Demolition imminent….


We had the privilege today of spending some time with Cathy, and the lovely people at St Lawrence’s Social Club, where we received a very warm welcome indeed. This was a fantastic opportunity to meet some of the staff who have worked at the hospital over the years, and we would like to say thank you to all involved.

Sadly, this did mean we saw the latest step in the demolition of the Foster complex of buildings, including Foster Hall. It would appear nothing more can be done to protect or save this beautiful, and historically important, building. [Although the Cornish Buildings Group have an update on this, please see comments on this post].

We feel the photographs speak for themselves. However, if anyone more photographically skilled than we are manages to go and capture the forlorn feeling coming from behind those new barriers, or wishes to record the demolition of this historic site, please contact us.








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


Strong Clothing: ‘Held’

From ‘A History of Cornwall in 100 Objects’, part of the BBC ‘A History of the World’ project. These items are on display in Bodmin Museum.

According to the article accompanying this image, ‘once the mere whisper of Bodmin’s lunatic asylum, St Lawrence’s, was enough to put the fear of God into Cornish men and women’ and the dark dress on the right, which would have been worn by women from the 1890s onwards, was ‘a poignant reminder of the uniform stigma of lunacy.’

An exhibition at Plymouth Arts Centre offers a new perspective on the subject of clothing, specifically, ‘Strong Clothing’, used in late nineteenth and early twentieth century asylums like St. Lawrences. Often regarded as inhumane forms of controlling patients, ‘Held’ by Jane Fradgley (currently showing until 16 June 2013) is a series of photographs that seek to show how “dignity and comfort for the wearer” are also part of the story of these “well-constructed garments”.

© Jane Fradgley 2013.

Fradgley was initially inspired by photographs taken by Henry Hering of patients in Bethlam in 1856. One shows a young woman, Emma Riches, in a thickly quilted garment with the hand of another person, possibly a nurse, seemingly offering comfort.

© The Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives and Museum

The BBC piece suggests that a culture of fear was prevalent around asylums like St. Lawrence’s and conforms to accepted representations of the historic ill-treatment of vulnerable mentally ill people. By contrast, Jane’s work offers us an alternative perspective on attitudes to both patients and those who provided care and clothing for them. It is well worth a visit to Plymouth Arts Centre to see the photos for yourself.

For more information on this fascinating exhibition, visit:

Jane’s work also forms part of a further event: ‘held: a symposium on restraint and strong clothing’, taking place on Wednesday July 31st, 5pm – 8pm, at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, as part of the ‘Damaging the Body’ series. Entry is free, and all are welcome. The symposium aims to offer a variety of perspectives on restraint in the care of the mentally ill, both past and present. More details can be found here:


The Foster Building, St Lawrence’s Hospital


© 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.


© 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.


© 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.


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

Foster Hall Revival Trust

The Silvanus Trevail Society

Cornish Buildings Group

Whatever’s Left, ‘St Lawrence’s Asylum, Bodmin’

‘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.