Those who have lived in Fairfield for a while will be familiar with the history of Fairfield Hall (the old Three Counties Asylum main building) and St Luke’s Chapel (the chapel that served the asylum). These magnificent buildings are both Grade II Listed and the conversion to residential use has, of course, preserved their fine Victorian features and heritage. But did you know that there is a third Grade II Listed building in Fairfield?
This third building is the old Isolation Hospital, originally opened in 1881 during Phase III of the Three Counties Asylum expansion and now called Fairfield Mews. It’s located northeast of St Luke’s on Eliot Way, and was built as a standalone building away from the main asylum for the treatment of patients with diphtheria, scarlet fever, tuberculosis and typhoid – all common diseases at the time, and highly contagious.
Contagious diseases were a major concern in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1902 there was a serious outbreak of smallpox that closed the main asylum to all visitors for seven months, and a further smallpox outbreak closed the asylum again the following year for one month. These diseases affected patients and staff alike. The asylum bailiff, Henry Brown, contracted typhoid from contaminated drinking water and died on 1 October 1906. He was buried in the asylum cemetery and his headstone is one of the few that are still visible today.
The Isolation Hospital comprised a central administration and service block flanked by two angled wards, one each side to segregate the male and female patients. In the same year that Henry Brown died, approval was given to extend the Isolation Hospital by adding a veranda to each of the two wings to enable the new ‘open air’ treatment recommended for tuberculosis patients. These rather stunning verandas, which have been preserved (except for the fitted wooden benches), are described as follows in the Historic England listing:
“Outer ends have gables with open verandahs, flanked by sanitary blocks. Verandahs, three bays, have segmental polychrome arches on cast iron columns with waterleaf capitals. Above, three pairs of small round arched windows, and above again, a round louvred opening with four keystones. Under the verandah, fitted benches, a doorway and two windows.”
In 1911, a proposal was made to transfer tuberculosis patients to the main hospital building and convert the Isolation Hospital to a separate facility for 25 private patients, with some to be accommodated in single rooms. Profit seemed to be part of the motive, as the plan was for these patients to be charged a premium of 50 per cent above the rate charged to private patients housed in the main building. However, wider planning considerations at the asylum meant that this plan was shelved until after the end of the First World War.
The Isolation Hospital has now been converted into private residences, but the listed features remain. In particular the top of the south-facing veranda is just visible above the hedges on the north side of Eliot Way – it’s possible to make out the arched windows and round keystoned opening above the tops of the columns. Worth a look if you’re passing by.