Leavesden Hospital was one of the area's largest employers during the 125 years it operated.

Thousands of people from far and wide came to work at the mental health facility from when it opened its doors in 1870 to when they closed for good in 1995.

This allowed for several generations of families to work at the hospital while raising their families in the nearby communities - with many still living in the area today.

On July 2, the Leavesden Hospital History Association invited former staff, volunteers, patients and anyone who had connection to the hospital to a reunion event held at the YMCA Community Hub and the Leavesden HIVE Heritage Centre in Leavesden Country Park.

Watford Observer: Attendees at the reunion. Credit: Martin BrooksAttendees at the reunion. Credit: Martin Brooks

This was the first time in more than 27 years staff would have a chance to meet up with former colleagues, reminisce about their time at the hospital and take a walk down memory lane.

By all accounts, the day-long event was a huge success, with more than 70 former staff attending.

The oldest former staff member to attend the event was 89 years old and another visitor worked at the hospital back in 1967. There were six people who met up with former colleagues that they had not seen for over 27 years, which was one of the highlights of the day.

Read more: Filmmaker's new documentary on Leavesden Hospital marks 25 years since it closed

Watford Observer: Martin BrooksMartin Brooks

Martin Brooks, founder of the Leavesden Hospital History Association, who has been planning this reunion for years, said: “I have spoken with many former staff and volunteers of the hospital and all of them have very happy memories of their time and experiences at the hospital and of the friendships they formed while working or studying there.

“Since the hospital closed, many have lost touch with their friends and co-workers and this reunion was a fantastic opportunity for them to meet up, share memories and some old photographs, remember their work at the hospital and the people who made it such a memorable experience for them. It was fantastic to finally see this event happen.”

Watford Observer: Aerial view of Leavesden Hospital c1937Aerial view of Leavesden Hospital c1937

Along with the extensive displays of Leavesden Hospital artefacts and memorabilia brought in specially for this event by the association, attendees went on a history walk around the old hospital site, which was led by Emma Frost whose enthusiasm and passion for the history of the hospital was recognized and appreciated by those who joined her.

Those who did not join in on the walk were treated to a showing of a film which captured the closing day ceremonies held on October 31 1995.

Watford Observer: Emma Frost leading a history tour. Credit: Peter WarnerEmma Frost leading a history tour. Credit: Peter Warner

Mr Brooks added: “More than a few people in the audience were delighted to point out even more former colleagues that they spotted on the screen and marvelled at just how the hospital looked 'back in the day'."

The film also featured the Coldstream Guards and the then Mayor of Watford, Norman Tyrwhitt, who was not only at the closing ceremonies of the hospital in 1995, but in the audience watching the film on the day of the reunion.

Read more: New book tells stories of staff at Leavesden Hospital 

A service of thanksgiving was also conducted by the Reverend Becky Leach of St Stephens Church, St Albans, in the East Lane Cemetery in remembrance of all the former staff and patients who are at rest there.

She led a procession of 35 people as she followed in the footsteps of the Bishop of Rochester when, in October of 1870, he walked from the main hospital to the south side of East Lane, where he consecrated the original cemetery.

Watford Observer: A service of thanksgiving is held. Credit: Peter WarnerA service of thanksgiving is held. Credit: Peter Warner

For Mr Brooks, this was the highlight of the day. He said: “This was the best part of the day and one of the most moving services I have ever attended. It has been my personal mission since 2008 to see the East Lane cemetery restored to the place of peace, reflection and respect that it once was and to properly recognize and honour all those who are at rest there.

“Fourteen years later, and with the help of some awesome volunteers and Three Rivers District Council. I have now achieved that mission. Which to say the least, was a bit emotional for me on the day.”

Watford Observer: Watford MP Dean Russell speaking to attendees. Credit: Stephen DanzigWatford MP Dean Russell speaking to attendees. Credit: Stephen Danzig

Watford MP Dean Russell, who attended, said: “I had a fantastic time at the reunion and would like to thank Martin for organising such a wonderful event. It was fascinating to learn more about the history of the site, and I really enjoyed listening to the stories that the former staff and volunteers had to share.”

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