We have asked our team of lovely Heritage volunteers to contribute to our blog. They’ve chosen pieces with their favourite stories behind them from our Collection to write about. Many of these you can see on display in our museum, Woking’s Story. The first instalment, written by Rosemary, explores the history behind the plait of hair from Brookwood Hospital.

The plait of female human hair on display in Woking’s Story dates from the mid-late nineteenth century. It was cut off a patient at Brookwood Hospital but we do not know if it was removed as a punishment or because the hair was affected by vermin. The Lightbox has the collection of items which were formerly in the museum at Brookwood Hospital and it is possible that the plait came from the collection of the hospital’s first superintendent, Dr Thomas Brushfield who ran the hospital on humane lines and assembled many items which reflected past practice. He is remembered in the name “Brushfield Way” in Knaphill.

Brookwood Asylum was established in 1867 as the second county asylum in Surrey.  It was renamed “Brookwood Hospital” in 1919 and closed in 1994 when changes in the care of the patients took place. The site is now occupied by housing, a large Homebase and Sainsbury’s store and the hospital’s 1875 building retains its original external character as luxury flats, Florence Court. The hospital chapel, which seated 800, is now a Buddhist Temple.

The hospital was built to house 650 “pauper lunatics” on 150 acres and was a self-contained village with its own farm, cobblers, printing works and fire brigade. The number of patients steadily increased with additional accommodation being built until, by 1938, there were 1,753 patients. The hospital was a happy place to work and was one of the major employers of Knaphill, the highlight of the year for staff and patients being the August Bank Holiday Fête.

If you would like to find out more about the Brookwood Hospital, then make sure to pick up a copy of Alison Craze’s book ‘From Asylum to Community Care. A history of Brookwood Hospital told by those who lived and worked there’ from our Gift Shop.

Image credit: Plait of Hair © Alicia Foley, 1997