Industrial record MCC5215 - Turner Village Hospital, formerly the Royal Eastern Counties Institution, Turner Road, Colchester


Mid C20 psychiatric hospital.


Grid reference Centred TL 995 270 (390m by 673m)
Map sheet TL92NE


Type and Period (1)

Full Description

The Royal Eastern Counties’ Institution was built on a 52 acre site to the north of Colchester for the Joint Committees of Essex, East and West Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire County Council. Opened by H.R.H. the Duke of Kent on the 18th July 1935, the completed buildings formed the first stage of the ‘Extension Scheme’. Built to plans prepared by the architect to Essex County Council, J. Stuart, at a cost of £162,000 the hospital was to form a trident plan; male inmates would be housed in villas in the northern arm, women and children in villas to the south, whilst administrative and utility functions were located in the central range. For reasons that remain unclear the southern arm was never built.
The entrance from Turner Road which still retains the original brick gate posts is flanked by two opposing 1½-storey lodges, North and South Lodge (12 and 13). Both buildings are of red brick with plain clay tile Mansard roofs and flat headed dormers. The single-storey flat roofed administration block (14) stands immediately in-front of the entrance, but it appears as though only the ground-floor of a much grander building was completed. The block is eleven bays long with large sash windows and fixed glazed semi-circular heads; the central entrance contains an ornate doorway with a stone surround. Rooms were provided within the building for senior medical staff, a consultant doctor and dentist. A large three-storey red brick assembly hall (15) stands to the rear of the administration block. Separate stairwells and sanitary blocks project from the front elevation, and a set of steps lead up to the main entrance which contains three large double doors. The red brick elevations are laid in Flemish bond and surmounted by parapet walls. A hipped roof lies over a large central six bay assembly hall that seats 712 patients on the ground-floor and 194 in the balcony. The hall also contains a large stage with attached dressing rooms, a dancing floor, a first-floor refreshment room and a fully operational cinema. Large metal casement windows light both the interior of the hall and stairwells.
Prepared and cooked in the kitchen block (16), the meals were transported to the villas in insulated containers by special food vans. The U-shaped two-storey building contained a kitchen/steaming room in the rear bays at ground-floor level; this being flanked by larders, stores and refrigerator rooms in the north wing, whilst preparation rooms, sculleries and vegetable stores lay to the south. A large roof lantern lights the kitchen. The front elevation contains a central five-bay projection with a stylised portico supported on pilasters. Dining and sitting rooms for both matrons and nurses were located on the ground-floor with bedrooms for nurses and maids above; these were reached by stairwells in the end bays of the main facade. The workshops (17) were originally set out around a quadrangle and contained carpenters and furniture makers shops, tailors, shoemakers and mat shops. Most of these have been demolished and the surviving buildings are generally plain with simple timber casements, large roof lights and ventilation turrets on some of the ridges; the buildings continue to be used as workshops. A large one- and two-storey laundry (18) that could cater for 2,500 patients stands to the rear. This was equipped with the latest machinery including a calender, steam presses, a travelling drying room, hydro-extractors and a steam disinfector sited in a separate foul linen wash-house. The three large ventilating fanlights in the roof were opened by small motors and although still in use as a laundry, the building lies at the core of a much enlarged complex. A small mortuary (19) and a church-like power-house (20) stands beside the laundry; the latter includes a six-storey brick water tower with a hipped roof flanked by single-storey engineers shops. The boilers to the front of the range supplied steam and hot water for the low pressure heating system, laundry and kitchens.
The patients villas (1-8) are arranged in a gently curving arc overlooking a substantial grassed and planted recreational area. Each villa has an identical plan with rooms arranged around a rear courtyard in order to obtain the optimum amount of sunlight. The ground-floor contains open plan day-rooms to the front, small kitchens for preparing light meals and rooms for staff use. The toilet and bathing blocks are located at the end of each range beside the stairwells. The dormitory wards, four single isolation rooms and large walk-in linen/wardrobe stores are located on the first-floor. Entry to the rear courtyard is through individually numbered iron gates with elaborate foliate heads. The hipped roof villas are nine bay two-storey red brick buildings with large opposite set sash and hopper windows; four of the eight villas have a central five bay parapet.
The male nurses home (21) stands to the north-east beside Turner Road. Of 2½-storeys the seven bay range is flanked by single-storey annexes projecting from the front. The central entrance bay breaks forward and is surmounted by a segmental pediment; gable dormers pierce the roof-line and the elevations contain double hung sashes with gauge brick voussoirs. The home provided accommodation for 24 attendants with bedrooms on all three levels; a small kitchen stood on the ground-floor and, a billiard and mess rooms lie in the flanking annexes.
Three modern single-storey day hospitals (9-11) stand at the south end of the site with further modern hospital buildings to the west. <1><2>

major modifications/alterations and still retains its original use. The buildings reflect changing attitudes to the treatment of the mentally handicapped and these aspirations are likely to be reflected in the fabric. Many of the interiors probably survive including room divisions, corridors, administrative areas and circulation; this will be important in understanding patient classification, segregation, surveillance and comparative improvements in care provision. The associated support services such as catering, laundry, recreation and the provision of work can also be examined.

The hospital is essentially complete and adopts an unusual ‘colony’ plan. Although some of the buildings are utilitarian, others including the water tower, assembly hall and patient villas are built to a high standard; the latter may be unique. The site is significant because its overall layout and component parts; of national importance.


The most appropriate method of protecting such an important site together with its landscape setting is to create a discrete Conservation Area; those buildings with good interiors including the administration building and recreation hall should be listed Grade II.

The hospital is still in use by the Essex Rivers Health Trust catering for mentally handicapped patients. Although most of the buildings and grounds are in good order, some of the villas show signs of deterioration. If threatened many of the structures could be put to residential use and any new build needs to respect the setting of the buildings and landscaped grounds. Prior to any future works an ‘impact assessment’ will be needed to assess which elements of the site/grounds/internal fabric warrant retention and detailed recording needs to form an integral element of any future development proposal


Sources/Archives (2)

  • <1> DESC TEXT: Garwood, Adam and Gould, Shane. 1999. Essex Hospitals 1800-1948: a study of their history, design and architecture.
  • <2> Photograph: Garwood, Adam. 1999. Turner Village Hospital, Colchester.

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Record last edited

Feb 8 2019 11:06AM

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