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Thomas Hennell, Nature and Recovery Part 2 of 2

LBDTH857r Magpie Bottom Shoreham high res

Magpie Bottom, Shoreham, one of Hennell's landscape watercolours.

Though Hennell had some grievances about Claybury Hospital - namely, the lack of discipline of junior staff and the forced practice of hydrotherapy - he had a great respect for the doctor in charge. He describes the doctor, William James Lascelles, as an 'empathetic' man, who communicated well and respected Hennell's artistic inclinations, ensuring that he had a pencil and paper to work with. In 1935, Hennell painted a mural on the walls of a new canteen by permission of the medical superintendent, depicting children such as those he saw during visiting hours at play amongst the trees and bushes while men worked the fields. Although the mural is now lost, he was said to have used colour to depict the trees and people in such a way that a passer-by mistook it for Paradise. He stayed at Claybury two weeks after his scheduled discharge to finish painting it. Though Hennell was not permitted to serve in the military during the Second World War, he was of sound enough mind to travel the world as a war artist.

It is worth noting that Hennell had a great respect for nature before his institutionalisation. He is recognised for his watercolours of the English countryside and of traditional farm implements. He also wrote a survey, Change in the Farm, about the traditional methods of farming. This would suggest that a service user without the respect for nature that Hennell had might not have enjoyed such an impressive recovery as his. Connection with nature demands an acknowledgement beyond the visual. This would be challenging to foster in a service user who is too distracted to immerse themselves in such a way, or one who is not particularly open-minded. Hennell's deep and passionate regard for nature seems to have made him an exceptional case. However, this does little to negate the fact that nature has been proven to have a positive influence on mental health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was found by the Mental Health Foundation that visiting green spaces helped 45% of people in the UK to cope with the adverse circumstances, and that greater connection with nature contributes to lower rates of depression. Additionally, Mathew White et al. of Exeter University found that those who spent two hours per week in green spaces were more likely to report "good health and psychological well-being,” and that this was the case regardless of any factors relating to race, occupation, preexisting health conditions, or social class. For service users in psychatric wards, nature was found to reduce "feelings of isolation”and "promote calm.”

It is because of findings such as these that cities are focusing on parks, businesses are taking notice of the demand and "forest schools” are being implemented around the world. With the support of research such as this, the reason for Hennell's recovery becomes less of a surprise. Thus, Hennell was able to defy the expectations of the most esteemed physicians in the profession, making a significant recovery in a fraction of the time initally predicted for him. He identified his proximity to nature as the cause, as do professional psychological researchers in broader terms. Why? Because the benefits of a connection to nature tie neatly in with the benefits of occupation. The reforms of the 19th century emphasised the need for light, space, cleanliness and fresh air - all of which can be provided by an unspoiled green space like the one Hennell knew at Claybury, or the one at Monks Orchard today. Nature also brought Hennell the opportunity to exercise his artistic skill, an amenity that he was denied at the Maudsley. Therefore, it is fair to believe that the reason nature has this effect is because it brings with it the key components of occupation - and that there is nothing else that could provide all of these in such a way.

LDBTH856 Building a Small Timber Craft Grimsby 1944 b

Building a small timber craft, Grimsby (1944) an example of Hennell's work focussing on traditional crafts and skills


Kilburn, Jessica. Thomas Hennell: The Land and the Mind. London. Pimpernel Press Ltd, 2021.

Lambirth, Andrew. “Thomas Hennell should be more widely known.” The Spectator World. Updated April 24, 2021. Accessed August 25, 2021.

“Nature: How connecting with nature benefits our mental health.” Mental Health Foundation. Accessed August 18, 2021.

Paterson, Catherine F. “A short history of occupational therapy in psychiatry” in Occupational Therapy and Mental Health eds. Creek, Jennifer and Loughes, Lesley.Philadelphia. Elsevier Limited, 2008

Robbins, Jim. "Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health." YaleEnvironment360. Updated January 9, 2020, accessed August 25, 2021.