Shortly after Botleys Park was bought by the London County Council it was purchased by Surrey County Council, and by 1934 it was listed in Kelly’s Directory as being a “colony for mental defectives”.
The County continued to run the facility until the inception of the National Health Service in 1948. Botleys Park Hospital opened in 1939 and was one of the few modern hospitals of this type in the country. An early brochure states, “Botleys is not a Mental Hospital although, its primary purpose is the care, treatment and remedial training of backward children and adults”. To accommodate the patients a new wing was added to the mansion, and 21 smaller houses or villas were built in the grounds. It offered its patients a more progressive way of living and with the hospital designed on a “Villa” system, the patients could be grouped in separate units according to their varying degrees of needs. The grounds of the 18th century mansion provided vast quantities of recreation space as well as gardens, woodlands and even a farm.
However, Botleys Park didn’t have much time to establish itself before some of the villas were commandeered to be used by casualties expected from the Spanish Civil War. In reality there were few Spanish War patients, but with the threat of war across Europe, the government ordered that all hospitals should prepare for war casualties, particularly those situated only a reasonable distance from London. The entire Botleys site was selected as an Emergency War Hospital as an annex to St. Thomas’s Hospital in London, and was charged with receiving casualties from air-raids in London, and also to treat sick and wounded Service personnel from other military hospitals.
In February 1940 thirteen huts were added to the site. These were known as the Emergency Medical Services whereas the original villas were allocated to non-military patients. ‘Botleys Park War Hospital’ eventually consisted of twenty huts, grouped around a central corridor, with outlying buildings for nurse’s homes and stores, and with Botleys Park Mansion accommodating the doctors and nursing staff. In total there were 864 beds made available to the War Hospital Emergency Service.
Each hut had 30 beds, fifteen along each side, with three coke stoves down the middle which attempted to heat the ward. The huts were built in two rows up a hill with the strip of land in between them being known as The Ramp. Patients’ meals were brought over from the kitchens at Botleys Park mansion, and served on a large table in the middle of each ward. One of the huts was used as an operating theatre with room for three operations to be carried out at the same time, and one was reserved for German prisoners of war.
Several London hospitals were evacuated here, including St Thomas’s, St James’s Hospital, Balham, The Bolingbroke, The Belgrave and The Evelina. All staff retained the uniforms of their own hospitals, so there was much variety in colour and style. Every Monday, during the early part of the war, it was obligatory for all staff to wear their gas masks to and from lunch in order to grow accustomed to moving around in them, which must have been an unnerving sight.
In addition to evacuated London hospitals, convoys of sick and wounded were admitted from France. In fact, the first wounded soldier from the War was admitted to Botleys. At this time there were 1,400 war hospital beds and 1,050 beds for other patients. The wounded would be transported by train to Byfleet Station; with the railway sidings being used as a terminal from hence they were transported to Chertsey by road. As a result of the injuries the hospital was treating it developed a specialist orthopaedic surgery centre and became a leading centre for nerve injuries.
In 1940 there were four instances of bombs falling in the grounds, but apart from windows breaking, no serious damage was done. On the 28th May 1940, Her Majesty the Queen visited the War Hospital to see the wounded soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk.
The Recreation Hall at the hospital was used frequently for weekly dances for patients and fortnightly shows. Celebrities such as Lupino Lane, Kenneth Horne, Richard Murdoch and Claude Dampier and others played at Botleys. Apart from the hockey field, all playing fields and recreation grounds were given over to cultivation. The reduced garden staff were joined by Land Army Girls who lived at Murray House.
The hospital itself was never bombed, but one night in February 1944 ammunition dumps in the woods close to the edge of the estate were hit by incendiaries and blew up. The blast shook the area for many miles around and broke every pane of glass at Botleys. Blast damage to the mansion, though not obvious, was considerable. For some years it was supported with beams extending from the basement through to the roof. Flying bombs or ‘Doodle Bugs’ frequently passed overhead on their way to London. They often failed to make their target and fell in the local area. Just before D-Day the hospital was visited by the Minister for Health to ensure that all arrangements for the reception of battle casualties had been made. The hospital was converted from a ‘base’ to a Transit Hospital and from the 8th June to the 1st November 1944 convoys of casualties were admitted direct from the battlefields of Normandy. During this period 14,000 wounded were received. Immediate treatment was given, and all who could travel were transferred further north the day after admission.