Abandoned mental asylums are treasure-troves for adventurous photographers, curious historians, and well-traveled urban explorers. They’ve got everything: amazing architecture, infamous history, gorgeous grounds. Some are more decayed than others, and a few are barely standing.
Built throughout the 19th century, these structures housed everyone from epileptics to mothers suffering from post-natal depression, to people with severe and often violent mental illness. It was easy to get in: insane asylums took anyone who was committed, but rarely released them in their lifetime. The 1940s and ’50s were dark times for mental health, with many inhumane treatments such as lobotomies taking place, but the ’70s saw a social push for asylum reform.
In response, the government of Margaret Thatcher created the “Care in the Community” policy in the ’80s which altered the approach for caring for the mentally ill from sending people to institutions to helping them live a healthy life in their own homes. Patients started to be transferred out of the asylums, and today there are only a handful still in operation – the rest of the asylums have suffered various fates. Some have been demolished completely, others have been re-purposed, but many have just been abandoned, seemingly forgotten about and left to brave the elements.
Although the asylums on this list are abandoned, that does not mean they are public property. Trespassing is illegal, and they have various levels of security. There are also dangerous, non-legal risks involved. Many of these building have exposed asbestos and are not structurally sound.
1. Denbigh Asylum – Denbigh, North Wales
Image: Andre Govia/Flickr
Denbigh Asylum was constructed in 1844 in response to the terrible neglect Welsh patients were facing in English prisons in the 1800s. Since Wales didn’t have the funds to build their own asylums, their sickest patients had to be sent to asylums in the greater UK. Although they received similar treatment to the other English patients, most Welsh patients didn’t speak a word of English, and their doctors in turn spoke no Welsh. Completely isolated, mentally ill, and powerless to communicate, the situation got so bad one English asylum superintendent was quoted saying,
When the poor Welshman is sent to an English Asylum he is submitted to the most refined modern cruelties, being doomed to an imprisonment amongst strange people, and an association with his fellow men, whom he is prohibited from holding communications, harassed by wants which he cannot make known and appealed to by sounds which he cannot comprehend, he become irritable and irritated; and it is proverbial in our English Asylum that the Welshmen is the most turbulent patient wherever he happens to become an inmate
Clearly, something had to be done and money was set aside to build Wales its own asylum where patients could receive proper care. After Denbigh was completed it housed 1,500 patients and 1,000 staff.
Image: Andre Govia/Flickr
Although it was in use for years, the arrival of mental health reform in the ’60s meant the end for Denbigh, and it was closed in sections from 1991 to 2002. Since 2002 the buildings have stood empty, but the asylum still had one important visitor in the last few years; the Prince of Wales visited in 2004, granting the buildings historic status and saved them from destruction. Although some asbestos removal has started, not much has changed since 2004.
Plans to turn Denbigh into a housing development have been approved, and construction could begin any day.