Whittingham Asylum had been on my 'to do' list for so long after seing a rather sombre video of the interiors on the Internet. I just had to get inside and see it for myself. My first visit on a frosty February morning in 2013 proved unsuccesful. Armed with little info on how to find a way in I failed spectacularly and just took exteriors. There seemed no way in this monster of epic proportions. Standing on the football pitch along side the shells of buildings strutting out from the earth like they had been bombed during war, the sheer scale of the place hit me. Whittingham really is a huge complex of buildings which never seem to end. There was a perculiar silence all around. Dog walkers seemed to walk past without glancing at it as if afraid of what it was, or maybe they knew what its histroy had entailed and refused to acknowledge ts presence.
Each building entwined with ivy as it weaved itself all along the complex like a ginat snake. I knew I had to return.
Visit two the following week, and again I failed to find a way in to the main building. I did however go inside The Bowland Unit, which by all acounts was a more secure unit on the complex for patients. I left, again dissapointed but vowing to make one last attempt to find the entrance.
VIsit number three a fortnight later and I was inside, finally. The decay of the interior advanced beyond repair. Floors missing, walls crumbling. Trees growing inside the buildings. At one point my foot went through a floor which seemed secure but wasn't. Luckily my first aid kit came to hand. Five long hours inside, photographing everything from peeling walls, broken glass, the grand ballroom, still deorated in the decorations of its final christmas.
Finding my way out however, proved to be tricky and took quite a while. remembering which corridor to turn down when they all looked the same made for confusion and disorienation. Eventually I recognised the exit and made my way out. Whittingham had been ticked off finally from the list. An experience never to forget. My first asylum and definitely not the last.
Its history is vast and involves some dark secrets. The hospital was founded in 1869 and grew to be the largest mental hospital in Britain and pioneered the use of electroencephalograms (EEGs).
The hospital was built in 4 phases comprising the main building, the annex, the house and the West annex. Additionally, a Sanatorium of fourteen beds was built for infectious diseases which became known as ‘Fryars’ Villa’ and later became the staff accommodation. The hospital officially opened on 1 April 1873 and served the community for almost 150 years, and, in its’ day, was virtually a self-sufficient community with its own church, farms, railway, telephone exchange, post office, reservoirs, gas works, brewery, orchestra, brass band, ballroom and butchers.
During the 1960’s there was a large investigation into the practices at the Hospital due to allegations of ill-treatment and fraud.
During the 1970s and 1980s, new drugs and therapies were introduced to treat people suffering from mental illnesses. Long-stay patients were returned to the community or dispersed to smaller units around Preston. The hospital closed in 1995.
While some buildings on the outskirts of the site have been demolished, an enormous sprawling collection of buildings still stand to this day like ghosts of a past era.