Whittingham Hospital – An Abandoned English Psychiatric 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 and 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 World War II. 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.

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