the first step towards establishing a hospital for the treatment of nervous disorders when she opened ten beds for the treatment of in-patients at her small out-patient dispensary at 101 Roundhill Crescent in Brighton.

Photo:The Lady Chichester Hospital photographed in 1976 by nursing officer Imants Berzins.

The Lady Chichester Hospital photographed in 1976 by nursing officer Imants Berzins.

Brighton Health Bulletin

A growing need for the work
The work grew rapidly from the start. Patients came from all over the British Isles and from overseas. In 1911, a lease was taken on 70 Brunswick Place, Hove. This made it possible to take a total of 38 in-patients. In 1920  a large private house in New Church Road was purchased and became the Lady Chichester Hospital.

Strengths and weaknesses
There was a great deal that was unusual about the Lady Chichester. From the outside it resembled an elegant Hove villa; said by some to be the former summer palace of the Bishop of Aldrington .  Inside, despite attempts to adapt the building as a hospital, some of its former elegance remained. Certainly when I was invited to visit the Lady Chichester in the late 1970s to produce an article on its work for the Brighton Health Bulletin, it appeared not to be to be anything like a hospital, inside and out. But this was a source of both strength and weakness for the Lady Chichester.

Difficult working conditions
Working conditions were far from ideal and it must have been very difficult to practise modern medicine there. On the other hand, the atmosphere was so different from the one patients would expect in a traditional large mental hospital, they underwent few of the usual fears and apprehensions, if admission there was suggested. Gradually, following its opening in 1920, adjoining villas had been purchased and its facilities were extended.

Photo:Senior physiotherapist Avis Dutton (with her guide dog Becky). Shw worked at the hospital fpr 29 years and working with a consultant pyschiatrist developed her own style of relaxation for the patients.

Senior physiotherapist Avis Dutton (with her guide dog Becky). Shw worked at the hospital fpr 29 years and working with a consultant pyschiatrist developed her own style of relaxation for the patients.

Sybil Gaston, Brighton Health Bulletin.

'Crossing a Rubicon'
Following the introduction of the Mental Treatment Act in 1930, a liaison with the Royal Sussex County was established. Outpatients with early nervous disorders were then seen at the County while, for its part, the Lady Chichester opened six male beds in an adjoining villa. The County Hospital had the first claim on them and was responsible for their financial upkeep. The move has been described by Val Brown in Women's Hospitals in Brighton Hove as 'crossing a Rubicon,' for until then, the Lady Chichester had been a hospital for only women and children.

Leading the way with therapy
The Lady Chichester was always a pioneering hospital. The main basis of treatment throughout the years was psychotherapy in a supporting environment. Auxiliary services − hydrotherapy in the early days, physiotherapy and occupational therapy − always played an important part. In the 1920s an old-patients' club was set up - a forerunner of the therapeutic clubs that were later established. A child guidance clinic was started and later a children's department was opened.

Maintained its pioneering spirit
The pioneering spirit was much in evidence the day I visited in 1976, a dozen years before its closure. A consultant gynaecologist was holding a menopause clinic. In the tiny physiotherapy department the blind senior physiotherapist (whose guide dog, Becky, quickly broke the ice with new patients) had developed her own style of relaxation therapy, more usually the preserve of the psychologists.  In the out-patient department, the presence of a community nurse marked another new development.

Success against the odds
The Lady Chichester was a revolutionary concept. It was conceived against a background of opposition and endured a constant struggle to survive. Eventually it became the last of the line, the final survival of British hospitals of its type. However, like many small units, there were claims that it was uneconomic to run, and in 1988 it closed it s doors to inpatients and as Aldrington House, became a day centre for psychiatric patients.

This page was added on 08/02/2009.
Comments about this page

Was this hospital ever used for single mothers in the sixties to quietly come and give birth, and have their babies adopted in secret?

By l Dikgole (03/04/2010)

On the birth certificate of an aunt who was subsequently adopted, it says her place of birth was 67 Brunswick Place. Could this be the same place I wonder? I note the comments of J. Dikgole of 3/4/10 and am thinking along the same lines!

By Jane Marsh (15/07/2011)

I am also very curious about this place and the two comments above. I would like leave my email address here and to invite anyone to respond to me privately if you wish to. Thank you. email:TheMossFairy@cooptel.net

By Sandra (20/07/2011)

This looks like what is now Aldrington House on Church Road in Hove, Aldrington House is part of the Mental Health Trust, Sussex partnership.

By Louise (03/03/2013)

There was a Women's Hospital at 70 Brunswick Place but I think 67 Brunswick Place was a private residence. It would have been usual for children to be born at home. I know that, certainly in my family, domestic servants were forced to have their children adopted and I wonder if this happened in your aunt's case. These properties would have had domestic servants and my grandmother worked as a domestic in Brunswick until the 1970s.

