28DL Full Member
28DL Full Member
Building commenced in September 1844, and by 1847, five other counties in north Wales had joined in with Denbighshire to contribute towards the costs of this large project. The North Wales Asylum at Denbigh was designed by the Gloucester architect Thomas Fulljames with guidance from Dr Hitch. Fulljames had already designed the covered market and Town Cross at Denbigh. Constructed in the finest limestone from nearby Graig Quarry, its façade is among the most impressive and lavish of all British asylums. A “Tudorbethan “style, dressed with bathstone, covers a wide symmetrical façade projecting at the centre and outer wings. The central main entrance is a large wooden Tudor arched doorway, with conjoined oculi, scroll-work and spiral newels, very much giving the impression of a large, fine country mansion.
Originally built with space for 200 patients, some being private fee-payers, the North Wales Lunatic Asylum opened in October 1848 with George Turner Jones appointed as the first Medical Superintendent. As with all County Asylums, self-sufficiency was the goal, and North Wales (generally referred to as “Denbigh Asylum”) had its own farms, tailors, joiners, shoemakers, laundry, kitchens, bakery and smithy. The patients were the main workers on-site, with women typically employed in the kitchens, laundry and linen stores, and males working the grounds, which included them building the cricket ground, bowling green and the interiors of the airing courts with patient labour. Male patients thought likely to make a bid for escape were employed at the water pumps which were monitored all day and needed to be operated by hand to keep the asylum’s water supply running – a steam engine took over this task in 1857. Originally, there were only 9 attendants, 5 for the male and 4 for the female side, and there would be no-one present on the wards between the hours of 10pm and 6am – a situation which unsurprisingly lead to a high-risk of problems occurring during the night-time, none of which would be addressed until morning – on occasion staff had come on duty in the morning to find that patients had committed suicide or epileptic patients had suffered an attack and died overnight. Despite forceful pleas from the Lunacy Commissioners, night-shifts were not arranged until 1860, when the asylum had reached its capacity of 200 patients.
In 1862, a separate chapel was built at the rear of the asylum with room for 200 patients, releasing the original chapels at the front of the building for other use, and in 1865 extensions were built to the rear of the main block for an additional 150 patients. The only “treatment” issued at this time was chloral hydrate for sedation (not really a cure or treatment at all), and the asylum’s bill for wine and spirits accounted for more per annum than was spent on drugs.
As with all asylums, the battle against overcrowding was constant, as soon as new wards were built, they were quickly filled, after which the problem would start anew. At Denbigh in the 1870’s, beds were being moved into corridors and hallways, and there were even patients sleeping on the floor. In 1881, more significant additions were made, with a 400-capacity dining hall, and a new wing for another 160 patients built, bringing the asylum’s total capacity up to 510. The chapel was also extended to hold 440 patients for religious services. During this period, the running of Denbigh was frequently criticised by the Lunacy Commissioners, who complained that the wards were overcrowded with beds “so close that patients had to get in and out at the foot of the bed” and that the lack of staff on the wards was leading to tension and violence. But in the meantime, Denbigh was so overcrowded that patients were once again being boarded out to English asylums, sadly for some, negating the primary purpose for which Denbigh was originally built.
The new buildings consisted of a female ward for 243 patients (bringing capacity up to 753), a male and a female attendants block to house 30 persons each, a huge and lavishly decorated recreation/dining hall, kitchen, laundry, central bathroom, boiler house, engine house and isolation hospital and all were to benefit from a new modern heating system, a sewage supply which connected to the town’s network and the introduction of electric lighting (modern conveniences which were also to be extended to the rest of the buildings). This saw a works project which took much longer than expected; begun in 1897, it was due for completion in two years, but in fact the first new buildings did not come into use until 1902, with the final stages not complete until 1905.
In 1929, pathology labs and a mortuary were built onto the isolation hospital. In 1930, with the introduction of the Mental Health Act, the building formally changed its name to the North Wales Counties Mental Hospital. During this period, new chemical treatments were becoming available, used with varying degrees of success; cardiazol was used to induce fits, malaria for the treatment of schizophrenia (or dementia praecox as it was then known), insulin to induce coma and electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) in 1941, initially without first administering anaesthetic, which was subsequently introduced after patients were fracturing or dislocating their limbs during the process. Occupational Therapy was introduced in 1937, with patients going on to make lampshades, sand bags and camouflage nets for the subsequent war effort. During the late 1930’s, overcrowding became so intense, with Denbigh having around 260 more patients than it was equipped and staffed to accommodate, outbreaks of influenza, TB and typhoid and dysentery took their toll on the cramped wards, with well over 100 deaths recorded in some years. The large nurses home to the north of the site was opened in 1934.
