A date to Denbigh asylum

Denbighshire asylum is an abandoned psychiatric hospital nestled in the north Wales countryside. Regarded as one of the great Victorian institutions, building began in 1844 and at its height was home to 1500 patients.

Its treatment of psychiatric disorders was often regarded as barbaric and the controversial hospital was designated for closure in 1960. It would take until 1995 to close its doors for good.

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With an Ouija board in tow, this was hands down the best date I’ve been on. I developed an interest in urbexing (urban exploration) last year and was excited to make a pal with similar interests.

The gorgeous grade 2 listed building with its Gothic architecture is soon to be flattened in favour of a shopping complex, so I was desperate to finally see it.

I was particularly excited because my dad actually worked at “Denbigh Mental” as a trainee social worker. Wonder what he’ll think of our photos?

I was unprepared for its sheer scale. Here’s an aerial view:

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Image by David Gaskell

One of the first things you notice when you step inside is the total lack of sound. Despite window panes being long hollowed, the noise from outdoors doesn’t carry.

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It wasn’t all bad at Denbigh. The first annual ball for patients was held in December 1852, whilst in 1867 the first hospital band was formed. Here’s the asylum in its heyday: 

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Denbigh-Postcard

…and here it is now:

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We encountered multiple groups of kids creating their own summer fun, and were joined for a sit-down around a table with a gang on 12 year olds. They offered a hit of their bong before spilling beer over our backpacks. We politely declined but hung around the building, taking great delight in scaring the bejesus out of them.

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My urbex buddy had been there previously and swore he’d heard a girl scream. Although I consider myself an open minded skeptic, I pretty much thought someone had been having him on.

After yesterday, I am well and truly a believer.

Denbigh is a huge place, and we took a breather on a stairwell that led to a basement. I actually found this image online of exactly where the incident happened. The stairs are on the first left.

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Suddenly, footsteps down the corridor. Coming closer and closer.

The supernatural didn’t cross my mind. I was more concerned with encountering infamous self-appointed security guard Elwyn and his rumoured nine dogs, whose favoured phrase is, ‘If I catch you in the asylum I will get my dog to bite your bollocks off!’ Here is his Facebook appreciation page. I particularly enjoyed this recorded encounter.

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Elwyn. Source: Google

We dashed further down into the pitch dark basement. I grabbed the boy’s hand, ’cause this was a date, after all…

The footsteps were so close. We held our breaths and it seemed like they would hear my heart thumping. I didn’t even bother turning around to look at the security guard’s pissy face, that’s how certain I was that we’d been busted.

We shivered in the darkness waiting for something to happen.

My chivalrous date left me in the basement and headed back upstairs to investigate the source of the footsteps.

He scoured the building and its exterior to no avail – there was nowhere outside in the wide open space for anyone to hide. There was no wind, nothing inside the building that could have made such a consistent sound.

I was relieved to still have my balls intact.

Not long after that we really did get busted by Elwyn, although our genitals remained in full form.

Going back was initially a no-no. However, having driven all that way we took a chance and clambered inside the nurses’ quarters. 

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Nurses’ Quarters

I can imagine that at one point the nurses’ quarters had been warm and welcoming. Compared to the metal doors of the institution, care had been taken to paint these rooms in bright colours. Each was of a comfortable size with its own wardrobe and floral wallpaper. I was surprised by how much effort had gone into individualising each personal space.

One of my favourite finds was the on-site creche…

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…which had teeny tiny toilets and murals on the walls. I was particularly taken with Jemima Puddleduck because of a soft toy my dad had given me:

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More than architecture, for me urbexing is all in the detail. Hand drawn murals, terrible 70s wallpaper, stickers, carpets. Details are where personality shines through, a reminder that people really did live here at one point. Imagining someone painting Jemima really gave me goosebumps.

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Gorgeous countryside views from a nurse’s room

Still debating whether to risk sneaking back into the actual asylum, we took some time to whip out the Ouija board.

When asked what name we should call the supposed spirit by, it SORT OF pointed the planchette towards Y-V. ‘Is your name Yvonne?’, we asked. it SORT OF agreed. Then it buggered off and we lost interest.

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Accidental photo – Yvonne having a laugh at my expense?

Upstairs, the attic spanned the entire length of the entire building.

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Back in the asylum, meanwhile, we climbed up onto the mechanism for a lift. We found the tiniest cells which made me feel cold to look at, and tunnels that appeared to span the entire complex.

All in all, we spent around seven hours at the asylum and still didn’t see everything.  As sunset approached, having combed through most of the buildings, we finally found the morgue (six freezer spaces, if you were wondering).

But for me, the crème de la crème was the abandoned chapel of rest. Inside had been gutted, but it was still so beautiful. We lay on our backs staring up at the ceiling with its gorgeous wooden beams. If you didn’t look down, you wouldn’t realise the place was derelict.

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Source: Google

This seemed like as good a place as any to give the Ouija board one last go. I wished I’d brought candles to really up the ambience. Nothing really happened, much to my dismay. I’m now inclined to believe that Ouija boards rely on the power of suggestion.

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Despite the asylum’s controversial history, I was overwhelmed with regret that such a grand building would soon be flattened for the sake of commercialism. Unfortunately the site is in such disrepair that it makes sense to knock it down and start again, but it’s a terrible shame.

Driving home, meanwhile, it finally clicked – if there was nobody in the building when we hid from those footsteps, who WAS in there?

If you’re interested in learning about the controversial practices inflicted on former psychiatric patients, check out the BBC documentary Mental: A Hystery of the Madhouse.

Images by Phill Gaffney. For more of his work follow urbanxplor.

 

 

 

 

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