The Holloway Sanatorium was an institution for the treatment of those suffering temporary mental illness. It’s situated on 22 acres near Virginia Water, Surrey, about 22 miles south-west of Charing Cross, London.
The site is not normally open to visitors, being nowadays within an exclusive residential development. However on special occasion it does allow sightseers, so in September 2018 we took the opportunity.
Construction of the sanatorium was funded by the wealthy philanthropist Thomas Holloway. An interesting character, Holloway was a Victorian entrepreneur who made a fortune from the sale of his patent medicines: pills and ointments, designed to cure all ills. Basically snake oil!
Looking for ways to spend his fortune, and probably feeling not a little bit guilty for having amassed such a vast amount of wealth speculating on the ignorance and credulity of the masses, Holloway turned to philanthropy, and became a champion of progressive mental health care.
The style chosen entailed an elaborate Franco-Gothic concoction by W. H. Crossland, and construction took place between 1873 and 1885.
The imposing exteriors and interiors have a sister building, the Royal Holloway College about a mile north, which I have covered in one of my other blog posts.
The sanatorium was officially opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) on 12 June 1885, and for many decades was one of the most advanced facilities in the country.
In 2000, after more than a decade of neglect, the buildings were restored and some of the grounds converted to houses: the residential area is now known as Virginia Park.
Many of the original features have been preserved involving direction by English Heritage. Its largest buildings, including one listed at Grade I, have been restored and occasionally are open to be visited.
The main building was used in some early episodes of Inspector Morse, including the very first episode, ‘The Dead of Jericho’.
The approach to the main building and tower is through the grounds of the estate, a five minutes walk from the main road. It provides an almost theatrical experience, as the huge building looms in the distance with its imposing mass of bricks and masonry, getting ever so closed with every step you take.
Climbing the large stone staircase, reminiscent of a church access, you enter through the imposing original oak doors and under a stone patio, to then find yourself inside a large entrance hall.
The main staircase, just behind the hall, is striking in shape and color, its red, blue and amber marbles shining with the natural light, entering from the huge windows.
On the first floor, the main hall, once used as theatre and cinema, provides an almost overwhelming sensation of richness and textured opulence. Pictures and documents made available to the visitors showed scenes from when the facility was a working ward, some of them somehow morbidly disturbing.
The ceiling is a superb example of craftsmanship, painstakingly restored to its original conditions after neglect and dramatic events, including a huge fire that destroyed much of the original room.
All in all a short visit, as the majority of the other buildings are now private dwellings and cannot be accessed, however well worth it. Enjoy my pictures.