Enoch Powell’s famous ‘water-tower’ speech was given fifty years ago this year. In it, he expressed the British Government’s determination to halve the capacity of residential facilities for mental healthcare facilities, and spelt out what this meant for the future: ‘the elimination of by far the greater part of this country’s mental hospitals as they exist today’. As famous as Powell’s speech became, the ideas expressed in it were not new to those who were then at the cutting edge of mental healthcare, and in the 1950s and 60s nowhere was thinking and practice more radical than at one of SLaM’s predecessor institutions, Croydon’s Warlingham Park Hospital. It was the first mental hospital in the country to implement a thorough open door policy, and the first to open a dedicated alcoholic unit. In 1954, two members of Hospital staff, Lena Peat and Reginald Bowen, became the UK’s first community-based psychiatric nurses, heralding the kind of changes in mental healthcare that inspired Powell’s vision seven years later.
By the year of the ‘water-tower’ speech, the Hospital’s outpatient services had found a home of its own in London Road, Thornton Heath (later known as the Oaks treatment centre). In common with other mental hospitals, Warlingham Park’s inpatient services were wound down and eventually closed in the 1990s. Footage of the Hospital, along with testimony from former staff and patients and relatives of patients, will be shown in Bethlem Hospital’s Boardroom on World Mental Health Day – Monday 10 October 2011 – as part of the BBC’s Reel History of Britain campaign. The documentary, This Is Your Hospital, will form part of a new online learning resource on Warlingham Park Hospital and mental health care from 1945 to 1960, on the Bethlem Heritage website.
The free screening starts at 12.30 on Monday 10 October in Bethlem’s historic Board Room (in the main administration block), and will be followed by an opportunity for discussion. Refreshments will be provided.