COLCHESTER: Severalls Hospital, Boxted Road


Boxted Road, Colchester, Essex

Aerial Photograph of Severalls Mental Hospital. Courtesy of John Orchard.

Aerial Photograph of Severalls Mental Hospital. Courtesy of John Orchard

In 1904, Colchester Borough Corporation sold approx. 300 acres of land (known as “Severalls”) in the parish of Myland to Essex County Council – for the building of a ‘Second Essex County Asylum’.     “The Severalls” was an enclosed area within the Borough of Colchester – it was not common or open land.

This land was in the northern part of Mile End – it was re-acquired by the Borough in 1535 and became known as ‘the Severalls estate’ when it was leased and enclosed after 1576.    The land had been in the hands of the burgesses before 1168 but had been reclaimed by King Henry II.     In around 1590, the enclosures there had caused approximately 150 poor townsmen to claim that they had been much injured by the loss of their common land.

To return to asylums … one Colchester asylum had already been built in 1849, adjacent to Colchester’s North Station (Railway) and was called ‘Royal Eastern Counties Hospital’/’Essex Hall Asylum for Idiots’.   Another asylum (the first Essex County Asylum) had opened in 1853, in Brentwood, Essex – this had become very over-crowded.  

The Hospital was a complex of buildings built by W. King & Son of Westminster, London – from a late-Edwardian ‘Arts & Crafts’ design by F. Whitmore and W.H. Town.    Officially, the building works commenced in 1910.    On 17 May 1913, this second asylum opened to receive its first patients – the ‘S.E.C.A.’ soon became known as the ‘Severalls Asylum’ (after the Severalls Hall estate, Myland) and then, later, ‘Severalls Mental Hospital’.    Locally, Colcestrians would often just refer to the hospital as ‘Severalls’ and everyone knew the inference.

The Hospital was built for an intended capacity of 1800-2000 patients.   Basically, it was a self-sufficient village.   There were link-corridors which enabled pedestrian movement from one part of the complex to another, without having to venture outside in bad weather – this followed, what was called, ‘The Echelon Plan’.   Obviously, there were wards but there were also ‘Satelite’ villas.   Additionally, there was a large Main Hall, Laundry, Kitchen, Work-shops etc – everything to keep the Hospital operational.    Doctors, nurses and patients alike were segregated into male and female areas i.e. a male doctor could not enter a female ward etc.   Males occupied the West side and females, the East.

Gwladys Morgan’s album: Unknown nurses out on a Severalls Hospital verandah. Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

Gwladys Morgan’s album: Nurses on a Severalls Hospital verandah. Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Severalls Hospital was commandeered by the Military.  Initially, the complex was used as a Military Camp – some 3,600 soldiers are believed to have been stationed there, in the grounds and ‘Satelite’ villas.      However, as the war progressed and intensified, its role as a hospital was all-important – in the care of soldiers who were wounded physically and damaged mentally.     In January 1915, a national scheme was implemented to convert 15,000 asylum beds for sick and wounded soldiers.     The country was divided into areas, each area containing one asylum for conversion into a military war hospital.    In many cases, building extensions were required to provide operating theatres and x-ray facilities etc.

Friday, 14 August 1914, Essex County Chronicle [sic]:

THE CRY FOR HELP.  The County Organising.   Numerous Patriotic Offers.  Care of the Wounded. “A Willing Helper Does Not Wait To Be Called.”

Essex is always to the fore to answer the cry for help, and she is at one with the nation in the intention to do everything that is necessary for the suffering and distress which the war must unfortunately incur. … … …


The voluntary Aid (Red Cross) Detachments in Essex have responded nobly to the call of their country, and the Essex Branch of the British Red Cross Society now consists of 73 Voluntary Aid Detachments with a personnel of about 2,000 of whom some three-fourths are women.   Three of the detachments are formed from the St. John Ambulance Brigade.  For organising purposes the county is divided into divisions corresponding generally with the police divisions of the county.  The Countess of Warwick is president of the branch, and Col. R. B. Colvin, C.B., is the county director.  Each division is controlled by a vice-president and assistant managing director.  The offices of the Branch are now at 74 Duke Street, Chelmsford, with Col. G. H. Coleman, V.D., as hon. Secretary, it being felt that Chelmsford is a more convenient centre than Colchester.

The Voluntary Aid Detachments are officially inspected annually by an officer from the R.A.M.C., who reports to the War Office.  Most of the inspections for this year have taken place, and the reports in all cases have been very good, testifying to the zeal and energy which have been so conspicuous in all ranks of the organisation.

Since the commencement of the war many generous offers of private houses, institutions, and other buildings for use either as hospitals or convalescent homes have been made, and in many instances steps have been take to equip some of these buildings at short notice.  Among the private houses that have been offered are the following:- … …

Thorpe Hall … …

The following have also been placed at the disposal of the branch:- … …

Severalls Asylum, Colchester, accommodation from 270. … …

Middlesex Hospital, Clacton, 90.

