Whittingham Asylum


History of Whittingham Asylum
Whittingham Hospital, whose grounds adjoin the village of Goosnargh, became one of the largest mental hospitals in the country, and pioneered the use of electroencephalograms (EEGs). During its time it had its own church, farms, railway, telephone exchange, post office, reservoirs, gas works, brewery, orchestra, brass band, ballroom and butchers.

In 1866, the three Lancashire “lunatic” asylums at Prestwich, Rainhill and Lancaster were deemed to be full and a new asylum was needed. The building of Whittingham Asylum began in 1869, originally to accommodate 1000 patients. It was built from brick using clay dug on site from a pit which later became a fish pond.

The hospital officially opened on 1 April 1873. The large site included an Anglican church, a Catholic chapel, a recreation hall (also used as a ballroom) and several farms.

The Whittingham Hospital Railway was a two-mile (3 km) private branch to Grimsargh, built in 1887, to provide coal and other goods to the site. It also provided free transport for staff and passengers. The Railway eventually closed on the 30 June 1957.

In the early years there was even a brewery on the site. At the end of the First World War, a part of the hospital (later known as “St Margaret’s Division”) was used as a military hospital. It was again used for this purpose during the Second World War.

In 1923, the hospital was known as “Whittingham Mental Hospital” and by 1939, the number of patients was 3533, with a staff of 548, making it the largest mental hospital in the country.

By 1948, Whittingham had incorporated Ribchester Hospital, and became known as “Whittingham Hospital”.

The Mental Health Act of 1960 deemed large institutions like Whittingham to be out of favour. Allegations of cruelty to patients led to a public inquiry.

During the 1970s and 1980s, new drugs and therapies were introduced. Long-stay patients were returned to the community or dispersed to smaller units around Preston. The hospital eventually closed in 1995.

The site subsequently became known as “Guild Park”. In 1999, Guild Lodge was opened on the edge of Guild Park, supplying secure mental services, followed the next year by rehabilitation cottages close by.

It is now planned to build 650 new homes on the site and to preserve some of the hospital buildings as apartments. However, the plan will not proceed until a date for the construction of the Broughton bypass is known but in the mean time some of the smaller outer buildings are to be demolished.

Map of Whittingham Asylum Grounds, Click the map for a larger view
Whittingham Asylum Grounds Map

My Visits

Please note I do not break in to any building to gain access. I use an access point that already exists or I leave, I am not a vandal.

I have been lucky enough to visit the asylum three times albeit a little late as the demolition was already well under way. Most of the connecting corridors from building to building were already knocked down when I first visited, however quite a few of the buildings were still standing with plenty to look at.

My favourite places on the whole site would have to be the ballroom & water tower for different reasons. The Ballroom for me just had a calm feeling to it, this area must have been one of the happier places on the whole site for the patients that lived here and to me, as someone who likes to understand what went on in places that I visit, meant a lot. The Water Tower appealed to me because it is on the edge of the grounds and out of the way so it is peaceful and quiet. You can get to the top and see a full view of the grounds and on a nice sunny day the views are beautiful!

Over my three visits here each time I went more and more had been torn down. It is sad to see this place crumbling away and being demolished as it is a huge part of the local history, if you can forget the darker side to this place anyway.

Fortunately I have heard that the front 5 buildings are be restored and turned in to apartments, I just hope in some way that is possible as the water damage is a little sever.

Anyway, enough of me rambling on, here are some pictures from my visits. You can click any image for a larger view.

Admin Block & Managers Office
Admin Block Whittingham Asylum
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Boiler House & Workshops
Whittingham Aslylum Boiler House & Workshops
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A Room Long Since Used
This room is pictured how we found it. I am sure this was setup by people who visited prior to ourselves. One thing to note though is the paintings on the windows, they looked like what you would see in a childs room.

A Room Stuck in the past
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This was one of last remaining corridors at the time of my visits, as you can see it is in a very bad state of decay.

Whittingham Asylum Corridor
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Male Dormitory
Whittingham Asylum Male Dormitory
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The Ballroom
This is one of the main places we wanted to visit at Whittingham. I am so glad that we managed to see it before it was to late. The ballroom was used for theatre, watching films, dancing, parties such as Christmas and much more. I just hope this place was a happy place for the patients.

Whittingham Asylum Ballroom
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The Ballroom Stage
This photo was taken from the back of the stage on the sides where people would have been working in the background whilst the shows were on. This is on level 2 but there are 4 levels if you count the loft space!

Whittingham Asylum Ballroom Stage
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EEG Machine
Now this is not the machine that was used for the controversial shock therapy as i first thought when seeing this. It is an EEG (electroencephalograms) machine which was used to record electrical activity along the scalp. EEG measures voltage fluctuations resulting from ionic current flows within the neurons of the brain.

EEG is most often used to diagnose epilepsy, which causes obvious abnormalities in EEG readings. It is also used to diagnose sleep disorders, coma, encephalopathies, and brain death.

Whittingham Asylum EEG Machine
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A Moment to Reflect
As the sun started to set upon the Asylum the feeling of this place changed. We took a moment to reflect on what we had seen before continuing.

A Moment to Reflect
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Mother Nature is trying to reclaim back what was once hers.
Whittingham Asylum Porter Bed
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Female Dormitory
The room would have been split up into sections with more of the plastic walls you can see in this photo. This would have created sleeping areas for upwards of 30 patients.

The rooms are a decent size with lots of windows as you can see.

Whittingham Asylum Female Dormitory
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Water Tower, Stairs
These stairs take you from the Second floor up to the Third floor of the Water Tower which has the Spiral Stairs up to the roof.

Whittingham Asylum Water Tower Stairs
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Water Tower, Spiral Stairs
The spiral stairs in the water tower take you up to the roof where you have an amazing view of the grounds & surrounding countryside.

Whittingham Asylum Water Tower Spiral Stairs
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Male Housing Block
This was one of the Male housing blocks, As you can see all connecting corridors have been demolished. A week after taking this photo the building had been torn down.

Whittingham Asylum Male Housing Block
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More Images Available on Flickr
The images above are just a small selection of the images I have edited. I have lots more photos of Whittingham Asylum on my Flickr page which can be found here.

Whittingham Asylum, Final Thoughts
I am in no doubt that Whittingham has some bad stories attached to it, whether that is stories of ‘weird’ medical treatments or patients being treated badly or just the overall idea of Asylums such as this, However, some people believe that the people who lived in places like Whittingham had a better & longer life than they would have if they was mixed with the (i will use the words from documentaries I have watched) general population. What I think or feel is irrelevant as I know nothing of the problems that the patients faced on a daily basis.

If you can push aside the darker side of Whittingham then this place has a beauty to it. The Victorian architecture in some places of the site is amazing, whilst in others it looks rushed. I have enjoyed my visits here and I am so glad I have been able to see & document it in my photos before it was to late.

Before I go to look around places like this I always like to find out about the history. By doing this I feel it gives you a better understanding and appreciation of the place you are photographing.

Update as of 13 April 2015
The front 5 buildings that was planned to be saved and renovated into apartments have now been given the go ahead to be demolished. Work on doing just that has begun and within a couple of weeks they will be down.

On a final note I would like to say this
Take nothing but photos, Leave nothing but footprints.

If you would like to purchase a print of any of the above photos or any photos on this website you can contact me via the email form on my contact page for more information.

Thanks for reading,

Alan Duggan

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