Nicola Kirk: Author and Collector of Paranormal Stories and Other Strange Encounters

Bird’s eye view:  Cane Hill Mental Asylum

What is it about disused hospitals that’s so interesting?  I mean, I’m assuming it’s not just me who gets a strange sort of thrill out of nosing through old hospital records and inspecting questionable machinery?

Well, thanks to the wonders of the internet, it is no longer necessary for you and I to go sneaking around boarded up buildings whilst attempting to dodge security guards wielding angry Alsatians because… you can always find someone who’s already done all the dangerous stuff for you – urban explorers are worth their weight in gold!  (Health & Safety bit – I am in no way suggesting that you all go out and invade your nearest derelict hospital armed with torches and ski masks.  Urban Exploration can be a very hazardous turnout and is best left to the experts…  No, really, it is.)

One place that grabs my undivided attention with both hands is Cane Hill, an old psychiatric hospital in Coulsdon.  It opened in 1882 and was capable of holding over 2,000 patients (apparently in 1953 they had about 2,400 people stuffed in there). Cane Hill finally shut up shop in 1991.  Sadly, once it closed, the hospital suffered terribly at the hands of arsonists and a general lack of maintenance, so many of the floors soon fell through or were so spongy you took your life in your hands if you walked on them but Cane Hill still remained an incredible place.  Sadly, demolition of the vast hospital began in March 2008 and was due to have been completed in January 2010, leaving only a couple of the original buildings standing.  I guess all good things have to come to an end.

Urban Decay: A ward at Cane Hill

Both Michael Caine and David Bowie had half brothers who attended Cane Hill and Charlie Chaplin’s mother also went there until Charlie could afford private care for her.  Treatments dished out at Cane Hill varied from electroshock therapy to hydrotherapy and as time passed they even cracked out some light and art therapy, too.  I know which ones I would opt for…

The dentist will see you now…

Cane Hill was, of course, a ghost hunter magnet.  How could it not be with its deserted corridors and spooky old chapel.  There are stories of  security men patrolling the site with their hard-as-nails dogs, only to have the animals run away whimpering from a figure seen wandering amongst the trees.  Upon further investigation, the grave of Cane Hill’s first superintendent was discovered amongst the undergrowth.

My favourite urban explorer, Simon Cornwell, documented Cane Hill over the years so I highly recommend a visit to his website to see the photos (link below).  During a visit to the enormous chapel they have on site, Simon came away with some interesting ‘spectral mist’ photos, one of which I have cheekily added here:

A strange mist plagues Urban Explorers at the Cane Hill chapel

To be honest, I don’t think Cane Hill needs reams of ghost stories to enforce the fact it was a brilliant place.  As you will see from the photos on this post, and if you visit other Urban Explorer websites (from whence these photos came, thanks guys), it’s clear just how enigmatic and intriguing the place was.

The Effects of Arson and Bad Weather

Cane Hill Asylum – you will be missed…


©Nicola Kirk and 2010

Photos used on this post are linked to their original sources.


Abandoned Britain


Croydon Guardian

Simon Cornwell – Urbex


Contamination Zone


  1. my auntie and uncle both worked at cane hill
    and i remember going to visit them each summer for years
    inside the complex was a large old style british pub with snooker tables bowling lawns and also a outdoor swimming pool out the back
    the grounds were fabolous for us youngsters to run wild in
    il certainly miss it for tht reason
    id love to go and see it now

    • Thanks for your message – unfortunately, I don’t think there’s much left of Cane Hill these days. I think the developers have got their hands on it 😦

  2. My friends and I got into Cane Hill quite recently, late last year (December 11) Admittedly, it was a more recent building, had been abandoned since 05 though…we didn’t explore too far in as the halls were pitch black and we only had 2 measly torches. But we found an old photograph of a family (Odd thing to leave behind?) Some diary’s and writing on the walls saying “To be or not to be_?”
    We spent about an hour and a half in there until a man with an Alsation came, shouted at us and told us to leave. We didn’t argue, we were just grateful he didn’t call the police.
    So to everyone saying it’s no longer accesible, that’s not entirely true…
    We were lucky to get in to be fair, there was a fence around a certain building, but there was a hole in this fence, followed by a ten foot gate, with the door open!! We walked though the gate and up to the door of the building which opened quite happily. The gate may be locked now, but it’s worth having a look if you’re careful not to get caught.

  3. Ella Brockhouse said:

    Hi there,
    I was planning to go and have another look at the Cain Hill site soon, but I have been reading they have knocked it down 😦 that’s sad and I enjoy looking through the pictures and reading about it, I get like that over old run down hospitals or places that are a bit scary.

    I did go up there last year but yes they do have guards and I couldn’t find any other way in? So I just had to leave. But I would like to see what’s left but I don’t think they’d let me 😦 how does everyone else get in there but I can’t?

    I like the info and the pictures you have put up they are very interesting and they have made me understand a lot more about the Asylum.
    Please Email me. Thanks Ella Brockhouse.

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