Archive for August, 2012

Dangers Facing Disused Asylums

August 16th, 2012

Part 2: Development

Historic asylum buildings have been developed extensively over the last few decades as they pass into obsolescence as medical facilities. Most are adapted for residential use. However, this can often be very dangerous for the historical integrity of a building. For example, Cane Hill and West Park Asylum, London, both suffered serious structural damage and vandalism whilst in the hands of developers, awaiting planning permission or building work.

However, it is possible for historic asylums to be well-adapted for new purposes. A famous example would be the Imperial War Museum, which is housed in the former buildings of the Bethlem Royal Museum and Archives. Although the history of Bedlam is largely absent (although represented off-site at the Bethlem Royal Museum and Archives –, the building has been preserved well, and much of the fine architectural detail of the hospital is still present.

It is far more common, however, for asylums to be converted for residential purposes. Some developers are keen to hide all traces of their development’s institutional history, such as this development by Comer Homes.

Princess park Manor website – no asylum mention


Its new residents may well have no clue that their home was once Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum, as Comer Homes were meticulous in not even hinting at the building’s origins. The building is now known as Princess Park Manor, and as you can see from their website at, even the history section is at great pains to avoid the topic of the hospital’s former use. In addition, much demolition and structural alteration has meant that internally, the building has been significantly altered.

This kind of development could be considered unethical. Both the history and the internal structure of hospitals is lost to the marketing and market forces. However, the shell of the hospital, which is magnificent, is preserved, so some would argue that this is an acceptable sacrifice to preserve a hospital in part, and there is no viable alternative in most cases. In rare cases, however, development has been sympathetic, and I will look at the most ethically and financially viable example of preserving a hospital as a residential development in my next post, when I want to look at some possibilities for the future of Whitchurch Hospital if it should close.

Thank you to Laura for this post.