Calderstones was built in the early part of the twentieth century, it was originally intended as a mental asylum but the final stages of building took place at the same time as the First World War broke out and as a result it was used as a military hospital for the first few years of its life.
Known as Queen Mary’s Military Hospital the institution opened in 1915 and the site remained as a military hospital until after the war when it was transferred back to Lancashire Asylums Board to be used for its original purpose. It is thought that during the First World War over 60,000 soldiers were treated at the hospital, many of them arriving at the railway station that was built near to the centre of the hospital.
Upon its return to Lancashire’s Asylums Board the institution was reserved for the care of people who were then described as mental defectives although are now usually known in the UK as people with learning disabilities. The legislative framework for such work was the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act that required all local authorities to monitor people with learning disabilities and to provide institutions for those who could not look after themselves or were thought to be at risk of harm to themselves or to others. Under this legislation many women who had children outside of marriage and lacked financial support were labelled as ‘moral defectives’ and confined in Calderstones along with their children, some of these families spent the rest of their lives as patients of the institution.
Numbers within the institution grew rapidly, in 1923 for example there were 757 men and 790 women living on the wards. The residents were classified according to ability and lived in large wards connected by two long open corridors on either side of the institution. In many ways Calderstones operated as two institutions for much of its existence as there was a rigid separation of the sexes with the male side managed by the Chief Male Nurse and female side by the Matron. The whole organisation was presided over by the Medical Superintendent who lived in a large house within the grounds.
On the outbreak of the Second World War part of Calderstones reverted to the role of military hospital and the railway was again utilised for the reception of wounded soldiers. Approximately 18,000 wounded soldiers were treated during the war, some who died were buried in the nearby military cemetery. During the War the institution was also utilised for patients from Booth Hall Children’s hospital as well as for the people with learning disabilities who continued to live at Calderstones.
After the war Calderstones returned to its main function as home for people with learning disabilities. The post war years were characterised by the difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff which was a problem for most mental hospitals at a time of full employment within the UK, as a result many staff were recruited from other parts of Europe and then from Empire and Commonwealth countries. The institution was incorporated into the newly established National Health Service in 1948 and remained under health control for the rest of its existence. Calderstones was at its largest in terms of residents in the 1960s when approximately 2,400 people with learning disabilities lived on the wards. Significant change began in the early 1970s when Government policy encouraged the division of the old large wards into smaller units of between 15 and 20 people. Children were no longer admitted to the institution from the late 1970s and this later resulted in the closure of the school and the children’s wards.
The 1980s saw the gradual run down of the long stay institution. Admissions ceased altogether and effort was put into resettling people from Calderstones to their original home areas across the North West of England. As the numbers of residents reduced it was generally thought that Calderstones would close altogether but services on the site were given a fresh lease of life when the institution became an NHS Trust in 1993. This heralded the most recent stage of development at Calderstones as the much smaller institution now provides assessment, treatment and forensic services for people with learning disabilities who need them. The institutional name of ‘Calderstones’ finally ended in 2016 as services on the site were incorporated within Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust.