By Nick Elvin

IT WAS once the chapel of Hill End Hospital, but now the building housing Trestle Arts Base is all that remains of that large, important medical facility.

But despite the hospital’s closure nearly 15 years ago, Hill End has not been forgotten.

Out of Sight Out of Mind? is a new play that charts the 100-year history of the St Albans mental hospital, and it was written using a range of source material including first hand accounts from former patients and employees.

Trestle Community Company, which created the play with the help of local writer Anna Reynolds, collaborated with the Hertfordshire Archives in order to get hold of records such as male and female casebooks from the late 19th Century.

Hill End Hospital opened in 1895, and its original patients were in fact prison inmates.

Director of the play Oliver Jones says: “It’s such a huge history, so I had to decide early on what could be used. It’s not a history lesson. We have amalgamated some characters, and some characters from different eras meet each other.

“What we find fascinating is that some people in the hospital in the 1920s or ‘30s wouldn’t have had to go into the hospital if they knew then what we know now about mental health.”

The hospital was for many years self sufficient, with facilities such as a farm and even a train station.

During the Second World War the hospital’s importance increased when St Bartholomew’s Hospital moved there, and remained there in some capacity until the 1960s. Following the Dunkirk evacuation, about 300 French soldiers came to Hill End.

The hospital closed its doors in November 1995, with the advent of Care in the Community helping to bring about its end. Oliver explains that as part of its research the group spoke with people with experience of the hospital in its later years.

“We have met people who have worked there and some ex-patients,” he says. “It was exciting to meet people who were actually there.”

The performance has 15 different scenes spread across the whole space, and the audience travels round them. Three groups of performers (11- to 13-year-olds, 13-year-old plus, and an adult group) take on the different scenes, each of which tells a story of sadness and pity, but also full of great humour and courage.

“Some people were there for 20 or 25 years and so became institutionalised,” says Oliver. “When they were released they had to be taught things like crossing the road or cooking. There are stories about someone cooking for the first time and burning the kitchen down.”

Out of Sight Out of Mind? is on at Trestle Arts Base, Russet Drive, St Albans, on Saturday, July 4, at 1pm, 4pm and 7pm. Tickets: 01727 850950 (£5).