Normansfield Hospital was founded in 1868 by John Langdon Down, after whom Down syndrome was named. When he died in 1896, his sons, Reginald and Percival, succeeded him. The hospital closed in 1997 and the building now houses the Down Museum and the headquarters of the Down's Syndrome Association. It is also the site of the Normansfield Theatre. Dr John Langdon Down was a Victorian physician who established Normansfield in 1868 as a family home and a place where people with learning disabilities could be cared for and educated at a time when most of them would have been condemned to life in an asylum. This remarkable man built this beautiful theatre (entertainment hall) and encouraged his patients/students to learn music and drama as part of their education. He provided work experience in woodwork and farming in a way that was probably more advanced than some of the provision available today. Some of his students had the condition that now bears his name and he is known internationally as the ‘Father of Down’s syndrome’. The theatre is a wonderful example of a Victorian entertainment hall and is a popular filming location, such as for Agatha Christie's Poirot in the episode "The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor", "The Case of the Missing Will", "After the funeral" the 2009 film Dorian Gray and the ITV series Downton Abbey.
The Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disability houses collections with importance in the field of learning disability. The Normansfield Collection and Archives : Dr John Langdon Down brought a revolutionary and enlightened approach to the care of those with all forms of learning disabilities. The Langdon Down family managed Normansfield from 1868 until 1970. It was an NHS hospital from 1951 until it closed in 1997. Although Langdon Down’s name is most associated with the condition he recognised and was later called Down’s Syndrome, the majority of residents at Normansfield and Earlswood had a range of learning disabilities. The museum includes the Royal Earlswood Asylum Collection where Dr John Langdon Down was medical superintendent from 1855 to 1868.
James Henry Pullen, known in his day as the Genius of Earlswood and described as an Idiot Savant, was born in Dalston, London 1835. He was admitted to Essex Hall, Colchester in 1850 and transferred to Earlswood when it opened in 1855. He died there in 1916 and his obituary was published in the Daily Telegraph. He was given training in the carpenter’s shop and soon became an expert craftsman, and later a special workroom and exhibition room were set aside for him. Over the 60 years spent at Earlswood he completed many fine models, paintings and drawings, and was also a fine carver in ivory. King Edward VII took great interest in him and sent him tusks of ivory to work with and Sir Edward Landseer visited him and sent him engravings of his work to copy. All was his own un-aided work, every part made by himself – indeed he was jealous of assistance and liked his own way. Although well known as an example of an Idiot Savant – one who is mentally retarded but has special talent in one narrow field – we now know, in fact, that he was intelligent but suffered from a severe communication disorder and high frequency deafness. It is probable that he was aphasic i.e. he had difficulty in understanding and using language, due to defects in the central nervous system. In addition to the Saturday morning opening, visitors may book a one hour appointment to visit the museum and theatre for a talk and tour. This is subject to the availability of both rooms and the archivist. Full disabled access.
Location : 2A Langdon Park, Teddington, Middlesex TW11 9PS
Transport: Hampton Wick (National Rail). London Buses routes 281 and 285 stop outside.
Opening Times: Call for Tour Availability.
Theatre / Museum Open Saturday 10:00 to 13:00.
Tickets : Free
Tel: 0333 1212 300