Maghull hospital played "crucial role" in modern understanding of mental health issues, says MP

The crucial role played by the old Moss Side Hospital in Maghull in the nation’s understanding of mental health issues may soon be debated at Westminster as Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson seeks a debate on this important aspect of the town’s history.

Moss Side, the precursor to today’s Ashworth Hospital, was used during World War One to treat victims of shell shock and it soon became a centre of excellence for treatment and staff training. Between 1914 and 1919 the hospital treated a total of 3,638 patients.

Mr Esterson said: “Moss Side hospital played a crucial role in our current understanding of psychological and psychiatric conditions and it is a legacy we should all be proud of and which must not be forgotten. I’ll be seeking to secure a debate in Westminster Hall to highlight this important aspect of Maghull history.”

Shell shock manifested itself as either a psychological or physical condition. The illness was not well understood and soldiers were sometimes dismissed as cowards or simply weak. But as the numbers of sufferers increased it became apparent that shell shock was nothing to do with character and the work done at Moss Side led to the official recognition of the condition as a serious illness.

Historians recently won Lottery funding to research the heritage of the hospital: the memories, the visual and written records of its role as a training as well as a treatment centre. With the buildings soon to be knocked down, it was felt that the important social and medical heritage needed to be preserved.

Mr Esterson added: “Moss Side made Maghull the centre for what was then referred to as ‘abnormal psychology’. It is a little known but hugely significant aspect of our local history. It played a massively important role in our current understanding of mental health issues not just here but around the world.”  

In 1919 The War Office transferred Moss Side to the Ministry of Pensions where it became a treatment centre for ex-servicemen with epilepsy. In July 1935, the Ministry of Pensions returned the hospital to the Board of Control (which had responsibility for the detention of psychiatric patients) where part of it formed the site of the high-security hospital Ashworth.

The Atkinson and Sefton libraries are exploring the history of Sefton and WW1. Emma Anderson from Sefton Libraries said: “The Atkinson is committed to raising the profile of some remarkable hidden histories in Sefton. One of these is the brilliant band of experts who would try anything to help in the shell-shock cases which erupted in 1916. It is amazing that this story which started here in Maghull still needs to be told not least because of the impact of conflict on people’s mental as well as their physical health. The Atkinson project looks back and forwards so that we can learn and apply the lessons of history.”