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The former Holloway Sanatorium, Virginia Water, Runnymede, Surrey, as shown seen on the inside front cover of Holloway's Almanac and Family Friend (1892). A Grade I listed building, it was designed by William Henry Crossland (1835-1908), funded by Thomas Holloway to the tune of £300,000 (according to the Times report of the opening), and built as an asylum for the mentally ill in what was then Berkshire but is now Surrey. The name "sanatorium" was preferred because of the stigma attached to being admitted to an asylum (Shepherd 4). Jane Holloway, wife of the founder, laid the first brick in the spring of 1873, and the formal opening by the Prince and Princess of Wales, with other members of the royal family, took place on 15 June 1885 (reported in the Times of the following day, on p. 11). It is now a gated community of townhouses, having undergone a massive and painstaking restoration/conversion under the guidance of Historic England in thw 1990s.


Like Royal Holloway University of London, which was nearing completion at the time of the opening, it is of red brick with dressings of Portland stone, and has slate roofs. This building however, is in a different style, influenced not so much by French chateaux, as by Flemish town halls: Iain Nairn and Nikolaus Pevsner describe it as "a sort of Franco-Flemish brick and stone Gothic, carried through with a verve that is entirely his [Crossland's] own" (314). The towers are pinnacled, the main one set back fron the centre of the main frontage, tall, its pyramidal roof surmounted by a flêche: Nairn and Pevsner see it as "an almost literal transcription from the Yres Town Hall" and note that having the hall in front of it hides "the join of wings and tower with supreme self-confidence" (314). There are many decorative features — crow-stepped gables, dormers, gothic windows, and ranges of chimneystacks. The remodelling in 1995-96 modified the rear, in particular.


Interior scenes shown in the Illustrated London News of 20 June 1885, just after opening. Right: The whole-page spread of engravings, showing (top) the magnificent entrance hall for patients, with the grand staircase, next to the chapel. The inset circle on the left shows the Turkish-bath room; (middle) the Recreation Hall, now a swinming pool, but with the same hammerbeam roof, with, inset on the left, the "patients' villa"; (below) the Doctor's house, and next to it on the right one of the sitting rooms. The middle panel is enlarged in the right-hand image.

The original institution was very well-decorated, by the best craftsmen of the time: for instance, stained glass windows by Cottier & Co. The listing text talks of interior stencilling and painting, a grand staircase, hammerbeam roofs, etc., and these can be seen in a full-page spread of the Illustrated London News, as shown above. A visit by the Historic Hospitals organisation records some of it prior to the conversion in 1990s. Pictures taken then support what the listing text adds:

The Holloway Sanatorium was the most elaborate and impressive Victorian lunatic asylum in England, because it was the most lavish to be built for private patients, and it retains much of its original character and detailing. The quality of the external design and the decoration of the principal spaces is exceptional. It is the only example to be listed in grade I.

It was very clear, therefore, that this was intended for quite a different class of patients form those catered for at Brookwood Asylum at the other end (i.e. further from London) of Surrey. This in itself is of great interest, suggesting that despite the usual focus on the gender of patients (that is, women's particular problems), class was an even more important consideration when it came to "patient's diagnosis, incarceration, treatment and outcomes" (Shepherd 6).

Original Function

A chart from the Third Annual Report of 1888, showing the "station or occupation" of the patients then (Table XII, p. 34).

At the opening, the Prince of Wales said that "nobody, possessed of great wealth, could have employed it for more excellent object — namely, to relieve those of our fellow creatures who demand our assistance and our charity in order to alleviate their suffering." The emphasis was on the better-off patient, which it had started admitting in 1884, even before the official opening (see Richardson). Clearly, it was for a superior kind of inmate, somewhere between those who had only small means, and those who were more comfortably off but who could not have afforded the luxury of individual private care (although private rooms were also provided here). The original purpose was to cater for "200 patients, divided into four classes, 1st, 2nd, sick and feeble, and excited. All day-rooms, dormitories and single rooms had a south and south-western aspect. Attendants’ rooms were placed between day-rooms and dormitories with a glass window or doors of communication that allowed them to keep the patients under observation" (Richardson).

The charts for 1888 show that "gentlewomen" were by far the largest number admitted, a category made up of unmarried women of a good class, but perhaps without much in the way of financial resources. There were governesses too — and a female artist. Anna Shepherd warns us not to draw quick conclusions from this (see p. 3), but admits that women "accounted for most of the 'chronic' patients, and formed the bulk of the 'voluntary' boarders staying indefinitely at Holloway" (9). Many facilities were provided. The Almanac states: "The present staff consists of the Head male, and 18 day attendants on the male side, and two for night duty; and for the female divisions, a chief and two assistant Ladies’ Companions, 26 day attendants, and three night nurses...." (52). Note that there were more day attendants on the female side.

The institution prospered: according to the history site of the Chertsey Museum, "By 1892 the hospital had grown so much that the Annual Report states that it was fast approaching its limit. At this time there were 615 patients being treated for insanity cause by 'domestic and business troubles, worry and overwork.' Other causes were given as influenza, drink, nervous shock and sunstroke." The capacity of the sanatorium appears to have trebled since its inauguration. Nevertheless, it seems that it was soon going to have to turn people away.

Another chart from the Third Annual Report of 1888, showing the "probable causes" of patients' admission (Table X, p. 32).

The Hospital served its original purpose until it was taken over by the National Health Service soon after the Second World War. It is now a very upmarket complex of town houses, with a gated entry, called Virginia Park.

Related Materials


Elliott, J. "Crossland, William Henry (1835–1908), architect." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 24 September 2021.

"Former Holloway Sanatorium at Virginia Water." Historic England. Web. 24 September 2021.

"Holloway Sanatorium." Chertsey Museum. Web. 24 September 2021.

"The Holloway Sanatorium." Times, 16 June 1885: 11. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 24 September 2021.

"The Holloway Sanatorium, Virginia Water." Illustrated London News. 20 June 1885. Available on Wikimedia. Web. 24 September 2021.

Law, Edward. "William Henry Crossland, Architect, 1835-1908. Part 3." (Practice in London, travels and family.) Huddersfield and District History. Web. 24 September 2021.

Nairn, Ian, and Nikolaus Pevsner and Bridget Cherry. Surrey. Buildings of England series. 2nd ed. rev. by Cherry. London: Penguin, 1971.

Richardson, Harriet. "Holloway Sanatorium — Garish or Gorgeous?" Historic Hospitals. Web. 24 September 2021.

Shepherd, Ann. Institutionalizing the Insane in Nineteenth-Century England. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2016.

Third Annual Report of the Holloway Sanatorium: Registered Hospital for the Insane 1888. London: John Barker & Co. (printers). Internet Archive. Contributed by the Wellcome Institute. Web. 24 September 2021.

24 September 2021