Abandoned Asylums: Opened with high hopes

Universally Accepted Creepiness

There is a universally accepted creepiness about abandoned asylums and hospitals. They are creepy enough when they are still in use, long corridors, Victorian architecture and small panelled windows that seem to encourage the wind to whistle through them.

Modern hospitals are different obviously but still, there are some that just feel wrong. Maybe it’s that lingering feeling that people have died there, suffered there and lost there.

An abandoned asylum caught my eye and peeked my interest and I began to wonder at the possibilities of a story set in one. It’s not a new thing I know. I loved House on Haunted Hill. But something about them just asks for a chance to scare you. Perhaps it’s their need to be immortalised against the coming demolition. Their own death.

I’ll begin with my favourite, but which one would you pick? Which one would you visit, on a dark night, with nothing but torches and couple of friends?

British Abandoned Asylums

Hellingly Hospital (East Sussex County Asylum)

Designed by the architect G.T. Hine and opened in 1903 Hellingly Asylum was a very large complex. Isolated from the local population by its vast parkland grounds and only a single road and rail line to access it.

It was largely self-sufficient and the staff and patients lived within its walls.

You can find much more information on Hellingly here. 

There were obviously numerous deaths in the building over the years and it can only be imagined that some of those ghosts still remain wandering the halls.

Whittingham Hospital

Originally opened on the 1st of April 1873 it was virtually self-sufficient and another asylum with its own train line.

An inquiry into the St.Lukes ward began in 1968, after a new psychologist took up a post there, and resulted in an investigation in 1971. The reported allegations and complaints reigned from theft to torture. The hospital finally closed in 1995.

abandoned asylums, hospital, ruins, Whittingham Hospital
From www.jarrelook.co.uk

You can find more information here.

High Royds Hospital

Opened on the 8th of October 1888 and was then called West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum.

Built south of Menston in Yorkshire it also had its own train station until 1951 and was intended to be self-sufficient. The name changed in the 1920’s to Menston Mental Hospital where shock therapy became popular, along with insulin shock therapy and lobotomies.

And then in the 1950s, the hospital began trials with the mood stabilizer Lithium.

The hospital finally became High Royds in 1963 and began to employ patients in the grounds doing everything from sewing to working on the farm.

It finally closed in the late 1990s like most mental hospitals as the new community care systems were introduced.

High Royds Hospital, abandoned asylums
from Lucy Gibson Blog

You can find more information here.

Cane Hill Hospital

Building work was completed in 1882 and designed by architect Charles Henry Howell.

This Asylum was home to relatives of well-known figures. Charlie Chaplin’s mother was a patient until 1912 when Charlie transferred her to private care. Later it was to house the brothers of David Bowie and Michael Caine.

The hospital used a range of therapies including ECT and Hydrotherapy.

It closed in 1991, all except for one small secure unit which finally closed in 2008.

abandoned asylums, horror, Cane Hill Hospital
From the Abandoned Britain website

You can find more information here.

Brookwood Hospital

Opened on the 17th of June 1867 and at the time was called Brookwood Asylum. It was situated between Basingstoke and Knaphill Village.

It served as an emergency war hospital in WWII but otherwise remained a mental institution. There was a very high mortality rate, possibly as a result of overcrowding, with a number of cases of Typhoid, colitis, influenza and erysipelas. Some, it is reported died of bedsores.

In 1919 it became known as Brookwood Hospital and closed its doors in 1994.

Brookwood Hospital, abandoned asylums
from the knaphill.org website

Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any interior pictures of this building despite its interesting story. You can find more information here.

Denbigh Lunatic Asylum

Building work was completed in 1848 and was the 1st psychiatric institute built in Wales, located in Denbighshire.

It offered treatments that included Cardiazol, Malarial treatment, Insulin shock, sulphur based drugs and later ECT and Lobotomy.

It was closed in sections between 1991 and 2002.

Denbigh Lunatic Asylum, abandoned asylums
From Project M4YH3M

You can find more information here.

