Ancestry UK

Elmfield Sanatorium, Harpenden, Hertfordshire

In 1910, the National Children's Home (NCH) opened its Elmfield Sanatorium on Ambrose Lane, Harpenden. Elmfield provided treatment for the disease of tuberculosis (TB), also known as consumption, which at that time was widespread particularly amongst those living in poor physical conditions. According to one claim, up to 28 per cent of the children in NCH homes suffered from it.

In 1920, the Elmfield had 64 places, with patients aged from 7 to 14 years. The treatment it provided in those days was basic, largely consisting of fresh air and sunshine, and physiotherapy where needed. The south-facing building had large balconies on which beds could be placed. There was also an open-air school, revolving chalets, covered playgrounds, playing-fields, gardens and an open-air rest room.

Elmfield Sanatorium, Harpenden, c.1924. © Peter Higginbotham

Ward at Elmfield Sanatorium, Harpenden, c.1924. © Peter Higginbotham

Patient at Elmfield Sanatorium, Harpenden, c.1924. © Peter Higginbotham

Open-air bed at Elmfield Sanatorium, Harpenden, c.1924. © Peter Higginbotham

Open-air school at Elmfield Sanatorium, Harpenden, c.1924. © Peter Higginbotham

Open-air school (detail) at Elmfield Sanatorium, Harpenden, c.1924. © Peter Higginbotham

Dispensary at Elmfield Sanatorium, Harpenden, c.1924. © Peter Higginbotham

By the 1950s, advances in the treatment of TB, together with widespread improvements in housing conditions, had drastically reduced the presence of the disease. Accordingly, in 1955, Elmfield was given a new role as a residential school for seriously handicapped children. New classrooms and other facilities were provided to help give its pupils the skills they would need in trying to live independent lives.

The building still survives and is now occupied by the King's School, a independent day school with a Christian ethos.

Former Elmfield Sanatorium, Harpenden, 2014. © Peter Higginbotham


Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.

  • Action For Children (formerly the National Children's Home). Can provide access to their own records for individuals who were adopted through the charity or who resided in one of its homes. Help also for those searching for family history information.


  • Bradfield, William The Life of the Reverend Thomas Bowman Stephenson (1913, Kelly)
  • Curnock, Nehemiah The Story of the Children's Home (C.H. Kelly, 1901)
  • Higginbotham, Peter Children's Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain's Young (2017, Pen & Sword)
  • Horner, Francis Shadow and Sun (Epworth Press, 1920)
  • Howard, Philip J Philip: a Strange Child (Dalkeith Publishing, 2007)
  • Philpot, Terry Action For Children (Lion, 1994)
  • Walpole, Cecil F. Golden Links (Epworth Press, 1941)