Building of the Month November 2023: Former St Andrews Asylum, Northside, Thorpe St Andrew, Norwich, Norfolk NR7 0HT

St. Andrews Asylum, also known as the Norfolk Lunatic Asylum Annexe is an abandoned former mental hospital east of Norwich, in the borough of Thorpe St Andrew. It was a vast complex arrangement of traditional H-shaped buildings all linked with a straight trunk corridor.

Whilst the main grade II listed Norfolk County Asylum, also known as Southside, has been refurbished into luxury housing, Northside remains derelict. In 2012, two-thirds of the site was cleared, and for reasons yet unknown, the decision was made to leave only the clocktower and two ranges on either side, as well as the former mortuary and pavilion. This remaining section of the building is currently unlisted and has no protection.

Designed by the architects Cornish and Gaymer in 1881, the building was modelled on Metropolitan Asylums Board institutions at Leavesden and Caterham, for "chronic lunatics, imbeciles and idiots". The buildings were to be of "somewhat plain, simple and comparatively cheap construction", later described as "a sort of go-between the Asylum and the Workhouse". Construction began shortly after and the building was laid out in a two-story ‘H’ shape with large and somewhat barn-like male and female wards linked, or rather separated, by an administrative cross-section, behind which lay a single-story complex of kitchens and staff rooms. Built from Norfolk red bricks in Flemish bond, with decorative contrasting white bricks in window headers, it also contains smart dogtooth dentils at the eaves and a slate roof. It is rumoured that St. Andrews was only one of two original asylums that had a curved corridor. 

During World War I the hospital was used by the military authorities as a War Hospital. Details of this period in the hospital’s history are to be found in the Annual Reports, 1915-1920. The Asylum became known as the Norfolk Mental Hospital in 1920 and the name was again changed to its present title, St. Andrew’s Hospital, in 1923. In the period between the two wars, the hospital housed more than 1,100 patients. It operated as an NHS hospital, called Northside, until the building was finally made vacant in 2007, when the Norfolk Primary Care Trust, now NHS Norfolk, left for more modern accommodation.

The building is in a worrying condition, made worse by a recent fire in the tower. Mass demolition of the site has left both southern and northern elevations open to the elements. Internally, there is evidence of water ingress coming from the collapsed lath and plaster ceilings, which has slowly been seeping into the main hallway of the structure. The clocktowers windows are also missing, which will eventually lead to further damage if left uncovered, and this is where water appears to be getting in. Many original floorboards and fireplaces remain but the original sash windows have been removed and since boarded up. A planning application for the redevelopment of the site was submitted in 2015, but this appears to have lapsed.