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Christmas Day 2020, and for the first time in my life I was going to spend the whole day alone. Not a problem – but I did want to do something a bit different.

For months I had been wanting to take photos of and write a blog post on a beautiful complex of buildings a couple of miles east of the lovely cathedral city of Wells, and just 20 minutes from where I live. The sun god gave its blessing in the morning, and I drove to South Horrington, a village centred around a converted 19th century mental hospital. The hospital’s principal architect was the prolific Sir (George) Gilbert Scott, 1811-1878, known mainly for his ecclesiastical work, but who designed many workhouses and asylums in the early stages of his career. Reading Gaol, St Pancras station and the Albert Memorial all appear in his portfolio of more than 800 buildings, designed or altered.

Later known as Mendip Hospital, this complex opened as the Somerset and Bath Pauper Lunatic Asylum on 1st March, 1848. It soon filled beyond its capacity, attics were turned into dormitories, and its principal psychiatric function was transferred in 1897 to the Tone Vale Hospital near Taunton. But it continued to house long-stay elderly and mentally infirm patients, until 1991 when it was closed under the Care in the Community policy. It was then converted into ‘luxury’ flats and houses, which I discovered in 2011 when I was about to return from France and looking for somewhere to live. I did not pursue the idea of living there for a number of practical reasons, but aesthetic distaste was not among them!

I had driven round the grounds on a few occasions since, but this was the first time I had got out of my car. I parked in:

(A strangely tatty entrance panel for such a beautiful and prestigious site)
(I took this photo towards the end of my stroll, my car being parked by the ‘D’ of ‘Road’, bottom right.)

I have not been able to find the significance of the various colours, and indeed I have been able to find very little detail, historic or otherwise, about the buildings as a whole, apart from the links I have indicated. Given that Gilbert Scott designed so many such, perhaps this is not so surprising.

Looking back from where I parked,
and walking on.
The splendid entrance to the building. An apartment in here is for sale at the time of writing.

I walked clockwise around the complex.

This corner particularly appealed, though I imagine it gets little, if any, sun.
The part jutting out on the left is opposite the main entrance.
The chapel’s spire appears over a collection of houses
One of the reasons I did not, ten years ago, pursue the idea of living here was the assumption that I would not be allowed to have a cat flap in my front door. The building is Grade II listed. But, although I saw several of these notices, I saw people out walking their dogs, always on a leash.
To the Chapel without getting wet
The residences on the right appear as old as the rest of the complex, but…
The Chapel also is converted into accommodation units.
Well, maybe catflaps are allowed…

I should love to know more about the arches below, and hoped to find that there was some society interested in the history of the place. All I have found is the Friends of the Mendip Hospital Cemetery.

The cemetery is a mile or so away towards Wells, and I did look in 2011 at a property, the back garden of which abuts on to it. I was tempted. To have a nature reserve at my back garden would have been wonderful. There was just a lovely low stone wall between the bottom of the sloping garden and the cemetery, and wonderful views beyond the it to distant wooded hills. But the house needed too much work.

Towards the end of my walk, I got chatting with this couple (with dog!). They had lived in South Horrington, at three different addresses, for 20 years. They loved it, and they particularly extolled the walks there were in various directions, including Wells city just 20 minutes away.

Completing the circuit to my car took me along a footpath and past Fire Engine Cottage.

And for some silly reason I took a selfie.

Here’s wishing you a much happier New Year!