Whittingham Hospital – An Abandoned English Psychiatric Hospital

Whittingham State Hospital

Whittingham Hospital was a psychiatric hospital near Preston in Lancashire, England. After an abuse scandal in the late 1960s, the hospital entered a state of decline and eventually closed in 1995. It was left abandoned for a number of years before most of the buildings were demolished.

Construction on Whittingham Hospital began in 1869 after the three existing asylums in Lancashire were deemed full. Prestwich, Rainhill and Lancaster were all over capacity and so the new facility was established. The red brick building designed by Henry Littler of Manchester was opened in 1873. The hospital was called the Fourth Lancashire County Asylum when it first opened.

An old photo of Whittingham Hospital

The original entrance to Whittingham Hospital which became known later as St Luke’s Division.

The capacity of the hospital at opening was 1100 and the site contained both Anglican and Catholic churches an a recreation hall. There were farms on the grounds to help feed the residents, some of whom worked on the land. Before long, the hospital became the largest of it’s kind in Britain with the addition of a railway station, a post office, reservoirs, brewery, orchestra, ballroom and butchers.

Capacity for another 700 patients was added in 1880 with the opening of a new annex. A sanatorium for patients with infectious diseases was added in 1884. Electric lamps were erected on the grounds in 1894. By 1915, two further annexes were added and the number of residents reached 2,820.

Map of Whittingham Hospital

Map of Whittingham Hospital showing how vast the facility was. Map by Dr Greg.

During the outbreak of World War I, the newest annex was commandeered for the treatment of war casualties. Those who died in the facility were buried in the private cemetery on site. The hospital returned to civilian use after the war and a strike by the National Asylum Workers Union followed. It was resolved soon after and the 429 employees returned to work.

The hospital became known as Whittingham Mental Hospital in 1923 having been known informally as Whittingham Asylum in the preceding years, rather than its full title of Fourth Lancashire County Asylum. The word asylum was officially banned in the naming of such facilities by the Mental Treatment Act 1930. It also allowed voluntary patients to enter the system for the first time and by 1939, 3,533 people were in residence in Whittingham, cared for by 548 members of staff.

Parts of the hospital were commandeered by the military again during the Second World War. The first to be treated at the facility were evacuees from Dunkirk. As the Allies marched towards Berlin, the injured were repatriated to facilities like Whittingham to be treated.

Whittingham Abandoned Hospital

The side of the St Luke’s Division building soon after abandonment.

As Britain recovered after the war, the facility was officially renamed Whittingham Hospital and was taken over by the newly formed National Health Service. In the 1950s, Dr C.S. Parker and Mr Charles Breakall produced an early electroencephalograph (EEG) machine to record electrical activity of the brain. Today, this technology is used to help diagnose epilepsy and other brain disorders.

A meeting of student nurses on 18 July 1967 resulted in a number of complaints about cruelty and ill treatment being submitted to management. At first, the complaints were covered up but eventually, the hospital management committee launched an investigation. They discovered a number of major issues at the facility. These included patients being locked outside or in washrooms and cupboards, patients being dragged by their hair, patients being fed on only bread and jam, patients strangled with a wet towel until they passed out, patients being punched until they lost consciousness. There was an incident in which two male nurses poured methylated spirits into the slippers of one patient and into the dressing gown pocket of another and set them alight. Further to this, major issues were found within the buildings such as pest infestation, leaks and damp. There was also found to be a culture of petty theft on the wards and of serious fraud and embezzlement in some administrative offices.

St Luke's Division abandoned asylum

A shot of the site of the building much later (and on another side) to the above. It is in much worse state of dereliction.

Whittingham Hospital went into decline after the investigation as parts of the facility were closed. New medication in the 1970s and 1980s led to a reduction in mental health facilites in general in this period. In the early 1990s, services at Whittingham began to be wound down and it eventually closed in 1995. A new, smaller mental health facility called Guild Lodge was built on the site and opened in 1999.

