a psychogeographic walk

Went for a walk in Hertfordshire which ended up being somewhat of a derive.

Firstly, along the 'Alban Way', which is the old London Midland line between Hatfield and St. Albans. I always seem to end up going along old railway tracks and they all share that air of quiet neglect, no matter how much they were part of a regeneration strategy. Reached Hill End station, and again thought about all the people who would have waited there on the overgrown platform that survives for a train, now never to come [I feel like that often with First Great Western].

From Hill End, I diverted to the park on the grounds of the former Hill End mental asylum, founded in the late 1890s, changing its name in the 1930s to the euphemistic 'hospital for nervous diseases', and which was eventually closed in 1995. There is an ongoing project to commemorate the patients and staff of the hospital, but I've not seen anything from this yet. All that there is on site is an information plaque in the somewhat neglected commemoration garden, and even on that, the language is very coded. Half the site is now a big housing estate, which cut into what appears to have been a substantial orchard. Now only a few trees remain. This reminds me of the seemingly endless series of housing estates built on the sites of mental hospitals that Iain Sinclair visited for London Orbital. I don't have the book to hand to check whether Hill End was one of them, but it certainly fits the characteristics that Sinclair identified. A liminal space, for marginal people. Now, a plot of cookie-cutter houses plonked on an old estate, with the language of the private developers masking the history of the site and its original buildings. Yet the memories and old histories still seep through somehow.

The park maintains an atmosphere of peace and natural beauty, but a sadness still lingers. The hospital itself was huge, but now only three of the original big redbrick buildings remain, plus a chapel now used as Trestle Arts Base.


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