Messrs. Cooper, Tabor, and Co., a large building at Witham, with three floors, to hold 200 beds.

The hall of the Essex and Suffolk Fire Office at Colchester. … …

As already mentioned, the G.E.R. Hotel at Harwich has been requisitioned as a hospital, and the Essex No, 33 Detachment (men), under Mr. Etherden, late of the Essex Yeomanry, and the Essex 84 (women), under Mrs. Brooks, are now employed, 120 beds having been prepared.

At Wivenhoe a 12-bedded rest-station has been prepared, and the local detachment, under Miss Dewhurst, has been mobilised. … …

A depot will shortly be formed at Chelmsford, where voluntary contributions, in the shape of stores and clothes will be collected.  Contributions should be addressed to the Secretary, Essex Branch, B.R.C.S., 74 Duke Street, Chelmsford.”

9 July 1915, Chelmsford Chronicle [sic]:

“… The Committee of Visitors said that 62 members of the Brentwood Asylum Staff and 42 from Severalls had joined the Forces. …”

ASYLUM MATTERS.  The Committee of Visitors reported that from Feb. 25 to May 26, £1,434 16s. 9d. was expended on Severalls Asylum, making a total of £422,986 9s. 10d. They had entered into an agreement with East Ham for the retention of pauper lunatics from that borough as from March 31, 1915, at 18s. per week per patient.  Owing to the Norfolk County Asylum being required by the military authorities for use as a war hospital, the committee had received 326 patients from that county.    The detached buildings at Severalls Asylym having been taken over by the military authorities, and owing to the reception of patients from Norfolk, the committee had decided to construct four verandahs off the dormitories of the two infirmary wards suitable for bed treatment in the open air, at an estimated cost of £530.  It was decided that the cost be met from money received from the military authorities as rent for the detached buildings.”

On 26 November 1915, the Cambridge Independent Press reported on the consequences of asylums caring for the wounded soldiers, under the column heading of “LINTON GUARDIANS”:

OVERCROWDED ASYLUMS.  A letter was read from the Medical Superintendent of Severalls Asylum as follows –“You will doubtless be aware that many county asylums have been converted into hospitals for wounded soldiers and that consequently the remaining county asylums are overcrowded.  I should be obliged to you if you would bring this fact your relieving officers and ask them only to arrange to bring patients to this institution that are in urgent need of asylum treatment.  It is not uncommon for us to receive patients during ordinary times that could well be looked after at home or in the workhouse. 

It was a decided that a copy of the letter be sent to Dr. Palmer and to tell the relieving officer that no-one was to go to the asylum that was not absolutely necessary.”

Gwladys Morgan’s album: a Severalls Hospital Ward. Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

Gwladys Morgan’s album: one of Severalls Hospital’s Wards. Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

The following extract gives an insight into Severalls Hospital during the First World War.  It has been transcribed from pages 7-16, ‘CHRONOLOGY’ Research materials and historical documents:  ‘The Chronology of Severalls Hospital 1901-1997’ was compiled for reference purposes by Diana Gittins during the writing of ‘Madness in its Place’.   The work is reproduced below, with permission from Diana Gittins: 

CITATION:  Gittins, D., Severalls Hospital: Interviews for ‘Madness in its Place’, 1913-1997 [computer file]. 2nd Edition. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], June 2007. SN: 4890

1914 World War 1.


25th January – 122 beds now in position in Main Building.     Accommodation now for 564men, 672 women

‘I am now finding great difficulty in obtaining female staff and it will not be possible to open the new buildings unless some radical alteration is made in the conditions of service’

Members of the Hospital Band to be paid 5/- each to perform at the Annual Dance

25th March – Attendant Wm. Bowles, the only candidate, passed Final of the RMPA exam with distinction.

Women pts work in Foul Laundry (MS suggested it should be men)

22nd April – £22 to be spent providing tennis outfit for nurse

Anxious to organise better employment of pts in grounds and farm.    Rec the gardener to be supervisor with an increase of wages 

27th May – Suggest using material from iron buildings pulled down at Brentwood here to construct: tool house; shed for cording machine; bicycle shed for male staff; shed to protect the Fire Cart

24th June – Great inconvenience’ is being caused in wards as a result of rats.   Several dresses have been destroyed.  Traps placed by the farm bailiff have proved very ineffectual.

Bandstand to be erected by patient and attendant labour for £12

Proposes Annual Fete for Pts.

22nd July – 8 nurses and 5 attendants passed the RMPA Prelim. 3 Nurses passed Final

Party of pts assisting excavating for Roads and Paths

26th August – Brigade of Territorials quartered since 19.8 in the detached buildings and surrounding grounds of the Asylum.     There are 4 regiments with a total of 3,632 officers and men.     Some stock borrowed for use of troops.     Additional 49 beds put in Main Building plus other stock.

