Brockhall Hospital and its cemetery
These pages are dedicated to those buried at the Brockhall hospital cemetery, whose names are listed at the end of this document. They include my brother, Peter, whom I never knew - he spent 5 months of his short life at Brockhall and died there at the age of five and a half, 6 years before I was born.
I created this site in 2003 since when it has remained pretty well static and will remain so. Some of the information it contains is now out of date and inaccurate, but I have left it as it was written then apart from editing out web site links that no longer work. My Mum and Gerald Hitman have both since died. Gerald is buried in his cemetery as he told me would happen when I met him at his home at Brockhall. Several people have contacted me via this site to share their experiences at Brockhall Hospital or to give me additional information - I am very grateful for this and it's pleasing to know that development of this site was worthwhile.
Jeff Jones May 2020.
|The hospital||The cemetery||Hospital records and other sources||Acknowledgements
|Buried in the Brockhall Hospital Cemetery|
In an isolated institution located to the north east of this stone there lived from 1904
to 1992 a large number of people who were thought to be too strange, too difficult or
too challenging to be cared for in their own communities. The institution in turn was
called Lancashire Inebriates Reformatory (1904) Brockhall Hospital for Mental
Defectives (1915) Brockhall Hospital for the Mentally Subnormal (1959) Brockhall
Hospital for Mentally Handicapped People (1974) and Brockhall Hospital for People
with Learning Disabilities (1991). Although those who lived there carried heavier
burdens than most they were part of our common family.
Brockhall Hospital closed its doors in 1992 and the land on which it stood was acquired by
Gerald Shimon Hitman of Newcastle upon Tyne who raised this stone as a memorial to those
who ended their days in the hospital and are buried here. God full of compassion grant
perfect rest beneath the shelter of your presence to these your children who have gone
to their eternal home. Master of mercy, cover them in the shelter of your wings
forever and bind their souls into the gathering of life. It is the Lord who is their
heritage. May they be at peace in their place of rest.
(transcribed from the memorial in the Brockhall Hospital cemetery)
Langho Colony was close to Brockhall Hospital. Brenda Harry has kindly sent me some recollections of her friend Winnie whose father was Bailiff at Langho Colony - scroll down to the end of this page or click here.
(There is a photograph of part of the hospital at http://www.francisfrith.com/search/england/lancashire/langho/photos/langho_L290027.htm)
When Sir John Hibbert, Chairman of the Lancashire Inebriates Acts Board, opened the Lancashire Inebriates Reformatory at Langho in Lancashire on 14th April 1904, he expressed his 'heart-felt wish that all inmates who might come within its walls would, by its means, be restored to happier and brighter lives'. Having heard Gerald Hitman's account of the history of Brockhall (which is summarised by the inscription on the memorial he erected in the cemetery) I'd say that Sir John's heart-felt wish didn't quite come true.
Papers written by Gillian Hall of John Moores University in Liverpool from her research of the history of Brockhall and its near neighbour, Calderstones, make sad reading, particularly in the light of today's values. I found it disturbing to read about the use of terms such as 'idiots' 'imbeciles' and 'feeble-minded persons' to classify patients, regimes which seem more akin to those of a prison than those of a hospital, and the locking away of people in conditions which severely restricted their privacy and dignity because they did not fit well with society, or their families. I'm sure, however, that there were caring staff at these hospitals who did all they could for their patients.
Brockhall was built on the land of 2 farms, an estate of 326 acres purchased from Mr. Worsley Taylor for £17000. The initial building, which was of a high quality of construction, cost £67000. A statement from the opening ceremony describes the estate as 'an extremely attractive one, a large proportion of it comprising an elevated plateau of grassland, surrounded on three sides by a belt of well-grown timber, while from the plateau there is a slope to some meadow and pastureland, which run alongside the southerly bank of the River Ribble'. Several further developments followed and Brockhall's number of patients reached about 2500 at its peak. Wards were named after trees and woodland for men (e.g. Beechwood House) and flowers for women and children (e.g. Aster House) - I am aware of Aster, Begonia, Crocus, Dahlia, Elder, Fern, Beechwood, Geranium, Hyacinth, Iris, Cedarwood, Denewood, Elmwood, Johnswood, Ashwood, Nasturtium, Buttercup and Thistle (which is where my brother was).
