Whittingham Mental Asylum, Goosenargh, Lancashire...
It has taken us a long, long time to get into Whittingham Mental Hospital and we only managed it in the end with the generous help and guidance of two experienced urbexers we met through the forum we subscribe to. The joke of it is, had we attempted entry about two years ago when we first walked around the walls of the asylum then we wouldn't have had any difficulty whatsoever because it was wide open at that time! But since then, and for reasons we really cannot begin to fathom, they have turned Whitty into a veritable fortress with steel shuttering on all the ground floor windows and doors. On the face of it this might make sense if there were particularly much at Whitty worth protecting but it's sad to report that internally this place is a complete and utter wreck. Corridor roofs are open to the sky, windows are broken, lead valleys and flashings are long gone, so water and the frosts of winter have wreaked havoc with the plaster and anything wooden - indeed even walking the ground floor corridors is a very risky business as they are through in holes just about everywhere and extremely crunchy under foot.
When it eventually closed it's doors in the nineties Whitty was sold to a developer and plans were passed to convert several listed parts of the asylum into apartments, whilst the remaining areas would be dropped and the land freed up used for new housing - all in all the plans were pretty standard fare where the conversion of old Victorian County Asylums are concerned. The crux of the Whitty plan relied on the construction of a new bypass road which would re-route the extra traffic such a large residential development would bring into the area, away from the tiny village of Goosenargh. Things soon began to go wrong for the developers when the bypass was shelved due to lack of funding and the demo work on Whitty, which had not long begun, was stopped, whereupon the whole site has been left to rot quietly. Inevitably chavs and pykeys, having practically uninterrupted access to all the buildings, have worked their dubious magic, and if it's not bolted down then it's now been stolen or trashed. But at the time of our first walk around the perimeter of the site we had no idea that this was the case, and several photographs taken within the buildings some years before which we had seen on various urbex internet sites showed it to be in lovely condition.
What a difference those few years can make!
ABOVE - Whittingham nursing staff, circa 1930.
By 1866, the three Lancashire lunatic asylums at Prestwich, Rainhill and Lancaster were deemed to be full and so it was decided that an additional asylum should be built in order to alleviate the very real potential for overcrowding. The first choice of site for the new asylum was in Preston itself, just behind the Fulwood Army Barracks at the top of Deepdale Road, only a little further on than where Preston North End FC is today, but this was eventually changed to another site some seven miles or so away to the east at Got Field Farm, which would be re-named Whittingham. The site was chosen primarily because there was a good supply of fresh water readily available, and also because it was within such easy reach of Preston. Work began on Whittingham Asylum in 1869. The buildings were constructed with high quality bricks made on the site. The clay mud for the bricks was dug out from what became known as the "duck pond" - but which is referred to on maps as the "fish pond". The kiln for the manufacture of the bricks was situated in Super's Hill Woods, a short distance away from what would become the east side of the hospital, on the road to Grimsargh.
The hospital was built in four "phases", the first phase being named St Luke's Division (also known as the "Main"). This was followed by St John's Division (the "Annex"), then Cameron House, and lastly St Margaret's Division (the "New" or "West Annex"). The Hospital formally opened in 1873, with beds for 1000 patients. In addition to the four divisions there was also a sanatorium constructed a little later with a capacity of just 14 beds, for infectious disease cases, known as Fryars' Villa. Later in the life of the asylum this villa became part of the accommodation for resident staff. ABOVE LEFT - can be seen a period photograph of the front of the asylum in it's earliest days, and - ABOVE RIGHT - can be seen a lovely photograph of two nurses taking a rest outside the doors of a seasonally decorated female ward, presumably during the Christmas holidays. The style and cut of their uniforms would tend to suggest that the photograph was taken sometime in the late Victorian or early Edwardian/Great/War periods, circa 1880 - 1919.
