Beech House at St. Augustine’s Hospital

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Certainly not a Preparatory School

Every one of the boys in its care was a patient and suffered with a mental illnesses or emotional disturbance. Their conditions had led many into conflict with the law, family or the wider public.

St Augustine’s Hospital was a psychiatric hospital, originally founded as the East Kent County Asylum in 1872. The hospital was incorporated into the National Health Service when it was established in 1948.

Requirements of the 1845 Lunacy Act

The 1845 Lunacy Act made it a legal requirement for counties to provide mental asylum facilities. A site at Chartham near Canterbury was chosen for the second Kent County Asylum (the first was at Margate).

The ‘Commissioners in Lunacy’ selected the site which satisfied certain basic stipulations, being on elevated ground with a bright vista, near to a town and railway station so that family members could visit easily. Trees were planted around the boundary, as was usual, lest the local population be reminded of its existence. No doubt, the architects would have said that the trees were to provide shelter in the exposed position.

Enlightened – for the times

Other, relatively enlightened requirements were for there to be enough land to enable employment and leisure for patients (or inmates as they were known), with segregation from the local population. The site, on a ridge overlooking the valley of the Great Stour, is on the edge of Chartham Downs, an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. As was usual, the hospital had the full range of facilities expected in a small, self-contained community, including a cricket pitch, shop, chapel and even a cemetery. The hospital was dominated by a huge seven-storey water tower.

Where do we House and Treat Challenged and Damaged Children?

The most challenged and damaged children have to be housed and schooled somewhere, and Beech House was such an institution. This is where Susan’s brother became a patient. It could become worse for him – and it did.

Notorious Alumni

Susan’s brother told me that Patrick Mackay was a patient at Beech House in the early 1960s. In 1975 Mackay was sentenced to life imprisonment for three murders (having been charged with five). He eventually confessed to a total of eleven murders.