Sunday, 20 March 2011


'All around me are familiar faces, worn out places, worn out faces'Orzabal/Roland
Just the mention of a psychiatric hospital, to some, evokes harboured thoughts for the institutes, and names, such as funny farms, loony bins, madhouses, nut-homes and high walled secure asylums where the patients have been sectioned because they’re crazy, mad, nutcases, batty, crackpots, unhinged, barking, loopy, round the twist, lost their marbles, have a screw lose, wacko, off their rocker, cuckoo - the list goes on and on. Many never stop to think that it could be a safe sanctuary for individuals who may have a form of a mental illness. An illness that can’t be seen by the naked eye like a broken limb, a bleeding cut or a rash. Those needing specialized medical care may be suffering from a neurological disorder such as epilepsy, seizures, blackouts, ADHD, schizophrenia or depression of some form. Also side effects from drink and drugs, hereditary passed down illnesses or, modern day pressures that may have taken their toll with behavioural actions and thoughts effected. Even a sexual disease, syphilis, can travel through the body and cause infection of the brain. Eventually, any of these can lead to someone not being able to function normally.
A mental illness isn’t a rare affliction: one in four UK residents will be struck with a brain disorder at sometime in their life – fact!

There has also been uncountable documentaries, TV series and films made that were set, or contained scenes from, or events that happened, in asylums: flicks like The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Monkeys, Gothika, Awakenings, The Butterfly Effect, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest have been based on secure units. The aforementioned 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, is one of only three to win ‘the big 5’ (pic, actor, actress, director, screenplay) awards at the Oscars. Rated as one of, if not, the best film ever, the lead role of McMurphy (played by Jack Nicholson) was originally offered to Kirk Douglas. He agreed to play the ‘madman’, but then declined due to family pressure because of the subject of the film. The other two to win ‘the big 5’ are, It Happened One Night in 1934, and, The Silence of the Lambs in 1991!
It seems to be that we have a somewhat nervy fascination with Asylums, their patients and therapies too - whether this be in fictional form or, for real. Therapies ranging from drug induced deep sleeps, insulin and cardiazol therapy, electro-convulsive shocks through holes drilled into the skull, and the most barbaric, trans orbital lobotomies. An operation preformed by using a ice-pick like device!

So, with all the above in mind, I set off from where I live over the fields to Whittingham, and the site of the now closed Whittingham Psychiatric Hospital, full of trepidation, I must add. Unluckily, or luckily, whichever way you look at it, the abandoned hospital buildings were fenced off, so I could only circle the fringes of the site. But even during daylight the place is eerie, and kinda spooky, as rooks squawk in surrounding woodlands as they fly from tree to tree. The last time I walked through the grounds was when I was a kid ‘egging’, times when I hadn’t a care in the world and hadn’t a clue really who resided there, or what the gaff was.

Whittingham Psychiatric Hospital, built in 1873, was the largest in the UK, and the second largest in Europe, when in use. And at its peak, it housed over 3,500 patients and employed over 500 staff too. If buildings could tell tales of their history, I personally wouldn’t want to hear any of the ones in photos - no thanks indeed. Sightings of ghosts and bone chilling sounds heard over the years are still rife since the last key was turned locking the solid oak doors shut. Such myths (?) do the rounds whenever the hospital is dropped into a conversation in our neck of the woods.
Since the hospital closed a new secure unit has been constructed nearby, The Guild, because there will always be people in need of care. There are also plans submitted for new family homes to be built on the grounds when the site is cleared in the not too distant future. Hopefully one day soon, the haunted past of Whittingham Hospital may be exorcised once and for all, and the souls of the inflicted will be finally at peace. Even though it is stated that Whittingham Hospital can hold its head high for providing welfare and comfort to individuals who would have spent their days in misery...

William Routledge.

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