Loss of Reservists (21 attendants) has caused considerable difficulty in the work of the male side. Considerably understaffed and therefore annual leave has been stopped and attendants have to work extra time.      Recommend paying overtime.

23rd September – Brigadier agreed to pay £225 weekly for billeting on Asylum premises.

Pts to re-turf cricket ground’

MS wants to start new industries for the pts in the Upholsterer’s Shop.   Wants to buy a Book-binding outfit

Endeavouring to obtain temporary attendants.  These are being paid weekly at the rate of 12/3d per week.     Some are married local men and attend daily and I have authorized Mr Overend to pay them 5/- weekly lodging allowance and ration money, as other married attendants.

Owing to the occupation by Troops of the Detached Buildings and Grounds, it will not be possible to make much progress in plating and laying out… I should like, however, to have part of the Cricket Pitch levelled and re-turfed with patient labour.

28th October – difficulty in getting coal delivered.      It’s at the station, but can’t get it delivered.

Mr Hammond, a very satisfactory Bandmaster, reappointed.

25th November – heating turned on for all wards, chapel and private villa.  Necessary, because it was very cold, to have fires in some day rooms.

30 men have joined the Forces.   Considerable difficulty experienced in filling vacant posts on the male side.    7 temporary attendants engaged since last meeting – total male staff of 44.   There are only 10 experienced attendants left on day duty.

Nurse dismissed for carrying live coals through A Ward, dropping some on the floor and causing damage.    Her friend, the day before she left, refused to go on duty in the ward allocated to her by the Matron.   I suspended her at once

Request a 4th Stoker, so they can have a day off.    At present 3 do 8-hour shifts

To employ a Tailoress so some of Tailor’s work can be done with the help of female pts.

26th December – 1st cinematograph entertainment given in the Hall 

30th December – Difficulties in coal deliveries mean heating shut off in all dormitories and passages.

One candidate passed the RMPA Final

Attendant suspended for ill-treating a pt.

Xmas dinner, including turkeys, also cooked for a large number of the troops

Industries started in Upholsterer’s – french polishing, book binding, mat making, brush making.

1915   Maudsley Hospital built specifically for early treatment

Shortage of hospital beds for the “wounded in mind” creates an emergency – group of county lunatic asylums, private mental institutions, and disused spas taken over as war hospitals for mental diseases and war neuroses.  (Showalter 168).


Rats have multiplied considerably and are causing considerable destruction of women’s clothing.

27th January – with the assistance of the farm carts, a large quantity of coal has been brought up to the Asylum

Rifle range erected near the Isolation Hospital

Male staff now begin at 7 a.m. instead of 6 a.m.

24th February – Difficulty in getting coal continues – compelled to further reduce the heating.    Military authorities have brought pressure to bear on the railway companies and several truckloads of coal are being allowed to come through to the station this week.

Asylum authorities throughout the country will empty several Asylums to provide15,000 beds for wounded soldiers.    Displaced pts. will be put in remaining asylums in spite of overcrowding which is bound to result.    Sir Barrett-Lennard and Mr Hawkins agreed on behalf of Essex County Asylum Committee to relieve 500 pts between the Essex Asylums.      I find that this can be done with the minimum of discomfort

24th March – 140 women and 35 men to come from Norwich.   Visiting rooms and committee rooms converted into patient wards.   Male wards 1 and 2 will be on the female side.    Ward 8, a male ward, to be considered a special ward.

20 men enlisted, but can’t release them till temporary attendants are found. Brentwood pays the latter 15/- a week and 2/- married allowance.   Ours get 12/3, with no allowance.    Recommend we increase wages and allowance

24th April – Ha-has between ward gardens and paths are very dangerous.    Two patients have fallen down on to the concrete bottom.

Artizanal staff to be allowed 1½ days Easter holiday instead of 1.

Clerical work very much behind hand.    Lady Clerk engaged to help. 

26th May – Male clerical staff want to enlist.

Benjamin Ludgate, a criminal lunatic, escaped, seized a pitch fork, then a bayonet.   Attendant Bourne locked him in a room in Male Acute Hospital, where eventually he was recaptured by the aid of a fire hose.    Obtained an order from Home Office for transfer to Broadmoor.

To free more members of the male staff, want to open another ward on the male side to be nurses with nurses – also to employ nurses to do duties of the Hall Porter

23rd June – Junior Clerk enlisted. Miss Howard appointed Temporary Stores Clerk

28th July – 13 additional beds for male wards, 53 for female side.    Now accommodate 629 men and 876 women.     1505 beds in the Main Building

28th July – 5 Nurses, 8 Attendants passed the Prelim.     6 Nurses passed the Final

25th August – work began on the well.

