A geography of stigma

The picture below is of the main building to Princess Park Manor, a luxury housing development in North London, that used to be Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum.

A recent newspaper article about the apartments notes how they have become an attraction for pop singers and reality TV stars.

The Princess Park Manor website lauds the historic buildings but has a history section that completely avoids the fact that the building was an asylum – Europe’s biggest no less.

But this attempt to distance the local area from associations with mental illness is not a new phenomenon. In fact, this area of London has been uniquely affected by trying to dissociate itself from the hospital.

The asylum was so named because it was located in a historic area called Colney Hatch.

As the hospital became infamous in London (it housed almost 3,500 patients at one stage so became well-known), the Colney Hatch name became irreversibly associated with madness. Being called a ‘Colney Hatch case’ was a standard insult.

As a result, simply being associated with the area was stigmatising and house prices began to be affected.

The solution was to rename the whole area to New Southgate. The train station was similarly renamed – originally called ‘Colney Hatch and Southgate’ and then ‘Southgate and Colney Hatch’ but finally the mention of the feared name was omitted entirely, settling with just ‘New Southgate’.

Eventually, the hospital itself was renamed to ‘Friern Hospital’

In fact, the only reference to Colney Hatch that remains in the area is the road Colney Hatch Lane which can also be called the B550 if you prefer.

Curiously though, the hospital had its own cemetery on site although I could find no trace of it on my explorations. Presumably it has been built over as the rest of the estate was sold off.
 

Link to piece on the history of the area.

4 Comments

  1. Posted June 17, 2012 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    Wow-great story. So curious such things happen in so most parts of the world. And from your presentation of the Asylum there isn’t even a hint of odd goings in this facility. Many former Asylums have colorful, tragic, intractable corruption and so on. Sounds like this spot was not spooked over the centuries from bad luck.

    Thank you for such a strong and solid manifestation of the geography of stigma. You must love your work.

    Kevin Keough

  2. Posted June 17, 2012 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    Really interesting. I wonder about the regionality of this. Here they called them “State Schools” before they unceremoniously tossed patients out into the street. Still earned historical building designation, though.

    On an unrelated note, didn’t Jefferson Starship undergo just as many name changes?

  3. OPH
    Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I can strongly recommend the book ‘London Orbital’ by Iain Sinclair – primarily an account of his walk around the outer reaches of London (interesting in it’s own right) but it covers some of the former asylums in some detail. There are a number of them, and they all appear to have been turned in to ‘luxury housing developments’.

  4. Jim Smith
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    The train station at Hanwell in West London is called Hanwell & Elthorne for exactly the same reason – Hanwell was another Victorian asylum, and the station name was changed so that people could say they were going to Elthorne instead of ‘going to Hanwell’, meaning going mad.

    Elthorne didn’t really exist as a dwelling until the renaming – Elthorne was a Saxon hundred covering the whole of the area from Ealing to Uxbridge, so naming one station Elthorne was a bit like calling Oxford Street station ‘London’.

    Odd that Hanwell didn’t get completely erased and Colney Hatch did…


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