Following its closure in 1992, the hospital was demolished and the site redeveloped for housing (Blackburn Rovers' training ground is also there) as Brockhall Village. Apart from the retention of the name Brockhall, and the conversion of one of the hospital buildings into homes (now called Watling Gate), probably the most tangible reminder of the hospital is its cemetery in which over 600 people are buried.
The hospital's cemetery is adjacent to that of St Leonard's church at Old Langho, separated by a tall hedge. The Brockhall cemetery has its own entrance from the road, a short lane leading to a lych gate at the cemetery entrance. Originally, patients who died at the hospital and who were not 'taken home' by their families were buried in the churchyard. In the 1930s, with the churchyard filling up, it was decided that the hospital should have its own cemetery and a field was allocated for this purpose. Later, the churchyard was extended and so the two graveyards became adjacent. There are few individual memorials in the hospital cemetery to mark the graves of the 600+ people buried here, and it is difficult to distinguish individual graves. The hospital authorities decided to stop using the cemetery for new burials in the late 1980s.
I found a letter from Derek Bunn of Blackburn who worked at Brockhall, and for 30 years arranged funerals there, on the 'This is Lancashire' web site. The letter points out that, contrary to 'recent reports and letters', not all those buried in the hospital cemetery had been abandoned and forgotten. In fact, many relatives had asked for deceased patients to be buried there as they felt that Brockhall had become their home. It also states that patients with 'no known relatives' were usually cremated unless they had expressed wishes regarding their funeral. I spoke to Derek who told me that, apart from a few years, the practice was to mark each grave with a numbered stone and that there used to be registers and maps of the cemetery. He also told me that there are several sets of cremated remains interred beside the lane from the road to the lych gate, on the left hand side.
Ownership of the cemetery is now in the hands of Gerald Hitman and his family following a tortuous series of events, including actual and apparent changes of ownership, which could have led, at one point, to the redevelopment of the site. The NHS insisted that the cemetery be included in the original sale of the hospital site, but, after maintaining it for several years, and erecting the memorial at his own expense, Gerald discovered that ownership had not in fact been transferred to him. After some negotiations regarding selling (for a nominal sum) the cemetery to the church, which had a need for further burial space and planned to combine the two cemeteries, the NHS decided to auction the land, but it was sold prior to auction, then repurchased by Gerald. Unfortunately there are no plans for the church to integrate Brockhall cemetery with its own, and so the hospital's cemetery will remain separate.
Hospital records and other sources of information
Surviving patient records for Brockhall hospital are held at the Lancashire Records Office in Preston, who also hold administrative records - all records belong to the NHS Trust. Patient records are subject to a 100 year closure, other records 30 years, however, on a case by case basis, permission may be given (by the medical records officer at Calderstones) for records office staff to supply details held for individual patients (a £20 per hour charge is made for research, although a limited initial search may be made free of charge). Actual records held vary by patient and year. The files for patients who died at Brockhall were usually destroyed 8 years after death, although entries in registers (e.g. a 'notice of death book' and a 'patients change book') may still survive. The Lancashire Records Office is at Bow Lane, Preston PR1 8ND..
Blackburn Central Library has a file which includes some newspaper clippings about Brockhall Hospital - they are at Town Hall Street, Blackburn BB2 1AG.
The National Archives web site at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk includes a hospital records database at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/hospitalrecords which is a joint project of the Wellcome Trust and the Public Record Office that provides information on the existence and location of the records of hospitals in the UK. There are 4 entries for Brockhall Hospital which provide further details of available records, although some of this may be out of date - I have not followed up all the information shown.
In the course of learning about Brockhall I found references on a number of web sites - here are those not already mentioned in the text above:
The Rossbret 'UK Institutions' web site included a brief reference to 'Brockhall Institution', founded as an inebriate reformatory for women, used for mental defectives from 1920, renamed as Brockhall Hospital and closed in 1993. (May 2020 - I cannot find this site now).