22nd September – Due to increase number of pts, and taking over wards on male side by female staff, need extra Head Nurse.

27th October – Female Hospital Villa is now renovated (for Army use) and progress ditto with Male Acute Hospital Villa.

Engineering staff request War Bonus.    Increased living cost.

Heat needed in the Clerks Department now Lady Clerks work there.

29th November – boring for new well now reached 400′.   Water has risen to 170′

Under the present exceptional conditions I have given special permission to several members of the Female Staff to marry, but have allowed them to continue their work at the Asylum while their husbands are at the Front

22nd December – Electricity failure as a result of great amount of damp in the subways – necessary to put heating in them to safeguard cables.

Renovations of Male Acute and Infirmary Villa now complete.   Also the roads at MHV.  FHV opened.


Shell-shock cases account for as much as 40% of casualties in the fighting zones  (Showalter, 168).


26th JanuaryMr Hammond, the Inspector, has moved into his new house.

The Lodge now occupied by the Head Gate Porter.

Ward 7 to be converted into a male ward.    Ward I (1?) will remain female so as to make room for 398 patients from Napsbury.      (‘Napsbury Military Hospital’,Middlesex – had been Napsbury Asylum)

Xmas Eve  = cinematogrph entertainment, Boxing Day =Fancy Dress ‘In place of the Xmas tree entertainment in the Hall which we had last Xmas, a number of separate parties were arranged for the working pts belonging to different parts of the Asylum, including the laundry, kitchen, needleroom, war Wand the Hospital Villa.   An excellent entertainment was organised a week after Xmas for the male working pts by Mr Hammond – each of the male pts received a small present.

23rd February – ‘Recom’ telephone to be laid on to the Inspector’s House

2 more pianos requested 

MS went to Advisory Committee at Colchester re obtaining exemption for staff, interviewed by the BOC.  Practically no replies to our advertisements for male attendants.     Asks for their pay to be increased.    Brentwood pays 17/6 per week plus 3/- war bonus and 1/6 lodging allowance for married men.    We pay 15/- plus 3/- plus lodging allowance   (Advisory Committee = Local Tribunals – set up throughout the UK to hear pleas for exemption from military service. Grounds for exemption included poor health, essential work, family circumstances or conscientious objection) 

Nurse Hopkins, who left 17.1.1916, wrote to the Stores Porter to ask him to forward her box.   This was examined and found to contain a lot of articles belonging to other nurses.   Another nurse also behaving dishonestly was asked to resign.   Both are being investigated by the Police Inspector

22nd March – All detached buildings now open, except Myland Court.  Given 3 months conditional postponement for attendants.

26th April – 799 male pts but only 66 attendants – more are resigning and few are joining.   Past month 15 left, 6 joined.    15 of the 66 are incapacitated so that they are only fit for light and special duties.      In addition to these there are several others who are really too slow and dull to be trusted to take care of pts.

24th May – Female side of Myland Court open

28th JuneMiss Margaret Richmond, late of Nat Horton Ayslum, became Head Nurse

Impossible to give Laundry Man Biggs annual holiday last year and equally difficult this year – suggest we pay him money instead

Mr. Cobbold returns.  Doesn’t seem right to give notice to the Lady Clerk.

Suggest salary increase for the Engineer

17th July – Notice from the MS:  ‘Nurses are only allowed to use the telephones in the Wards for the purpose of reporting to Officers and communicating with the Centre.   Telephones are NOT to be used by Nurses for the purpose of holding private conversation with one another’ (Notices Book)

26th July – 3 more attendants released for military service.  ‘The BOC are very anxious that I should let every possible man go and have written to me that they will take full responsibility with regard to any risks that might occur’

13th September – I am still having the greatest difficulty in obtaining the services of temporary attendants and lately the class of men… have been of a very inferior stamp.   I have lost several of the better class married men, who informed me that they cannot afford to stay at the wages offered by the committee’

Requests for increased wages from: Stores Room, Assistant Shoemaker, Stores Porter, Coal Porter

Blacksmith’s wages increased from 30/- to 35/-

Become necessary to have an officer continuously in charge of the nurses mess room – nursing staff is now very large and Matron hasn’t sufficient time to exercise the necessary supervision.    Miss Booth from Yorks to be in charge of mess room – salary as Head Nurse

14 Nurses and 1 Attendant passed the Prelims.

13th September – ‘Finding that the Spray Bath in the Hospital Villa is appreciated by the pts. I have instructed Mr Beeching to fit up additional Spray Baths in order that all the pts. may be bathed in this way.    It is economical – takes less time to bathe pts. , less water, fewer nurses are needed for bathing.

