The Winchester

"Not all those who wander are lost" – Tolkien

Park Prewett – lessons in dereliction

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Tower and Villa

At the age of 20 and having spent the summer of 2006 staring endlessly at Urban Exploration websites I eventually took it upon myself to pull my finger out and actually participate in this hobby I had recently discovered. I signed up to a forum, and a week or so later found myself catching the train to Basingtoke one dusky February evening to meet a stranger off the internet. We took a bus up to the general hospital, and walked over to the clutch of derelict buildings on the edge of a cricket pitch.


The buildings were boarded up, but without any fences, it was possible to walk straight up to them where we found some of the boards were simply resting against the window frame. Easy. Having climbed in and put the board back where we found it, I found myself without a clue what to do with myself in the darkness of the derelict Pinewood ward, which I later learned was the hospital’s admission block.

Cricket field

At this early point of my ventures into urban exploring, I had no real concept of what a derelict building was or what I would find in a place like this. It seemed easy enough to find and get into, but once inside we simply found our way upstairs and tentatively wandered about a bit. Due to the ease of access, the building had been heavily vandalised in the 10 years it had been disused. Sinks were off the wall and smashed into pieces, there were very few windows left which were unbroken, and a few bits and bobs left behind were of limited interest. There was a lift shaft with the lift doors smashed in, a few staircases with glazed tile corridors, and an industrial kitchen without anything really left in it. It was all a bit underwhelming, but I loved it.

Main hall

We left this building as night drew on, and ventured over to the main complex. There were further villas which we poked our heads into and found much the same as we did before. The main building was over a basic chain link fence which even for a first-timer like myself, posed no difficulty. The main hall was locked shut so we went into a ward block and saw that the floors had caved in under the weight of just a few chairs. We went upstairs and gingerly returned. I was asked if I wanted to have a look at the water tower and whilst I definitely did, I wasn’t aware just how coated in pigeon shit the ladders were likely to be and how overwhelming the smell would be. Nonetheless, we climbed up to the top and looked down on the building site below which was lit only through the nearby streetlamps, before descending in order to return home, having scarpered from a security guard who was as surprised to see us as we were him.


I made several return visits to Park Prewett whilst it was undergoing conversion. On one occasion there was a raging thunderstorm, on another we walked into the main hospital site and got roared at by the foreman after asking if we could walk round and take some photos (“No safety boots, no high vis! Get the fuck off my site!”). On another trip a security guard followed us round the perimeter fence intently until we left, and on my final visit, we crept into Pinewood again and immediately met some sort of security device which repeatedly announced at us that the police had been called and to stay where we were. We left and called it a day with Park Prewett.

Prewett demo

I didn’t revisit Park Prewett until 2009, by which time I had visited 18 more derelict mental hospitals. (Cane Hill, Hellingly, Severalls, St Mary’s, St Georges Morpeth, Deva, Denbigh, West Park, St Ebbas, St Georges Stafford, Whittingham, St Cadocs, Hartwood, High Royds, Fairmile, Fisherton House, Barrow Gurney, Goodmayes), and 10 conversions (Napsbury, Friern, Littlemore, Hill End, Long Grove, Horton, Pen Y Fal, Manor, Glenside, Brookwood and Netherne). I had a developing interest in their history and architecture, and had taken to studying maps, history books and Friendsreunited, which I used to contact former staff members of some hospitals and ask if they wanted to talk about their memories working there. Some did, many didn’t.

Thomas Homes map

By 2009, many of the ward blocks had been converted into flats, and the original shape of the hospital was fading into the larger development which was encapsulating the site. There was a period where the majority of the buildings standing were the original ward blocks, the main hall, the water tower and the admin blocks, with just two relatively sympathetic ‘crescent’ buildings erected on the inside of the complex atop the former utility areas. This gave the place the air of a fully converted hospital without the ubiquitous additions which are usually required to make the site viable.


Converted ward2

Park Prewett is a generally sympathetic hospital conversion, sullied only by the infilling of the airing courts to the extent that there is no longer a clear vista of the former hospital buildings. The administration building has been handsomely restored, the ward blocks all converted, and a number of outbuildings retained for NHS use. It may appear a quirk that the asylum estate would later accommodate the general hospital to the south of the original buildings, although this had formed a key part of the plans for repurposing the land and maximising value as the mental hospital wound down.

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When I visited again nearly 14 years later, building works were ongoing at the north east of the site. I found that a primary school had been built on the site of the Pinewood buildings, and that the old drive up the back of the buildings still had its old HCA signage instructing nobody to pass for whatever reason. The area was now known as Rooksdown, after the historic name of the area and the house which was the location that pioneering plastic surgery was developed by Sir Harold Gillies. The ongoing development by Barratt Homes was known as Gillies Meadow, with the hospital conversion by Thomas Homes known as Limes Park.

The mental hospital history had been largely erased from the hospital estate but there was still remnants, such as the original tree lined avenue which predated the hospital and now served as a footpath, the mature trees from the former hospital grounds, and some foundations from the now demolished cricket pavilion. Villa no. 5 now serves as Fairway House, an NHS clinic, and Uplands was the home of the Southern Haemophilia network. A row of trees at the edge of the development showed the location of the old railway line.  There was no sign of any memorial or plaque.

Written by Winch

February 8th, 2021 at 5:44 pm

Posted in Asylums

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