Deva Asylum 

Opened in 1829 and located in the grounds of the Countess of Chester Hospital it was originally called The Cheshire County Lunatic Asylum.

It became known as Diva in 1953 but closed in 1991.

Unfortunately, it’s one of the ones that got demolished in 2009, so although there are some great pictures any thoughts of your book being turned into a movie might require a still standing location.

You can find more information here.

Talgarth Asylum

Located in the Black Mountains of Mid- Wales this building was erected in 1903, a little later in date than the others in this post.

Originally called Brecon and Radnor Joint Asylum it took in patients from both world wars which swelled its numbers and resulted in new wards being built.

Like of the other abandoned asylums mentioned above, when it was built it was designed to be self-sufficient which allowed patients to engage in employment without leaving the grounds.

Finally closing its doors in the mid-1990’s.

You can learn more here.

St. Johns Asylum

Located in Lincolnshire it was built in 1852 and was known by the very long name of Lindsey & Holland Counties & Lincoln & District Lunatic Asylum.

Eventually becoming known (after some equally long names) St John’s in the 1960s.

It was another asylum that followed the self-sufficiency model with able-bodied patients being employed to do work around the grounds.

But after the outbreak of world war II, it became an emergency hospital and passed to the NHS in 1948.

Finally closing its doors in December 1989 it gradually joined the list of abandoned asylums.

St. Johns Asylum, abandoned asylums
From Behind Closed Doors

You can find more information here.

St Luke’s Hospital, Middlesbrough

A bit of a nod to my local lunatic asylum, this place opened in 1898 and was originally called The Cleveland Asylum. In 1948 the hospital was transferred to the NHS after which it saw numerous changes and modernisation.

It took care of patients until 2010 when the new Roseberry Park facility was opened. It has since been demolished.

You can find more information here.


As seen in the abandoned asylums above there was a limit range of treatments and some undertaken where un-tested. So I thought a brief look at the ones mentioned might be interesting.


Electroconvulsive therapy is still used today but on far fewer ailments than originally applied to. Developed in the 1930s it was widely used in asylums for the treatment of all kinds of mental ailments.

An epileptic fit is produced by the passage of an electric current through the brain. It changes the blood flow in the brain and the metabolism of the parts responsible for depression. Apparently, recent research has discovered that it can help grow new cells and pathways in the brain.

When it was first undertaken there was no anaesthetic and patients would break bones and injure themselves whilst having the seizure.


Hydrotherapy as a medical treatment began around 1829 and came to England in 1842. It can take place using hot or cold water and is said to help with everything from alcoholism to rheumatism.


Sulfa drugs were used to treat infections. Which at one stage it was considered all mental illnesses came from after they discovered syphilis could cause many of the symptoms of mental ailments.


Lobotomy could be used to treat everything from a backache to schizophrenia this surgery was used widely in the 20th century. Originally performed by drilling into the head psychiatrist Walter Freeman created the 10-minute transorbital lobotomy.

As those who watched the procedure described it, a patient would be rendered unconscious by electroshock. Freeman would then take a sharp ice pick-like instrument, insert it above the patient’s eyeball through the orbit of the eye, into the frontal lobes of the brain, moving the instrument back and forth. Then he would do the same thing on the other side of the face.

-taken from an NPR article snippet on the psychcentral.com website.

Insulin Shock Therapy

Discovered after an accidental overdose of insulin the treatment was perfected and called ‘Sakel’s Technique’. The results of insulin coma therapy were temporary rather than the cure it was originally thought to be and gradually phased out. Sakel’s technique was apparently gentler and used for much longer.


Is the drug Pentylenetetrazol and used a circulatory stimulant.  A high dose could cause convulsions, much the same as the ECT therapy and eventually replaced by ECT in 1939.

Abandoned Asylums: Fuel for your Imagination

I hope that these very British abandoned asylums have given you some ideas. The pictures are inspirational in themselves and I can easily imagine wandering the halls and spooks trying to frighten me.

Perhaps I’ll attend a ghost tour in one of the many abandoned asylums around the country at some point.


What say you?

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