27th September – Ward D made ‘special’ because of great increase in numbers of acute cases on the female side

More requests for wage increases from Stokers (other Asylums pay 35/-, we pay only 25/-.   Could use War Bonus to cover increased wages

6th December – Asked to take 75 patients from Wandsworth, 65 of them women.    ‘During the last 12 months there has been a marked reduction in the total number of male cases and vacancies have accumulated on the male side, but very few vacancies remain on the female side.    Need readjustments:  (1) Farm Villa to be villa for private pts. (2) working pts for FV to take vacant beds in Main Building.  (3)     Myland Court for women private pts and ‘working county pts necessary to do the domestic duties’.   (5)  Photography room, once quarters for medical officers, but not now, to be a dorm for 8 county patients.   (6)  Part of the Dayroom in the Children’s Villa to be screened off as a dorm for 10 beds.

20th December – BOC recommend exemption for 14 attendants

Attendant Osborne has absconded.   A disturbance in MHV and one pt had a bruised right ear – no direct evidence from evidence, but seems to have been drunk.   Took a hospital overcoat.   Police informed.   He returned the overcoat.

1917  Wagner- Jauregg Cure for GPI


24th January – Having trouble keeping female staff and have had to stop leave.      Ask to pay nurses’ money in lieu of leave

Increased wages of Senior Cooks Assistant (from £25 to £27 pa) and Cooks Assistant from 22 to 25.

28th February – Advertised for mess man as attendant who does it is needed on ward, as he is experienced

28th March – Nurse dismissed for stealing articles from private pts.

24th April – Nurses who contracted typhoid fever at Severalls should be paid in full while ill

23rd May – In my opinion it is impossible to substitute anything else for tobacco as a means of recompensing male patients for work.   Amount consumer per week = c. 40lbs, cost =£11.16.8 Suggest reducing this to 30 lbs per week.

Allowed a party of pts to help Mr Nerard, a neighbouring farmer, with his threshing

27th June – Glass panels inserted in dormitory doors of male wing of Myland Court and observation slits made in single rooms of top floor.

‘I am finding it very difficult to keep up the strength of the staff at the present time.   I am short of both attendants and nurses and the difficulties experienced in filling vacant posts is increasing week by week.    At the present time I have an unusual number of acute mental cases and the total population of the asylum is steadily increasing week by week.

Patient Hayday had bruised face and accused Temporary Attendant Reynolds of ill treatment.   Enquiries from other pts made me believe his account and I dismissed the Attendant     ‘The att is a discharged soldier suffering from shell shock’

Miss Jenkins, Laundry Mistress, granted permission to marry and stay employed till end of war

Miss Jones, Matron of this Asylum, awarded Royal Red Cross 1st Division for her services as acting Matron of a Serbian field hospital

28th July – Ward C padded room badly tom – repairs = £31.15.0

2 croquet sets bought for Private Pts.

12th SeptemberSenior Laundry Maid Williams resigned. Engaged Miss Church, once a laundrymaid here, at £30 pa

Boxted police constable caught 3 nurses stealing apples from the smallholdings belonging to the Salvation Army.   One had an asylum pillow case filled with apples.   Colonel Still of Salvation Army said the police will prosecute.

28th November – serious disturbance on the female side, Ward C.   Allegations that Nurse Large ill-treated a pt. in a side room.    Made enquiries.    Then the nurses took Nurse Hawkins and ducked her in cold water.    Nurse Large suspended.    Petititon received to reinstate Nurse Large from senior nurses. Put up a notice.  Enquiry to be held.  Ringleaders resigned.  Excellent work carried out on behalf of our pts by the After Care Association (Mental After Care Association founded in 1879)

1918 World War I ends – 20 army hospitals for shell-shock casualties (Showalter 169)

142,000 lunatics in UK (Lomax, p. 27)

98 county and borough asylums; 14 mental hospitals; 2 military and naval hospitals; 2 criminal asylums; 21 metropolitan licensed houses; 42 provincial licensed houses; 566 private cases in single care


23rd January – much damage to pipes and radiators that froze during recent severe frosts. One patient slipped on ice in the bathroom.   Snow falling from verandahs a problems.

22nd May – To erect a small outside shelter in inner court outside long dormitory in Ward B to hold 4 beds so patients can be placed outside in isolation – much glass to be used so that patients can be observed

Labour shortage – women nurses and pts will do farm work

26th June – A great deal of trouble with rats; they have destroyed a great amount of patients’ clothing and appear to have attacked patients at night.

For 3 weeks a party of nurses and 5 pts working regularly on the farm. They have been provided with suitable costumes and are now engaged in hoeing marigoId – very satisfactory, according to the Farm Bailiff

Laundrymaid allowed to marry and remain on staff

2 nurses dismissed for stealing clothes from another nurse

Band played in Castle Grounds, Colchester, in aid of the Women’s Land Army Demonstration.   Band composed of attendants and patients.

