Normansfield Entertainment Hall, an extension of the Normansfield Hospital for “backward and feeble-minded” children, was opened in 1879. Dr John Langdon Down (who gave his name to Down Syndrome) founded the private hospital in 1868 with space for 19 inmates. Slowly the institution would grow and expend to receive up to 200 inmates in the 1890s.
The construction of the hall was part of Dr Langdon Down’s innovative and progressive ways in the treatments of his patients. Not only were they taught various crafts, they were also invited to join the staff in the production of pantos and plays. An am-dram company also had access to the place when it was not used for religious services or physical activities.
There are many similar halls attached to mental institutions around the country but this one is unique and not only for the lavishness bestowed on it construction. The fact that it has been virtually disused since the 1910s has left it in a remarkable state of preservation. The team of theatre historians who rediscovered it in the 1980s found it almost in its original state. A set of about 100 pieces of original sceneries was also recovered where they had been abandoned, backstage.
In addition to its stunning decoration, other unique or rare features include the back stage machinery, the gas sun-burner in the roof (providing both lighting and ventilation), the original sprinkler system, a unique scene-painter’s model probably as old as the hall itself, a tin ceiling in the room below the hall and six painted panels thought to be from the original production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta Ruddigore, or the Witch’s Curse at the Savoy Theatre in January 1887.
The future of the building was uncertain for several decades. This is still the case for the major part of what used to be the hospital but the Hall itself is now Grade II* listed and under the ownership of the Langdon Down Centre Trust.
More photos are available on flickr here.
Brian Rix, entertainer and president of Mencap, whose daughter suffered from Down Syndrome and was a patient in the Hospital, will give a fundraising performance at the hall on 31 October. Access to the hall is otherwise limited. Contact the Trust for details. Photos by the author.