The early 1940’s forced regime change at all British asylums, as staffing shortages meant that rules around the gender segregation for staff and patients became increasingly impractical. At Denbigh, female staff were now allowed to work on the male side as needed, and no longer had to leave the employ of the asylum if they wanted to get married, while male staff no longer needed to apply to the asylum’s commissioners if they wanted to get married or live off-site.
By the mid 1940’s controversial treatments such pre-frontal leucotomy had been introduced, along with barbitone sodium (which would put patients into a sleep-like state for up to 2 weeks), apomorphine to create aversion to alcohol or opiate-based drugs, and endocrine “treatment” for sex offenders, which would have included homosexuality at that time, and some of these practices, including the leucotomies, were still in use by the 1960’s.
With the introduction of the NHS in 1948, Denbigh was able to mark its 100th anniversary by a name change to the North Wales Hospital, as its population reached over 1,500. But as new chemical drugs, including psychotropic and anti-depressants became available, wards were gradually unlocked, allowing patients greater freedoms and a more relaxed regime, as well as seeing patient numbers beginning to fall by the end of the 1950’s. All wards now had TVs, radios and gramophones, the recreation hall had cinema projection equipment, and a new cricket pitch, football field and sports pavilion were built in 1960. Later that year, the Minister of Health, Enoch Powell would visit Denbigh, and it was here that he first announced his plans for closure the of the country’s former County Asylums, which was summarised in his following speech to the Party Conference in 1961, some excerpts from which are below:
“I have intimated to the hospital authorities…that in 15 years’ time there may well be needed not more than half as many places in hospitals for mental illness as there are today. Expressed in numerical terms, this would represent a redundancy of no fewer than 75,000 hospital beds.
In line with this plan, patient numbers were declining much more rapidly by the late 1960’s, and many of the social and physical activities could no longer be supported with these dwindling numbers. During the 1970’s, the work regimes of the patients were also gradually curtailed in line with national ideas intended to avoid the exploitation of patient labour, a boon to some patients no doubt, but leaving others with far less options for useful and productive ways to spend their time – some had already worked on particular farm or labouring jobs for decades by that time, and it was a hugely significant part of their daily lives.
The 1983 Care in the Community Act saw the closure of the great mental hospitals begin in earnest, and by 1987, a plan had been drawn up for the closure of Denbigh itself. Pool Parc closed in 1991, and still lies in a derelict state today. After 147 years, the North Wales Hospital finally closed in August 1995.
After closure, Denbigh’s Grade II listed buildings were subject to one of the most controversial and complex sale and re-use dramas of any British asylum. Like most, it was quickly and thoughtlessly sold off at a cheap price (£350,000), eventually passing into the hands of an offshore-based owner, Denbigh Freemont, who submitted plans deemed unacceptable by the local Council. Thwarted, the buildings were stripped of everything of sale-able value, and left to deteriorate, much to the ire of the Council and locals who had little choice but to stand by and watch a key part of their collective history crumble away, suspended in bureaucratic deadlock. In 2004 Prince Charles visited the site and placed all the buildings under the protection of the Phoenix Trust in a bid to ensure that the buildings future, but in 2008, the recreation hall was completely destroyed in a suspected arson attack. The still-absent owners were served with a notice to carry out repair works with a deadline of the close of 2009, but these were ignored, and the Council served an Urgent Works notice in 2011, spending around £900,000 on measures to slow the decay of the building. Plans have now been drawn up to complete a Compulsory Purchase Order and redevelop the site within the next few years.
Since closure, the hospital buildings have been subject to wide-scale looting and vandalism, as well as numerous arson attacks, such as those of November 2008 and April 2018. Fires in February and July 2017 resulted in an announcement that sections of the hospital would have to be demolished due to them being beyond repair. Some of the early damage to the structures following closure, such as the blowing up of doors, was a consequence of the site being used for a joint exercise by North Wales Police and the armed forces.
I have been to Denbigh Asylum Hospital 3 times; the first time was in 2014 during the day where I took these pictures with my son and daughter in. We got good assess to the site from the back farm field and had a good tour around the hospital.
We first seen a small chapel on the west side of the main building, I’m not sure if it’s called Primary Range!
What we saw inside the chapel was a beautiful old timber roof structure, it’s more interesting view. The chapel had been cleared out and there was nothing to see just the floor and walls, no line of pews or altar in nave area, it’s a shame.