24th July – 2 nurses allowed to marry and remain on staff

11th September – One nurse suspended for ‘using foul language and generally misbehaving herself’

Advertised for a cook at LSO p.a. but no applicants

Advertised for tailors and tailoresses, but I think it will be necessary to advertise at a higher rate – no replies.   Tailor’s Department very much behind.

Shoemaker, Tinsmith and Tailor have put in for wage increases

October – Steam Traction Engine order has still not been delivered

23rd October – Letter from Miss Jones, who has returned to England, but is ill.   The War Office will not sanction her return to Salonica.

Altering time of female nurses from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. and to give them one hour for dinner instead of 3/4 hour

27th November – Advertised 3 times for an Assistant Cook, but no response. I think it

will have to be advertised at a higher wage.

1919 Influenza epidemic

Creation of the Ministry of Health

British Psychoanalytical Society formed

Severalls:  committee minutes missing

24th January – Sir Thomas Barrett-Lennard dies. Bart. Ma, JP, DL, of Bellius Aveley (near Purfleet), aged 93.   Second holder of the baronetcy created in 1801/ 3 sons, 5 daughters, alderman of ECC, High Sheriff of Essex, 1865. Born 1826. (ECS…ECA)

11th June – alterations to Severalls Recreation Hall and Cinematograph necessary to comply with provisions of the Cinematograph Act”

(N.B:  Pts = patients;  Maudsley Hospital – Opened specifically as a Military Hospital, became a psychiatric hospital in 1923; Isolation Hospital – later Myland Hospital;  Advisory Committee – Local Tribunals – set up throughout the UK to hear pleas for exemption from military service. Grounds for exemption included poor health, essential work, family circumstances or conscientious objection; Wagner – Jauregg Cure for GPI  general paresis of the insane. Also known as paralytic dementia. First psychiatrist to win the Nobel Prize for Medicine – has remained the only psychiatrist to receive the prize for research on mental illness; Nerard – ?Nevard; The First World War did not officially end until the Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28th June 1919.  HAJ)

Gwladys Morgan’s album: Nurses on a Severalls Hospital veranda. Courtesy of John Orchard.

Gwladys Morgan’s album: Nurses on a Severalls Hospital veranda. Courtesy of John Orchard.

In 1919, the Hospital was de-commissioned from military use and it reverted to its civilian role.

In 1997, the doors of ‘Severalls’ finally closed.   In 2016, the grounds and some surviving buildings (post-arson attacks) await re-development/demolition.         

Sources: John Orchard  – all aspects of Severalls Hospital;; Great War Forum members; and ‘The Chronology of Severalls Hospital 1901-1997’ was compiled for reference purposes by Diana Gittins.

Gwladys Morgan’s album: Unknown Severalls Hospital nurse. Courtesy of John Orchard.

Gwladys Morgan’s album: Unknown Severalls Hospital nurse. Courtesy of John Orchard.

LIST OF PEOPLE KNOWN TO HAVE WORKED AT SEVERALLS HOSPITAL: N.B. no British Red Cross card has been discovered for any volunteer working at the Severalls Hospital, thus all the people named below were employees during the First World War:-


BIGGS, Mr. (Laundry Man)

BOOTH, Miss (in charge of Mess Room)

BOWLES, Mr. William (Passed Royal Medico-Psychological Association examination with distinction)

BOURNE, Mr.? (Attendant)

CHURCH, Miss (9.1916-? Senior Laundry Maid)

COBBOLD, Mr. (Head Clerk?)

HAMMOND, Mr. (Inspector, Bandmaster)

HOPKINS, Nurse (?-17.1.1916)

HOWARD, Miss (Temporary Stores Clerk)

JENKINS, Miss (Laundry Mistress)

JONES, Miss  (R.R.C. Matron).  ?Miss P. Jones

LARGE, Nurse/Ms

MORGAN, Nurse Gwladys (1915-1923. Trained Nurse)

OVEREND, Mr. Robert OR Samuel (Clerk)

REYNOLDS, Mr. (Temporary Attendant)

RICHMOND, Miss Margaret (1916-? Head Nurse. “late of Nat Horton Ayslum”)

TAYLOR, Nurse Ethel Taylor (1915-?1918. Trained Nurse)

WILLIAMS, Ms. (?-9.1916. Senior Laundry Maid)


BEECHING, Mr.  Is this Mr. Henry Beech, who (in the 1911 Census) was “Engineers Clerk of Works” and living at 21 Roman Road, Colchester?

BIGGS, Mr. (Laundry Man) Is this Richard Edward Biggs, who (in the 1911 Census) was “Washhouseman. Laundry” and living at 21 Ipswich Road, Colchester – with elderly widowed mother and older brother?

