All About Ticehurst, Flimwell and Stonegate

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The History of The Priory Ticehurst House


The PrioryIn 1792 Samuel Newington opened The Priory Ticehurst House (then known as Ticehurst House) near Wadhurst as a place dedicated to the care and treatment of psychiatric illness­.  Today, over 215 years later, as part of the Priory Group, Ticehurst is a leading private hospital specialising in psychological medicine.  Specialist units, headed by leading psychiatrists and health care specialists, offer a broad based range of support for problems in the cases of depression, addictions, anxiety and stress, fatigue syndromes, personality disorders, schizophrenia, traumatic stress disorder, sexual and relationship difficulties, adolescent mental health and enduring mental health problems.

Set in 47 acres of gardens and parkland, The Priory Ticehurst House is elegantly proportioned with a tranquil atmosphere.  There are 50 beds for adult and adolescent patients.

When Ticehurst House was first opened in 1792 it coincided with a stirring of public interest in the care of the mentally ill, sparked off by King George III’s ‘insanity’.  The unfortunate monarch had been confined to a palace room for the duration of his ‘treatment’. Dr Samuel Newington did not approve of this.  He opened Ticehurst House as an asylum. It should be remembered that the original meaning of asylum was ‘sanctuary’ or ‘place of refuge’.

The role of the asylums until then had been largely custodial, with extensive use made of mechanical means of restraint, such as manacles and chains
The abhorrent practice of allowing the public into the Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem in London, (the infamous Bedlam) to gawp at patients for 2d a time, ended in 1770.

Samuel Newington had been the Ticehurst village surgeon and apothecary. His patients were initially drawn from local Sussex and Kent county parishes within a 13-mile radius of Ticehurst.  The records of one set of admissions at the time showed eleven clergymen, one admiral, one ships captain, one merchant, one surgeon, one druggist and one clerk from India House.  The preponderance of clergyman may reflect pressures on younger sons to enter the church should they have been unsuited for the army or the ‘professions’. Those unblessed with a sense of vocation could have found themselves depressingly isolated in a country living. Old records also show that treatment at Ticehurst was a benevolent affair.  Patients were allowed pipes, tobacco and snuff; delicacies such as gingerbread, candy and oranges, wine and port, together with books and magazines.   Treatment must have been a success - the average stay was just a few months.  Country pursuits provided relaxation: evidenced by bills for fishing tackle. One patient was even permitted to ride and use his gun­! 

From relatively modest beginnings, Ticehurst developed during the 19th  century into a grandiose estate covering around 500 acres. It attracted an affluent clientele, including aristocratic and prominent society figures. Some patients, who came with a regime of servants, took up residence in one of the villas within the grounds.

 Theatrical and musical entertainment was a regular occurrence, with weekly dances in the winter months. Patients also played cricket and other games within the estate.

Two home farms supplied the Ticehurst estate with meat, dairy products and fruit.  Vegetables came from the magnificent walled kitchen garden, while an elaborate system of coke boilersand pipes provided heat to the hot houses.  Luxury fruits such as peaches and early strawberries were cultivated here.

The Model for Kew Gardens

Men demobilised after the Battle of Waterloo landscaped over 40 acres of grounds. Two miles of footpaths were laid out through estate plantations, orchards and grounds.The therapeutic walks circumnavigated three summerhouses - one fashionably gothic - two pheasantries, a moss-house, pagoda, hermitage and bowling green.  The result is said to have been the model for Kew Gardens. Ticehurst developed a fine reputation during the 19th century, for the empathetic and effective quality of its medical treatment as well as for good living. The enthusiasm of the Dr Newington then in charge at Ticehurst is shown in a patients amusing tongue in cheek letter to a friend. Describing Newingtons’ view of the place as a ‘paradise on earth’, the letter goes on to ‘wonder that everyone does not rush to be confined’.

Sweeping Changes

However, in the mid-twentieth century, the army of staff - including thirty gardeners - meant that fees charged no longer covered expenses and in 1970 the Newington family finally sold their shares in the hospital.

Under the ownership of Nestor Medical services Ticehurst underwent radical changes to become a leading modern mental health service provider.  In 1995, managers and directors within Nestor undertook a management buy-out to become Libra Health Ltd.  In 1997 Libra Healthcare was purchased by Westminster Health Care Ltd, who in turn purchased Priory Healthcare in 2000.  This is when the hospital name changed from Ticehurst House Hospital to The Priory Ticehurst House.  Westminster Healthcare divided in 2002 with Westminster Healthcare undergoing a management buy out in March, and Priory Healthcare undergoing a management buy out 3 months later. Priory Healthcare has once again changed its name, and is now the Priory Group.  The hospital is one of 16 independent psychiatric hospitals, 23 specialist schools, 4 secure units and 6 Grange units within Priory Group.  Services at The Priory Ticehurst House include adult General Psychiatry, a specialist addiction unit, adult trauma services, adolescent acute psychiatry, including services for those with more complex needs and service for adults with enduring mental health issues (The Priory Grange Ticehurst House).  In-patient, day care and out-patient services are available.

Contact Details

 The Priory Ticehurst House
Nr Wadhurst
East Sussex

Telephone: 01580 200 391
Fax: 01580 201 006
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