The Foster Building, St Lawrence’s Hospital

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© Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Limited (2013). All rights reserved. (1907).

At this present time the unused remains of St Lawrence’s Hospital – a complex known collectively as the Foster Building – is a contested site. Destined for demolition, the views, experiences and memories of this collection of buildings inevitably differ.

For some, the buildings signify the historic St Lawrence’s Hospital as a whole, for others the most important building within the complex is Foster Hall.

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© Whatever’s Left 2006-2013. All rights reserved.

Is this a site of cultural or historical significance – a unique part of Cornish heritage, or just another example of an early 20th century hospital building, many examples of which exist across England? Is this a building which contains important memories, also serving as a physical reminder of changing attitudes towards mental illness – memories worthy of preservation? Can this site serve as a focus for recording a history of mental health in Cornwall, or is it a derelict eyesore, marked by stigma and a drain on precious resources, whose value lies in demolition and redevelopment? Should it be saved, protected and turned into a community resource, in a way which preserves its heritage for future generations?

Despite the Foster Building not being recommended for listed status by English Heritage, it is an important part of the Duchy’s heritage, as part of the old St Lawrence’s Hospital (known previously as the Cornwall County Asylum) and as a site in its own right.

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© Examining Mental Illness in Cornwall 2013. All rights reserved.

Built in the early part of the 20th century, to alleviate the main hospital’s problem with overcrowding, the Foster Building was named after Henry Durett Foster, in recognition of his work for the institution. The renowned Cornish architect Silvanus Trevail was chosen to design the new building, opened three years after his suicide in 1903 following his own apparent struggle with mental illness.

We feel the story of St Lawrence’s Hospital has an important place within the history of Cornwall, highlighted by the imminent demise of the Foster Building. We wish to explore, collect, record and share many aspects of this history up to the present day – which means different views, experiences and memories – and we invite people to contribute, offer feedback and commentary.

References

C. T. Andrews, The Dark Awakening: A History of St. Lawrence’s Hospital Bodmin (1978)

Foster Hall Revival Trust http://www.fosterhall.org/

The Silvanus Trevail Society www.luxsoft.demon.co.uk/sts

Cornish Buildings Group https://sites.google.com/site/cornishbuildingsgroup/

Whatever’s Left, ‘St Lawrence’s Asylum, Bodmin’ http://www.whateversleft.co.uk/

‘End of an era?’ Cornish Guardian May 1st 2013

‘Last hurdle preventing demolition of Bodmin’s Foster Hall is overcome’ Cornish Guardian May 1st 2013 [online edition]

‘Calls to save historic building’ Cornish Guardian April 17th 2013

‘No consultation on demolition plans’ Cornish Guardian March 27th 2013

‘Calls to step up and save Foster Hall’ Cornish Guardian October 12th 2012 [online edition]

‘Pasty boss steps in to save Foster Hall’ Cornish Guardian May 16th 2012 [online edition]

‘Demolition of Foster Hall ‘would be a scandal for town’ Cornish Guardian October 5th 2011 [online edition]

‘Scandal over £1.5m to rent derelict site’ Cornish Guardian June 1st 2011 [online edition]

With thanks to Bodmin Town Museum, Bodmin Tourist Information Centre, Cornwall Record Office and Whatever’s Left. 

 

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