After leaving the chapel and heading towards the main building and we saw an Asbestos post sign which is very dangerous when inhaled. The partials sit in your lungs and in many years can become cancerous and cause death. We came prepared and knew if it did have Asbestos, we had our P3 masks in our pockets!
Secondly, we visited the 3 story, white, long Nurses Home, it had many broken windows, that was our way in. I took pictures of ground floor which had very dark area as many windows were boarded up to stop people getting in. Stupid yobs keep smashing up things inside for fun which I completely disagree with. To carry-on the tour, we went to the first and second floor, to find it corridors with lots of nurse’s rooms but at the end room near the stairway, one of the rooms had the devil worship of the Sigil of Baphomet on the floor and on the wall that link to church of Satan. Maybe a group of people come in at night time to worship or try to find the ghost spirits from the past.
At last, we were ready for a big challenge which was to cross a security manned road between the Nurses Home and the main building. Over the years, this place has been a home to a local legend 'Elwyn' the self-proclaimed security guard who wasn't afraid of a confrontation or even setting his German Shepard on anyone that decided to trespass onto the grounds. That was our biggest worry if we were caught by Elwyn and his dog but luckily, we crossed at the right time to the main building as no one was around. We walked around the corner to view the main entrance with clock tower but there was no clock on it, it must have been removed. Wow the view, I quickly took few pictures before Elwyn drove round the block. Finally, we got inside the building phew, we got a full tour and the clock tower inside was replaced with a new metal roof and 2 floors had been removed only so we could just see though to the metal roof.
On the north side of the building, it was badly damaged, the floor had collapsed caused by the rain itself. Usually this doesn’t cause structural damage, but any water that leaks into a building through gaps in the roof or wall can lead to messes that can be costly to clean up, but because it was left there and they didn’t repair the roof for many years, the wood joints got wet rot and too weak to hold up the main flooring which caused the collapse. (see pictures) Standing water can cause the walls, flooring, ceiling and sheetrock below to be compromised and it could collapse altogether in any abandoned building, this does happen.
We walked further to the other part of main building and saw a steel staircase on the outside which led us to the 2nd floor. When I walked in the middle of carpeted floor, it started to move downward slightly so I backed up as I knew the floor jointed were then affected by wet rot. We walked carefully keeping to the side of the corridor avoiding the middle to get other side of room. As we moved along the corridor, we could see each rooms floor was very badly damaged or missing. One room had mould on the wall with white mildew which causes a powdery growth on surface of leaves, buds, young shoots, fruits, and flowers. This is caused by many specialized races of fungal species.
OK, let talk about Asbestos, the warning signpost outside the main building. Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous silicate mineral, a highly heat-resistant fibrous silicate mineral that can be woven into fabrics, and is used in fire-resistant and insulating materials. In the 1920s to 1970s, during this hospital revamping and extension they used asbestos fibrous in the roofing and wall insulation. This looked like a plastic board wall and was also used for pipe insulation in the basement. When the hospital closed in 1995 all the roof supports started to rot due to the rain which caused damp. This disrepair and asbestos fibrous roof started to collapse to the 2nd floor and left wet, rotting wood to pile up. Over time the weight of roofing structure with the wet wood and asbestos fibrous became too heavy to hold up with 2nd floor which already affected by damp. The 2nd floor then eventually collapsed to the 1st floor and then the 1st floor crashed to the ground floor. That’s how that happened.
The wall with the asbestos fibres cannot hold up the wall safely if it’s too badly affected by damp or rainwater and over time, will to, collapse.
Asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999 following an initial ban on blue and brown asbestos types (crocidolite and amosite in 1985.
When the warning signpost said Hazard Asbestos that’s means if explorers go inside and walk all over ground, it will cause a breakup the asbestos fibres which causes spores to travel in the air space. They would then inhale it and over time cause illness and death, that’s why we brought PP3 masks. Being honest, the PP3 wouldn’t fully stop asbestos getting into lung, most building constructors would wear a full suit with full face cover, which fully protects against asbestos. If I see asbestos fibres on the floor, I stay away from it and I won’t walk over it, be sensible!
Anyway, let’s move on, we toured every building to make sure that we cover it all, but there were no signs of ongoing construction anywhere. On our way back to car where we start off, we careful walked along the road on outside of main building into field area and lucky done out great escape without seeing security or being caught. Finally, we did enjoy the view and took lots of photos but at the time, I didn’t have my GO Pro camera, I needed to buy one.
Thanks for reading.