A site which included a history of the Hacking family name talked about part of the Ribble Valley around Hacking Hall and mentioned the then (March 1836) tenant of Brock Hall, Thomas Hubbersty. (May 2020 - I cannot find this site now).
A site about homes in the Ribble Valley mentioned Brock Hall, Old Langho and its 'development of some fine private houses' and Blackburn Rovers training ground. It referenced its earlier existence as 'a large community of unfortunates' with buildings for males 'named after trees or woodland', and 'females' and children's wards after flowers', and mentioned the 'extremely strict, and sometimes cruel regime'. It also stated 'This was once the home of the Brockholes family who moved to Claughton Halland (presumably this should be 'Claughton Hall and') the Braddyll family, who were entrusted with the properties of Whalley Abbey following the Dissolution.' (May 2020 - I cannot find this site now).
http://www.hackwriters.com/imperfect.htm is part of an Internet magazine site 'devoted to good writing'. This fictional piece called 'Future Imperfect' includes a reference to three colonies in the Ribble Valley. which, until the 1980s, had been 'Lunatic Asylums' - Langho Colony, Brockhall Colony and Calderstones.
Gerald Hitman preserved and continues to maintain the Brockhall cemetery, and erected the memorial to those buried there.
I'd like to thank Gerald, Gill Hall of John Moores University in Liverpool and Andrew Thynne of the Lancashire Records office for their help which has enabled me to produce these pages. Thanks also to Rev. Steve Cooper of St. Leonard's Langho for answering my initial enquiry about the location of my brother's grave, pointing me in the right direction and helping me understand the history of the cemetery, and to Derek Bunn for talking to me about the 40 years he worked at Brockhall. And to my Mum for telling me how to find my brother's grave and for reliving the terrible experience that she and my late Dad had as young parents of an epileptic child in wartime Liverpool, whose admission to a hospital miles from home they reluctantly agreed.
If you have read this far I'd like to thank you too and hope that what you have read has been of interest. Thank you for your understanding of people who are now cared for in the community, even though they may not fit as well as most of us and in whose company we may not feel very comfortable.
If you would like to E-mail me, please do so at JeffJones@jeffandjan.com
Jeff Jones in Herefordshire, originally from Liverpool. January 2003.
Buried in the Brockhall Hospital Cemetery
The names of those buried in the Brockhall Hospital Cemetery are engraved on the memorial erected there and are reproduced here in the order in which they appear.
|1943||Gladys||Hall||26 or 25|
|1967||Florence Mary Lucy Mabel||Dearden||40|
|1968||Violet Mary Compton||Jones||62|
|1980||Dorothy Olive Hall||Jones||48|
|1983||Margaret Vera Lilian||Franks||73|
This name is not on the memorial but is on a memorial stone on the right hand side of the drive leading to the cemetery. The inscription reads: 'In Memory John David Winchester 9th December 1941 - 6th May 1978'.
Langho Colony was close to Brockhall Hospital. Brenda Harry has kindly sent me some recollections of her friend Winnie whose father was Bailiff at Langho Colony:
Thomas Gillett came from a farming family in Mellor. In 1914, when he was in his twenties, he became a Bailiff at Langho Colony. His job was looking after the farm which supplied milk to the Manchester hospitals. But he also had another "job". Many of the poor inmates of Langho Colony had been sent there, where they were shut off from families and friends in Manchester who could not afford to visit them. They were allowed just one night out a week, when they went into Whalley for a Saturday night jaunt. Later in the evening Thomas, would take his horse and hay-making cart down to Langho railway station, where he had to count the inmates and make sure that all those who had gone out, were coming back. On the way home, sitting on the floor of the cart, the inmates would heartily sing the following ditty, that Thomas, when he married, would often sing at Gillett family gatherings, which is why his daughter, Winnie Taylor remembers it still word for word, many decades later.
One Two three the boozers keep time
The washhouse and laundry
They go in a line
Working like horses
It's hotter than hell
It's a grand institution
The Langho "Hotel"
(There is a small memorial to the residents of Langho Centre in the Old Langho churchyard - I've guessed that is Langho Colony but I don't know.)