By Donna (01/06/2013)

My grandmother  was born at 67, Brunswick Place and adopted a month later. If anyone has any info about this address I would really appreciate it please email me at michelle@rhys20.wandoo.co.uk

By Michelle (01/07/2015)

My great grandmother, Edith Howard Rowland, gave birth to twin boys at 67 Brunswick Place Hove in Nov 1921. Both died only a few days later. I am curious as to why she was here. At the time the family lived in the house "Brooklands" in Southover, Lewes.

By Kathleen Lawless (20/11/2015)

I spent much time visiting this hospital as my mother was resident here for treatment after some years as a day patient at The White House hospital. The entrance hall had a large leather wing-back chair, with sides that released and swung out to assist getting into it and on the wall was the telephone, with its accoustic hood.  The wards had 3-4 ladies in each room, each with a bed and small cupboard. Visiting was often a difficult time, with patients having had their treatment. However, as there is little here that describes some of the medical treatments the residents received, I will tell of the one I know was given.
In the late 60's and early 70's, they were subject to Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), not a nice treatmnent to have or to know a loved one is being treated with. This involved being strapped to a bed and given electric shocks to the head. This resulted in acute tiredness and skin damage from the bindings cutting in. This meant that visiting was not possible for 1-2 days following treatment. Also there were the drugs: Vallium, and the vile Paraldehyde. I am sure these treatments were given with the best intention but feel they had nothing but negative effects.
My mother died at the hospital under suspicious circumstances (the inquest returned an open verdict) in 1972.

By D. Gillam (23/11/2015)

Don't forget the offshoot Psychiatric Day Care unit, The White House opposite in New Church Road.

By Dennis Fielder (24/11/2015)

I was an in-patient for nearly two years in the early seventies suffering with depression and anxiety.   Inevitably, at that time I was given ECT and also, under a Dr Parr a number of experimental psychiatric treatments that as far as I can find out have subsequently been discontinued. " Ether aberrations"  was one of them.  I certainly was given a wide variety of drugs and in surprisingly large doses.  After I became an out patient I  remember being prescribed a dose of six x sodium amytal per night with another six to be used if they were not effective.  The following mornings I had to get to work with blurred vision, dizziness and feeling very confused and disorientated.  The main consultant from whom I received the most effective and least intrusive medication was a Dr Watts.  I remember the physiotherapist and the labrador, Becky, very clearly, and also, the two occupational therapists.  Most of the time I was in a four bed ward at the front of the building.  There was a larger ward downstairs where I was for a short period whilst I had a course of largactil injections - 200mg three times daily.   Do other people remember their treatments ?  It was a haven, but in hind sight I wonder if it prolonged my depression under such heavy handed treatment.  

By Marion Wright (13/02/2017)

I was very interested to read the comment about Dr Watt: he was my godfather and I have been trying to find out more about his work for some time, so if anyone has any information I would be very grateful.

By Rosie Rushton (22/02/2017)

In reply to Rosie Rushton all I can say is that I found Dr Watt was an unassuming man with a quiet authority. You most certainly would have been unsuccessful if you had tried to play psychological games with him.  I think that he believed in the patient healing themselves under guidance and some medication.  At one point he set me the ink blot test and then prescribed an ECT course, but, other than affecting some areas of memory both short and long term, I remain unsure as to how effective it was.  The best part of his treatment was his listening to me and making me question my thinking.  He was very patient!  His judgement as to when I had reached the turning point was spot on, and at that point he stopped the sessions. He treated me both in the Lady Chichester Hospital and, after I left the hospital, privately for quite a time - possibly up to a couple of years, but my memory may be faulty on that.  After the sessions ended we would occasionally swap letters until he sadly died.  We met up once just after I had my first child. Dr Parr had told me that I would never lead a normal life without medication (I was 22). He seemed to be a big advocate of chemical intervention. Needless to say I have led a normal life, and without medication (once I went cold turkey and stopped all the prescribed dosages).  However, it was Dr Watt who gave me the tools to go forward.

By Marion Wright (14/05/2017)

I too remember my mother being admitted to this place after suffering a nervous breakdown and receiving ECT. I was very young and could only have been around 12 or years old. So I put the date of her admission around 1968. I also remember her being discharged and suffering another breakdown and being admitted to Haywards Heath for more of the same treatment under a Doctor Folkestone possibly, but I do recall, as does she, the ECT loosening teeth and burning her forehead. Awful treatment that would be considered against human rights in this day and age.

By Barry (16/05/2017)

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.