BOOTH, Miss (in charge of Mess Room) 

BOWLES, Mr. William (Passed Royal Medico-Psychological Association examination with distinction)

BOURNE, Mr.? (Attendant)

BUCKINGHAM, Harriet Olive Annie (Wrote in the Morgan autograph book on 12 May 1917)

Harriet Olive Annie Buckingham. Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

Harriet Olive Annie Buckingham. Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

CHURCH, Miss (9.1916-? Senior Laundry Maid)

COBBOLD, Mr. (Head Clerk?) Is this Widower Mr. George Thomas Cobbold who (in the 1911 Census) was “Clerk in Brewery” and living at 2 Capel Road, Colchester – with a Housekeeper?

HAMMOND, Mr. (Inspector)

HOPKINS, Nurse (?-17.1.1916)

HOWARD, Miss (Temporary Stores Clerk)

JENKINS, Miss (Laundry Mistress)

JONES, Miss  (R.R.C. Matron).  ?Miss P. Jones

LARGE, Nurse/Ms

MORGAN, Nurse Gwladys (1915-1923. Trained Nurse)

Gwladys Morgan was born 09 May 1892 in Pontymister, near Risca in South Wales.    In 1915, Gwladys travelled to Severalls Mental Hospital to train as a medical nurse.  She had been “in Service” before that. There appears to have been no family connections with Colchester previously.   Gwladys’ father John Morgan was a coalminer, as was her older brother Horace.    She was the second eldest of eight children, brought up in a small miner’s cottage “in the Valleys”.

September 1917: Gwladys Morgan (left). Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

September 1917: Gwladys Morgan (left). Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

After Gwladys arrived at Severalls, she soon made friends with another new trainee nurse – one Ethel Taylor.     By contrast, Ethel was a local girl – from Marks Tey.   It is interesting to mention here that Ethel soon introduced her new friend Gwladys to her Taylor family and, thus, her twin brother Frank met Gwladys … which led to courtship and marriage!  Ethel, or “Effie” as she was known in the family, completed her initial training at Severalls.    Unlike Gwladys who stayed for a couple of years afterwards, Ethel went off to South Africa, where she remained until after the end of the First World War – see her profile.

It is known that Severalls Hospital was taken over by the Military in 1914, the year before Gwladys arrived and family records held on Gwladys confirm that it was not being run as the original mental institution during the war period.   Deduced from conversations between Gwladys and her grandson John Orchard, the majority of patients were soldiers who were recovering from wounds although there were also soldiers who did have visible mental problems – associated with their time on the front-lines.

On a lighter note, the patients were not averse to flirting with the nurses and the nurses were not averse to enjoying themselves either!    Gwladys’ training at Severalls Hospital was as a medical nurse (not psychiatric) based on the then standard, as published by St. John’s.    Notebooks and notated examination/test papers belonging to Gwladys (from 1915 to 1920) have survived within the family.

Gwladys was still nursing at Severalls when the hospital reverted to its intended and original purpose of treating patients with mental problems.    Prior to leaving to marry, Gwladys had been in charge of a ward although it is uncertain whether she had been formally appointed to the role of Sister – she may have been ‘Acting Sister’.

Nurses were not allowed to be married – they had to leave their jobs in order to marry.    That said, it was taken for granted in that era (and beyond) that women would not continue in their job after they married.    Their occupation became that of a full-time housewife.   There were, of course, always exceptions to that rule – especially during a war.

Gwladys left Severalls Hospital in order to marry Frank Taylor in 1923, at Marks Tey, Essex. Soon afterwards, they moved to Bury St Edmunds – where Frank had already set up a bakery business.

In the many conversations that John Orchard had with his grandmother Gwladys, she was always referring to the camaraderie that she experienced with her fellow nurses and there were several long term friendships that ensued from that time.   Gwladys outlived all of them – achieving her centenary, with all her mental faculties intact!  Gwladys lived from 1892-1992 but she did not quite outlive Severall’s – the hospital closed five years later, in 1997.

Apart from her photograph album, Gwladys Morgan also owned an autograph book.  Images of some of the pages appear at the end of this chapter.  See more of Gwladys Morgan’s Severalls Hospital photographs and autographs, together with much more information about the hospital here:

OVEREND, Mr. Robert OR Samuel Alexander (Clerk)   

These two men were brothers: Robert was born in Gilford, County Down, Ireland in c1873; Samuel was born in 1887 (registered 1Q) in Poole, Dorset.   Their Irish-born parents were Samuel and Hannah.

1911 Census:      ‘Clovelly’, 18 Robin Hood Road, Brentwood, Essex.  BOTH men were at this address.  Robert is “Head” of the household, with his Croydon-born wife Minnie Rosina (nee Stockley); 2 sons; & 2 daughter.    Samuel Alexander Overend was the third person listed.  BOTH man’s occupation is noted as “Clerk At County Lunatic Asylum”, employed by the “Committee of County & Borough Councils”.

