Archive for March, 2012

Another Student visit

March 29th, 2012

Yesterday morning we had another group visit by Dr Tracey Loughran, lecturer in History at Cardiff University, this time with some second year History students.

We made a start with Tim’s talk on the history of Whitchurch with Dr Ian Beech also sharing his knowlege with the group.

Tim's presentation

Ian telling us about the Dr Goodall years

I then gave a presentation on the history of drug treatments in psychiatry.

The group

 

Ian in full flow

We then moved from the old West ward to the main hall where we heard about the concerts that used to take place and saw the future plans for accommodation.

The weather was fantastic so we finished off the morning with a tour around the outside of the hospital

Thank you to all who came along and those who helped make it another great visit.

 

 

 

Dangers facing Disused Asylums

March 22nd, 2012

Part 1: Trespass and Neglect

One of the things that spurred on my research into Whitchurch ahead of its closure is the fate of the many listed asylums in the UK that have been horribly neglected. It’s a real shame to see these buildings come to harm, but no group of listed buildings has been so poorly treated as historic mental hospitals.

Cane Hill

Arson can be a huge problem, as it has been here at Cane Hill, Croydon, as is vandalism. Large sites spread over many acres are easy targets for thieves and vandals. The spike in prices of scrap metal have seen all kinds of buildings and structures pillaged for lead roofing, pipework and even memorial plaques. Large sites are often left with only one security guard to protect them, which simply isn’t enough to guarantee the safety of the building and its contents.  In addition to these issues, the simple fact of leaving a Victorian or Edwardian building empty without regular maintenance can be the death knell for these structures; it is much easier to argue the case for demolition if a building is deemed unsafe, even though that may be through owner neglect.
Trespassing, however, cannot be condemned entirely. There is very little opportunity for the public to engage with the history of residential mental healthcare, and very often, people are drawn to abandoned asylums for this reason. These people are called ‘urban explorers’, and I spoke to them through internet forums for my research. They had very interesting perspectives on the history of these buildings, and how access to them is very important. Some argued that a museum in an asylum would discourage them from visiting, but most agreed that the reason that abandoned hospitals feature so prominently in urban exploration communities (every website I looked at had a whole section devoted to asylums) is that there is simply no other way to engage with them.

One of the most impressive by-products of urban exploration is the photography of explorers. They take some fantastic photographs of these buildings, and in many cases have provided the best record of demolished, vandalised, and fire-damaged asylums you can find.

West Park

West Park

To see some more great examples of this work, visit:

http://www.28dayslater.co.uk
http://urbanexplorers.net/
http://www.urbexforums.co.uk/

Hopefully, Whitchurch will never have to worry about the issues of neglect or trespass, as the examples above have done. What it may need to be very concerned about, however, is the threat of unsympathetic development, which I will explain in Dangers facing Disused Asylums, Part 2.

 

Thank you to Laura for this post