Now boasting luxury homes and a health club, in its early years Repton Park was far from a playground. LARA KEAY finds out more...

The Repton Park estate sits prestigious if not slightly mysterious in front of the green stretches of Claybury Park in Manor Road, Woodford Bridge.

Now a private community home to footballers, actors and a £1.25 million converted water tower, the estate is made up of red brick Victorian buildings, complete with castle-like turrets.

But behind the grandiose façade is a much darker history.

What is now Repton Park was originally called Claybury Hospital, a mental asylum for the clinically insane.

Commissioned by the London County Council in the late nineteenth century, work on London’s fifth mental hospital started on October 1 1887, historic journal The Time Chamber claims.

Designed by the esteemed landscape architect Sir Humphrey Repton, the hospital estate consisted of around 27 million bricks, 2,600 doors, 4,600 windows and 33 miles of water pipes.

After six years, the hospital finally opened its doors to patients in May 1883, where they were charged 30 shillings a week, the equivalent of around £580 in today’s terms.

After the hospital reached its full capacity of 2,500 patients, it became one of the country’s pioneering mental health establishments.

It was the first asylum in the country to be home to a research building, specifically dedicated to finding new ways of improving ill mental health.

Over a number of years professors at Claybury published ground-breaking theories on the sources of mental health problems, with one doctor making the link between the paralysis of the mentally ill and syphilis.

Although most were fairly wealthy to be able to afford its pricey private care programme, the doctors at Claybury did make some allowances for poorer people.

When suitably accompanied, patients were allowed out to walk around the vast grounds, see the farm and visit the chapel.

People who used to work at the hospital before it closed in 1997 are convinced they saw the ghosts of disturbed patients still roaming around the buildings.

Even residents of the new exclusive Repton Park homes have been weary of spooky goings on, with a mother and daughter moving out of the old juvenile hospital where a girl committed suicide because they were too “freaked out”.

Despite the asylum’s prestigious reputation, after the creation of the NHS in 1948, the patient population started to dwindle. Although there was some staff investment in the 1980s, plans were already being drawn up for the hospital’s closure by the end of the decade.

Once defunct the NHS wanted to demolish the estate, but after a fierce battle with Historic England and Redbridge Council, it was turned into a series of luxury homes.

Soon after Repton Park came into being, the hospital chapel was converted into a health club.

Now run by Virgin Active gyms, those able to afford membership fees can swim where the pews used to sit as the stained glass windows of the old chapel reflect on the water.