Thursday 19 August 2010


Image courtesy of Daily Mail and Wikimedia Commons
Many of you will already know that Barry and I live in a village in Berkshire. Crowthorne is not an attractive, chocolate box spot with thatched roofs and roses round the door, but more of a place you travel through to reach somewhere else. Since the bypass was built about twenty years ago most people don't even have to go anywhere near it now. I say that we live in the village but that is rather misleading for although our postal address is Crowthorne, geographically we live in Wokingham Without. (Without what, you may ask.)
Crowthorne is known mainly for two institutions – Wellington College, originally a boys' independent school but now co-educational. Fees are around £30,000 per annum. At the other end of the village, on the edge of the forest, is Broadmoor Hospital, the best-known of England's three high-security psychiatric hospitals. It houses 260 men and costs about £100,000 per patient per annum. During the First World War part of the hospital was used as a prisoner of war camp for German soldiers who were mentally ill. It was known as Crowthorne War Hospital.

Image courtesy of Sun and Wikimedia Commons
In 1952 one of the inmates escaped and murdered a local five-year-old girl. Local residents called for a warning method to alert the community to escapes and a system of warning sirens was established. These are based on the air-raid sirens so familiar during the Second World War and are tested for two minutes every Monday morning at 10:00. The two-note wail is then followed by a single tone 'all clear' for another two minutes. Every school within hearing of the siren has procedures to follow if the alarm warns of an escape. Basically, the schools lock all doors and windows and children are not allowed to leave except into the care of a known adult. It only happened once when I was teaching, in 1991, and it was not a pleasant experience.
Escapes are rare - the last serious one, in 1991, was of a child rapist. Road blocks were set up and vehicles were checked. At the time, Barry was just starting out for a run with the dogs. On the track entering the forest police had strung a tape on the understanding, presumably, that no-one would think to go either side of it. They stopped Barry and showed him a photo of the escapee and said, 'If you see him, run back here and tell us'. They had no intention of going into the trees!
Barry didn't see the escapee but he was recaptured two days later.
Many years ago a patient escaped but was so frightened by the unfamiliarity of the outside world that he gave himself up very soon.
It is thought but not proven that Jack the Ripper, who murdered prostitutes in the London of the 1880s, was Thomas Cutbush. He was a main suspect in the murders, which ceased after his arrest. He was committed to Broadmoor after being declared insane and died there in 1903.
Another murderer who was in Broadmoor for a time was Robert Maudsley. He was the inspiration for Hannibal Lecter. Current patients include the Yorkshire Ripper and the Stockwell Strangler.
One of the most interesting inmates was W C Minor, a retired American army surgeon. He was not considered a danger and so was allowed to buy books from London. Through his association with booksellers he learnt of the call for entries to what would become the Oxford English Dictionary. He sent thousands of contributions to the editor, Dr James Murray, who became very interested in his prolific correspondent and subsequently visited him in Broadmoor.
The hospital provides employment for many local people. It is often said, rather unkindly, that the nurses are more frightening than the patients! | must say that the ones we've met, walking their dogs, are friendly and have a great sense of humour. That must help in a job that could be soul-destroying. It's hard to find humanity in men who have committed such heinous crimes but, as the Quakers say, we must strive to find 'that of God' in every man.


  1. Your Broadmoor is similar to the state hospital near which I live. I am not aware of any well-known murderers who have been incarcerated there. I read an account from 2007 that indicated there were about 250 criminal (forensic) patients living in the hospital. At one time the hospital handled 3000 patients. A while back a man who murdered a young girl was placed in the state hospital. The man escaped and, as far as I know, he has never been captured. Most times you wouldn't even know there are criminals (or psychiatric patients) housed in the state hospital. Escapes rarely happen. A number of years ago my neighbor told me that someone from the hospital showed up in their back yard, stark naked. The state hospital grounds are beautiful. I have walked or bicycled through the grounds many times.

  2. It is impossible for the public to get into Broadmoor grounds. It is, effectively, a very secure and well-guarded prison.

  3. what an interesting place ! I love to read crime stories, lol ! Indeed it is very hard to work in such a hospital, not everybody can do it. I admire those people.
    I am back home (sob) apparently it had rained here the whole week. I was lucky we only had rain whole day on Monday. In London it was lovely weather, but it looks now as a big construction site because of the Olympics ! what a mess. But I had a very nice day to visit my old places.

  4. Glad to hear you had a good holiday. Any construction work in London creates chaos, particularly for traffic.

  5. Interesting to learn about your community. The 1991 escape sounds like a scary event. I admire the nurses who could work full time in a psychiatric institute. They would have to be mentally tough to survive.

  6. I read a book written about the man who contributed to the Oxford Dictionary. I can't remember his full name but he is well known and his first name is Simon -- whoops it just popped into my head -- Simon Winchester. Brilliant writer and a most entertaining speaker. I watched him give a lecture on TV and he was so good I read his books.
    Interesting blog!

  7. Janie - I agree. It's not a job I would relish.
    ChrisJ - I started reading 'The Surgeon of Crowthorne' some years ago - must finish it one day! I'll probably have to start from the beginning again :-)


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