The Guild Park housing development was planned for the site with 650 new homes to be built however the economic downturn of the late 2000s halted the development. Many of the buildings on the site have now been demolished although some will be retained, notably the original main entrance block and the grade II listed St John’s Church.

Location: Lancashire, England

Abandoned: 1995

 

15 thoughts on “Whittingham Hospital – An Abandoned English Psychiatric Hospital”

  1. Thank you for some really good information and photos of Whittingham Ayslum. One of my ancestors was there for many years. What kind of life did he have? Not a very good one it seems.

  2. My Grandpa was in Whittingham Asylum in the the late 1960s visiting him, which I always did at the weekend, he had two black eyes, I asked him what had happened, he pointed to a male nurse at a desk and told me that the nurse had been hitting him, I was livid, I went and asked the nurse what had happened, he told me my Grandpa had fallen out of bed, I MAY have understood that if Grandpa's nose had been bruised, also told the nurse at the time, if there was ever a mark on him again, I would wait outside the door when the said nurse was going home on his push bike and that I would help him to move faster with the front of my car…..by the way Grandpa was on ward 11, one nurse to look after at least 100 men ?????? why was I never reported for my threats?? I have a darn good answer, Grandpa was telling the truth, ending this, my Grandpa never had another mark on him………….

  3. Visited on 18 August 2015, the old hospital is being demolished, only the front door and surrounding windows still erect, and the site is still active as a NHS facility (mental health?)

  4. I have different memories of Whittingham hospital, I lived on Woodlands Grove and attended Goosnargh, St Olivers C of E primary school between the years 1948 and 1953.
    Skating on the lake, playing cricket on the oval, riding bicycles through the grounds and seeing movies of the day in the large dance hall during the school holidays, are some of my memories. I would say mostly happy memories of childhood. But as children we would have had no knowledge of what it was like to be a patient or have family members inside the place. It sounds like it has a dark past.
    Seeing the videos of its current condition makes one think it should be totally demolished and the area populated with new homes and happy children and families. the area of Goosnargh is a pretty part of Lancashire.

  5. I was a student Nurse at Whittingham in the early eighties , there was a lot of abuse on some of the wards and there were efforts to improve the life for the people who lived there . The staff who had been there a long time were as institutionalised as the patients .
    Despite this a lot of patients did not want to leave and regarded the hospital as their home and a lot of the wards did try to make the best of things for the patients . I enjoyed my time working there and met some lovely people who had entered Whittingham in their early teens and we’re still there in their sixties , seventies and eighties .

  6. A relative of mine is registered as working as a nurse at Whittingham Hospital on 3.12.1965. Her name was Violet Elsie Dereszkiewicz [nee Welch-Rollason]. Does anyone have any information as to whether any records were kept/archived about the staff please?

  7. Ive just discovered that my 2nd great grandmother had been admitted to Whittingham in 1882 and died there on 1915 …33 yrs she spent there….does anybody have any idea if people who passed away in the hospital would have been buried on the grounds ..thanks

  8. My Great Grandmother Elizabeth Flanagan would appear to have been at Whittingham in 1891 cencus but it only shows her Initials E F. Is there any way of confirming it is her and the date she arrived and was discharged? Thank you

  9. Yes, as a nurse at Whittingham hospital, I attended funeral services of patients and they were
    buried in the hospital cemetery

  10. My grandad & Nana worked there, not sure what year, my grandad was a chef and nana was a cleaner never asked about what went on there but I can imagine before mental health was known about the patients probably were abused beaten and starved, and their needs were probably never met or they weren’t medicated. It’s a shame people’s family members suffered so badly in the 1900s

  11. Andrew Schofield

    Recently discovered my Great Grandmother was in Whittingham. For those asking about records I searched on Lancashire Archives website and found two mentions of her in the Whittingham records. She was there for 24 years until her death in 1945. Will have to visit to view the records but you might be lucky as well.

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