The Park has been created on the former grounds of two mental hospitals.
Hill End Hospital
The northern area of the Park is where Hill End Hospital was located. It was opened in 1900 and closed in 1995. It even had its own railway line, which is now the Alban Way. The hospital was self sufficient with its own farms, kitchen gardens and orchards.
During the 2nd World War St Bartholomews Hospital was relocated to Hill End Hospital, to treat the war wounded and Londoners injured during the Blitz. During the battle of Dunkirk the hospital treated over 600 casualties in one week. St Bartholomews hospital eventually relocated back to the London by 1961.
In 1958 the hospitals farms closed, however the gardens remained and horticulture was added to the therapeutic activities offered. During this time a varied programme of entertainment was offered to patients which included film shows and dances. The wards were starting to be kept unlocked and were renamed using famous people’s names.
Only three of the original Hospital ward blocks now remain and these have been converted into social housing. The former Hospital Chapel has been redeveloped is now used by Trestle Arts Base. More information is provided in this factsheet History of Hill End Hospital
Cell Barnes Hospital
The south of the Park is where the Cell Barnes Hospital was located, opening in 1933 and closing in 1998. Like Hill End Hospital, Cell Barnes Hospital also had its own farm and gardens, with the farm closing in 1965.
The majority of the hospital buildings were demolished. Those that remain are Cell Barnes House, now in use by Emmaus, a charity, this was used as a Nurses Home. The Pill Packing Unit which has recently closed awaiting redevelopment on Highfield Lane, West Lodge, now the Trust’s Office. Ladybirds Nursery occupies part of what was a larger building used for staff training and the small building opposite was an occupational therapy unit. More information is provided in this factsheet History of Cell Barnes Hospital.
Hill End Garden of Rest
This area was formerly the Hill End Hospital Cemetery, where patients and some staff were buried. Patients were only entitled to a paupers burial, meaning that they were laid to rest in mass graves without a headstone. According to burial records it appears that 1019 buried took place between 1899 and 1948, using 179 graves. After 1933 burials included patients from Cell Barnes Hospitals.
In 2008 the Trust undertook some ground works and uncovered several numbered metal grave markers. The highest numbered grave marker uncovered was 242, this indicates that burials took place beyond 1948. For burial records please contact the Hertfordshire County Archives.
The area whilst under the management of the hospital received little maintenance; this meant that wildlife started to thrive in this area. This area has therefore been designated as a County Wildlife Site, meaning that within the local area this site is important for wildlife. The Trust therefore manages this area to insure that the wildlife value remains. The main grass area is left to grow long to allow the wildflowers and grass to flower and provide nectar and also shed their seeds for the following season. Because this area is relatively undisturbed, ants have colonised the area, building ant hills. These ant hills look like large tufts of grass; ants are a valuable source of food for birds who feed on insects, particularly the Green Woodpecker.
The Trust has been raising funds in aid of a memorial to commemorate those buried there; this project has now been completed. Within the Hill End Garden of Rest some of the original grave markers have been displayed on a plinth as the centre piece to a formal rose garden. A carved memorial stone, oak arch and two information boards explaining the site have also been installed.
Creating Highfield Park
Following the Hospital closures, the planning authorities of St Albans City and District Council approved the redevelopment of the Hospital sites with nearly 700 new housing units on the condition that 60 acres be set aside as public open space. Instead of following the traditional way of developing a Park, St Albans City & District Council established the Highfield Park Trust as an Independent Charity and as part of the development process secured funding from the Secretary of State for Health and provided it with an endowment to enable it to develop and maintain the Park.The Trust has a lease of 150 years from St Albans City & District Council.