Oakwood Hospital

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Oakwood Hospital
Opened 1833
Closed 1904
Current Status Preserved
Building Style Corridor Plan
Architect(s) John Whichcord Senior
Location Maidstone
Alternate Names
  • Kent County Asylum


The Oakwood Hospital was originally founded as the "Kent County Lunatic Asylum". It was erected between 1829 and 1833 on a site in Barming Heath, just to the west of Maidstone. It comprised one building; commonly referred to as St Andrew's House,. The asylum was intended to take in patients from across the entire county of Kent, which then stretched as far west as Greenwich. The first 168 patients were admitted in 1833. As the asylum expanded, additions and extensions were made to this building until it had reached maximum potential capacity. In 1850 an additional building, known as The Queen's House, was built on newly acquired land at the site. Both of these buildings were designed by the architect John Whichcord Snr. Further expansion took place between 1867 and 1872 with the building of the third asylum block (also known as the New Building or Hermitage Block).

By 1948, Oakwood held 2,000 patients. On 29 November 1957, a fire broke out in the tailor's workshop on the first floor of one of the buildings. The fire brigade was called at 06:40 and arrived four minutes later. Six pumps attended and the 350 patients in that wing were evacuated. By 08:00 the fire was out, and the clearing-up process began. The block had been gutted but a 120-foot (37 m) tall ventilation tower seemed to have survived unscathed. At 10:00, the tower collapsed, killing four firemen, two nursing staff and a patient and injuring a number of people.

During the 1970s and 1980s there was a change in focus on the best way to treat the mentally ill and housing patients long-term in large institutions was falling out of favour. It was therefore inevitable that the Oakwood Hospital would close or see a change in its role. Plans for a new hospital for Maidstone were approved in the mid-1970s and the site chosen was just to the north of the Oakwood Hospital. Construction on the Maidstone Hospital began in 1980 and was completed in 1982/1983. The Oakwood Hospital then became known as the Maidstone Hospital (Psychiatric Wing) and some of its functions began to be transferred across to the new hospital.

The Maidstone Health Authority Operational Plan for 1984/85 (paragraph 4.2) states that the long term objective was to close the Oakwood Hospital. The publication of the Short Term Program for 1986-87/1987-88 (paragraph 6.7) recommends the closure of St Andrew's House which by that time had ten wards (nine for Medway Health authority patients and one for all user authorities) and 186 patients. The Program acknowledged that this closure would accelerate the strategic objective of vacating the total site.

Final closure of the Oakwood Hospital came in the 1990s when all its remaining functions had been transferred to the Maidstone Hospital. After closure there were a spate of arson attacks on the buildings and on 11 May 1997 work began to demolish the Hermitage Block and other unused buildings. St Andrew's House and The Queen's House are both Grade II listed buildings and so were spared demolition. The Queen's House was sold off in April 1997 and was soon then turned into residential use. St Andrew's House was converted into apartments in 2001-2002 after some £60,000 was spent by a specialist firm to landscape the grounds which had become overgrown. A new housing development now occupies the site of the demolished Hermitage Block.