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Photo gallery: Inscribed bricks help to build picture of Thorpe St Andrew hospital’s past

PUBLISHED: 12:00 05 March 2013 | UPDATED: 12:27 05 March 2013

Some of the carved bricks rescued from the old Thorpe Hospital building during it's partial demolition are being cared for by town council chairman Steven Ford and Janet Smith, former chair of the Thorpe History Group.

Some of the carved bricks rescued from the old Thorpe Hospital building during it's partial demolition are being cared for by town council chairman Steven Ford and Janet Smith, former chair of the Thorpe History Group. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Archant Norfolk

An insight into wartime life in a hospital has been salvaged, as bulldozers begin the demolition of a mid-19th century mental hospital in Thorpe St Andrew.

St Andrew’s Hospital history

Building of the Norfolk Lunatic Asylum in Yarmouth Road, Thorpe St Andrew, was completed in early 1814. It continued to be expanded until it could care for around 140 patients in the late 1850s.

An auxiliary asylum, St Andrew’s House, was completed north of Yarmouth Road in 1881, allowing 700 patients to be accommodated. The two sites were, and still are, connected by a bridge over Yarmouth Road.

In April 1889, the institution was renamed the Norfolk County Asylum, and, after modernisation, had room for more than 1,000 patients.

During World War One most of the patients were evacuated to other institutions across eastern England and in 1915 the asylum became the Norfolk War Hospital for military casualties.

When the asylum was re-converted in 1920 it was named Norfolk Mental Hospital, although the local use of the alternative, St Andrew’s Hospital, was officially recognised from January 1924 onwards.

During World War Two the hospital was used as a multi-purpose hospital and received refugees, evacuees and civilian casualties in cleared wards, but maintained its complement of mental patients.

From the 1950s onwards, St Andrew’s spent most of its years as an NHS hospital under threat of closure and was eventually closed in April 1998.

The original grade II listed hospital buildings from 1814, to the south of Yarmouth Road, have since been converted into private housing.

St Andrew’s House was used as offices by the Norfolk Primary Care Trust until 2007 and in January 2011 the 13-acre site was put on the market by NHS Norfolk with a price tag of £2m.

Parts of the former St Andrew’s Hospital, on what is now St Andrew’s Business Park, are being demolished to make way for development.

The Victorian St Andrew’s House and its 13-acre site was put up for sale by NHS Norfolk in January 2011 with a £2m price tag and was subsequently purchased by Christian entrepreneur Graham Dacre’s Lind Trust.

It is understood the Lind Trust is preparing to submit a planning application to Broadland District Council later this month to build a business park on the site and intends to keep some of the original features of St Andrew’s House.

But before turning its attentions to the future, the developer has ensured some irreplaceable bricks from the past have been preserved.

Thorpe St Andrew Town Council clerk, Steven Ford, explained: “During the two world wars there were many refugees from all over Europe at the hospital.

“During the First World War it stopped being used as a mental hospital and became a military base, for want of a better word, for injured soldiers.”

And it seems the people based at St Andrew’s Hospital wanted to make sure they could leave behind messages for future generations – by carving inscriptions into the hospital’s bricks.

Mr Ford continued: “They are interesting inscriptions. One of the bricks has a hammer and sickle, one of them has the Prince of Wales feathers.

“There are sergeant’s stripes, one with a five-point star and two have inscriptions that turned out to be some sort of medication (nux vomica) that was prescribed to people at the time.

“Underneath it describes the symptoms of a burning sensation in the throat and swelling of the eyes etcetera, and there is another one which was a poisonous berry used for the treatment of people with depression.”

It is not the first time such wartime inscriptions have been found in the area.

At Ditchingham Maltings, near Bungay, similar inscriptions from American servicemen were handed over to the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum for preservation as demolition of the former Second World War warehouse got under way towards the end of last year.

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse museum, near Dereham, also has a collection of brick inscriptions.

Now, Thorpe town council is hoping to learn more about the St Andrew’s inscriptions, with Mr Ford adding: “The existence of the bricks was flagged up to us by Peter Rope, the town’s tree warden, and we contacted the developers to ask if we could take some photos of the bricks in situ.

“Unfortunately, due to the snow and various reasons, that didn’t happen, but Fincham Demolitions carefully extracted the bricks and passed them on to the town council for safe-keeping.

“So we would like to know more about the history of the bricks. What we would really like is for people who have pictures of the bricks in situ to contact us, because now they have been removed there are almost more questions than answers.”

It is hoped the town council will eventually be able to use the bricks as a historical panel in the wall of a new village hall, which it is hoping to fund in the coming years.

Anyone who can tell the town council more about the brick inscriptions can get in contact with Mr Ford by sending an email to

- Have you got a Thorpe story for the Evening News? Contact Norwich Evening News reporter David Freezer on 01603 772418, or

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