Memories of working at Springfield Asylum

When I left School, I was a little undecided what to do. I eventually decided to become a Carpenter and Joiner and, was signed up as an apprentice. Some of the jobs carried out by the firm involved maintenance of the properties owned by Dr Cedric Bower who lived in Springfield Cottage in Spring Road. One of those properties was Springfield House, a private mental asylum off Elstow Road, (now demolished).

When work was needed to be done, a tradesman and apprentice, usually me, (we had to go in two’s to keep an eye on tools etc), a pair of steps and not too many tools, we were told what was damaged and we were given a bunch of keys to get access to where the problem was.
At that time, the first half of the 1950’s, there was about 9males and 16 female residents.
The items we had to repair were glass to leaded lights, replace broken sash cords, etc. One job I remember was that one of the residents decided to slam the bed against the door which completely wrecked one side of the door frame.

Most of the residents always seemed quite reasonable, but one or two you had to watch, one of the Ladies was man mad and every time we saw her had excess makeup smothered all over her face. One Male, about mid 60’s, and 14 stone and about 5ft 6ins, always spoke softly to us and we got on well with him, we had a shock one day to find he was sat on the ridge of a single story building, a good 20 ft up from the ground, I could not work out how he managed it.

Within the main part of the building was a padded cell. A room about 10 to 12 ft square with top quality leather lining the walls, door and all the floor, except for a small drain in the middle. It was so well padded that no matter what you did, you could not hurt yourself. It had a spy hole in the door and a light in the ceiling.

The area of the grounds spread from Elstow Road through to the allotments off Spring Road (now Westdale Walk). The reasonably fit ones who were safe to do so were allowed to leave the main building and walk round these extended grounds in a group with staff in attendance. One big male daily hid a stick in a bush and as they neared the gateway through to the field, got the stick, threw it over the gateway and caught it on the other side, then did the same on the way back. It kept him happy so they let him do it, otherwise he would be upset.

Within the extended area was a cricket field which a local team used to play on.  In front of Dr Bower’s house in Spring Road, was a lovely lawn which was used for games by the family. Sometimes in bad weather, it was flooded to form a skating rink.

As lads, at Christmas time, we used to go carol singing down Spring Road, we knew that the Bower’s would not hear us at the front porch so we sang a line and rang the bell. We were then asked inside to sing a couple of carols and then got refreshments and half a crown, twelve and a half pence, which was good money those days.

In 1973, the Asylum had closed, the land was sold and all the buildings were demolished to make way for a housing estate, Henderson Way, Fearnley Cresent, Whittingstall Avenue, Jowitt Avenue, Ringwood Close and Camestone School.

Clive Smith  2012