“Mr. Overend” was mentioned within ‘The Chronology of Severalls Hospital 1901-1997’, for September 1914.    Mr. Samuel Alexander Overend was killed on 16 June 1917, serving with the Northumberland Fusiliers.  Samuel is commemorated on The Arras Memorial at Faubourg-D´Amiens Cemetery, Arras.

Robert Overend “of Bradfield-Place, Bradfield, Manningtree” died 4 February 1957.

REYNOLDS, Mr. (Temporary Attendant)

RICHMOND, Miss Margaret (1916-? Head Nurse. “late of Nat Horton Ayslum”)

ROWLANDS, Gretta  (Wrote in Morgan autograph book on 12 May 1917)

Gretta Rowlands autograph. Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

Gretta Rowlands autograph. Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

TAYLOR, Nurse Ethel  (1915-?1918. Trained Nurse)

Ethel Taylor was born 08 August 1893.    In 1915, she started work at Severalls Mental Hospital – training as a medical probationary nurse.

Ethel soon made friends with another new nurse trainee/probationer Gwladys Morgan (profiled afore), who had arrived at Severalls from Wales.     Ethel’s parents were Abram and Ann (nee Wilsher) – Abram was the Station Foreman at the nearby Marks Tey Railway Station.   Ethel was one of five children – which included her twin brother Frank.   It is interesting to mention here that Ethel soon introduced her new friend Gwladys to her Essex family and, thus, her twin brother Frank met Gwladys … and they eventually married!!   Frank enlisted into the Army during 1915.

Ethel and Frank’s older brother Fred worked on the railway, like father Abram.    It is not known if Fred enlisted – his railway job may have been one of the protected occupations when conscription was introduced in 1916.   The second eldest Taylor child was Edith and the youngest child (who was too young to take an active part in the war) was Joe.

This particular Taylor family originally came from Elmstead Heath.   For several generations, they had been woodsmen and cutters there.   Abram Taylor had trained as such under his father (also named Abram) but Abram Junior spotted an opportunity on the railways and started working from Great Bentley station.

Ethel, or “Effie” as she was known in the family, completed her initial training at Severalls (1918?) and went off to South Africa, where she remained until after the end of WW1.    In South Africa, Ethel met Percy Banbury, a doctor.    They returned to the UK (to Epsom in Surrey) and, on 01 September 1927, they married – both Ethel & “Medical Practitioner” Percy were aged 34.

Percy eventually became a local authority Chief Medical Officer for Health (either working in Colchester or Ipswich – Ethel and Percy lived at Manningtree at one point so it could have been either location).  They had two daughters, Heather and Joan.    Heather followed in her mother’s and Aunt Gladys’ footsteps …  … also becoming a nurse.     Heather went on to become Matron at St Georges’ in London.

Ethel died at the end of 1978, her death being registered in the 4th Quarter, at Ipswich, Suffolk.

WILLIAMS, Ms. (?-9.1916. Senior Laundry Maid)


Undoubtedly, collecting autographs would have been a distraction from the daily grind of hospital life during the warAs with Gwladys Morgan’s photographs, all the autograph book images are reproduced courtesy/© of John Orchard.

Gwladys Morgan’s autograph book: Patient: Ernest J. Scott, Captain’s Chef, Royal Navy. H.M.S. Barham. 19.7.17. Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

Gwladys Morgan’s autograph: Ernest J. Scott, Captain’s Chef, Royal Navy. H.M.S. Barham. 19.7.17. Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

Gwladys Morgan’s autograph book: G. A. Spittle”. Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

G. Morgan’s autograph: G. A. Spittle”. Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

Gwladys Morgan’s autograph book: G. A. Spittle. Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

G. Morgan’s autograph: G. A. Spittle. Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

Gwladys Morgan’s autograph book: E. A. Prosser. 14/5/17. Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

G. Morgan’s autograph: E. A. Prosser. 14/5/17. © of John Orchard.

Gwladys Morgan’s autograph book: Patient: Ernest J. Scott, Captain’s Chef, Royal Navy. H.M.S. Barham. 19.7.17. Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

Gwladys Morgan’s autograph: Ernest J. Scott, Captain’s Chef, Royal Navy. H.M.S. Barham. 19.7.17. Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

Gwladys Morgan’s autograph book: “Bedford. 11/12/17. E.A.S.” Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

Gwladys Morgan’s autograph book: “Bedford. 11/12/17. E.A.S.”  Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

Gwladys Morgan’s autograph book: Two images of same page - “For Ladies Only” & “Aint You Inquisitive”. F. Sewell. Cleethorpes. 11.V.17. Courtesy/© of John Orchard.

Gwladys Morgan’s autograph book: Two images of same page – “For Ladies Only” & “Aint You Inquisitive”. F. Sewell. Cleethorpes. 11.V.17. Courtesy/© of John Orchard.


NEXT: COLCHESTER: Stanway Rectory V.A.D. Hospital