Whittingham was to all intents and purposes practically self sufficient and had much more in common with a small town than a conventional hospital. It had it's own brewery, post office, a ballroom which doubled as a theatre or cinema, a Roman Catholic chapel in house and an Anglican church in it's own grounds with an associated graveyard, several farms, a reservoir, a gas works, a telephone exchange, a sports club and cricket pitch with associated pavilion, a military style brass band and an orchestra!!! It even had a dedicated railway station at the end of a two-mile branch line which came off the main Preston - Skipton line not very far past the famous Miley Tunnel. Built in 1887 to shift coal and other goods to the asylum, the line also provided free transport for staff and passengers. It eventually closed on the 30th. June, 1957. One of the engines which worked the Whittingham branch line can be seen - LEFT.
During the First World War, a part of the hospital (“St Margaret’s Division”) was used as a military hospital. It was again used for this purpose during the Second World War and there are several C.W.G.C. headstones for the soldiers - RIGHT - buried in the hospital's cemetery. Most date to the Great War and to the years immediately afterwards.
Whittingham is also famous for pioneering the use of electroencephalograms (EEGs). EEGs measure the electrical activity within the brain through the scalp - LEFT - and are very useful diagnostic tools for use on patients suffering from epilepsy. In one of the three Ray Gosling video clips linked further down the page, you can see an elderly gentleman being tested with an EEG and the doctor fitting him with what looks like a weird, bead skullcap.
In 1948 Ribchester Hospital was
incorporated into Whittingham.
But the damage was done and
despite all the good that had been achieved there for over a hundred and
twenty years, Whittingham will forever be remembered with notoriety due to
the evil actions
of a few, rogue members of staff.
Many other therapies and treatments were tried at Whittingham including hydrotherapy, insulin comas, invasive surgery such as the infamous lobotomy (also known as a leucotomy ), and even the administration of LSD - as one patient said whilst reminiscing about the strange coloured beetles the size of elephants she had seen during her trip, "I wasn't a hippy until after they gave me LSD"!!! Hydrotherapy was a popular method of treatment for mental illness at the beginning of the twentieth century, and was used at many institutions. Water was thought to be an effective treatment because it could be heated or cooled to different temperatures, which, when applied to the skin, could produce various reactions throughout the rest of the body. One of the main benefits of hydrotherapy treatment was its ability to take effect quickly. Hydrotherapy could be accomplished with baths, packs, or sprays. Warm continuous baths were used to treat patients suffering from insomnia and those considered to be suicidal and prone to assault others, the main effect being that it calmed excited and agitated behaviour. A patient could expect a continuous bath treatment to last from several hours to several days, or sometimes over night. Continuous baths were the most effective when held in a quiet room with little light and the application of audio stimulation, thus allowing the patient to relax and possibly even fall asleep. Bath temperatures typically ranged from 92°F to 97°F, so as not to cause injury to the patients. Sheets dipped in varying temperatures of water were wrapped around the patient for several hours depending on the case. Sprayers functioned like showers, with either warm or cold water. Cold water was used to treat patients diagnosed with manic-depressive psychoses, and those showing signs of abnormal excitement and increased motor activity. Application of cold water slowed down the blood flow to the brain, decreasing mental and physical activity. The temperature for a cold pack ranged between 48°F and 70°F. Nowadays we might regard such a treatment as bordering on torture!
In the late 80s and early 90s long-stay psychiatric patients who had in the past become deeply institutionalised, began to be returned successfully to the community, and the worst cases were dispersed to smaller units in and around Preston. In the past a patient entering a mental hospital for a few days treatment would all too often still be there many years later - indeed many never left at all, and were eventually buried in the cemetery - we found grave stones in the Whittingham cemetery of patients who had been octogenarian and nonagenarians at the time of their deaths.
With the success of the progressive "Care In The Community" policy the number of patients at the hospital progressively declined until by 1995 the hospital was able to close it's doors. The site was renamed “Guild Park” and in 1999 a secure psychiatric unit called Guild Lodge was opened on the edge of Guild Park, followed the next year by the building of a group of rehabilitation cottages close by.
The developers who bought Whittingham hope to build 650 new homes on the land they clear, and a number of luxury apartments in the listed hospital buildings.
An aerial appreciation of Whittingham Mental Hospital...
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