There has been activity at Netherne on the Hill since the Bronze Age and Neolithic periods. Archaeological evidence from Roman and medieval times has also been found; the discovery of the footings of an early 16th Century farmhouse confirms post medieval occupation.
In 1898, Surrey Council selected Netherne as the site for a new psychiatric hospital to relieve an overcrowding problem at nearby hospitals. The Netherne farming estate was purchased for £10,000 and a 960 patient hospital opened on 1 April 1909. Four years later the foundation stone was laid by builder John Bowen.
The majority of patients suffered from stress, senility, melancholia or other mental handicaps. Treatment was based on organised work and community activities: cleaning, cooking, running the hospital farm or tending the market garden. The aim was to reintegrate patients into society, but for many, Netherne became a permanent home – a “place of sanctuary”. (The true meaning of the word “asylum”)
Netherne gained a reputation as a pioneering force in the treatment of mental health and in setting standards for the care of patients. Patients enjoyed good food, books, newspapers, indoor and outdoor games and church services at St Luke’s, the on site church. The recreational hall played an important role in maintaining morale with monthly dances, fancy dress parties and a Christmas pantomime in addition to the various sports club activities.
During World War 1, Netherne had to handle large numbers of patients from neighbouring hospitals, which had been taken over by the military. Food from the market garden contributed to national supplies and convalescent soldiers and German PoW were bought in to assist.
The Second World War also stretched resources with 6 wards and 2 villas being used for air raid casualties. Netherne helped assemble electrical parts for a nearby munitions factory and by the end of the war most patients were employed in sustaining the war effort. Being close to targets such RAF Kenley and a main road/rail link to London, several bombs fell in the grounds including one in the nurse’s home which failed to explode.
The introduction of tranquillisers in the 1950’s caused many changes, including the removal of security fencing. In 1961, following a speech by Enoch Powell calling for mental hospitals to be closed in favour of care in the community and the use of general hospital acute units, Netherne became a joint body with Redhill General Hospital in 1965, and the intake was gradually reduced.
After a steady decline from almost two thousand in the 1950’s, the hospital finally closed in the mid 1990s and the remaining 150 patients were embraced into the local community under a supported care programme. Reigate and Banstead Council gave Gleeson Homes permission to develop the site in 1994. Approval was given to erect a total of 440 homes in the village, and this was later increased by about 25 percent and today about 560 homes exist including some older houses in Netherne Lane North,Park Lane and Woodplace Lane which were originally for hospital staff accommodation. The majority of the housing construction was completed in 2008.
Reigate and Banstead Council were responsible for planning Netherne on the Hill. Their planning objectives included: creating a settlement within which it is easy and pleasurable to walk or cycle (the use of the car for inter-site movements is discouraged by design); maximising the use of important landscape features and recyclable materials, and seeking to reduce the use of all forms of energy.
To achieve a balanced community, the new village comprises a mix of house types and sizes centred on a remodelled village green. Twenty five percent of new homes are “affordable”. The former church, a listed building, has been converted for use by as a leisure centre, and the splendid hospital recreational building is now the village hall. Some of the former hospital wards have been converted for residential use and the old administrative building, adjoining the village green, has been converted into handsome apartments. The water tower has been converted into 4 apartments. Access to the village is via Netherne Drive which was originally constructed in the days of horse drawn transport, hence the low gradients. The former hospital graveyard is located off the south east corner of the football field. Owners of new build houses are shareholders of Netherne Management Limited who own the estate grounds and community facilities. NML was transferred to elected resident directors in January 2011.
Prominent people have been commemorated in the naming of the new roads:
Hine Close: George Hine was the hospital architect
Cayton Road : Dr. Cayton was the first medical superintendent.
Wallace Square: Edward Wallace was an attendant and a member of the National Asylum Workers Union. He was killed in action in France in 1918.
Jenny (Way) was a senior member of the nursing staff.
Lordswood and Shaftesbury Houses are named after converted wards.
Those wishing to research the history of the hospital will wish to know that a pictorial history has been published by George Frogley, a former hospital manager who lives in nearby Hooley, and John Welch, a member of the Community Health Council. Copies cost £8 and are available from George – 01737 554189. Proceeds go to a mental health charity.