The Castle and the Asylum
North Wales Hospital (Denbigh Asylum)
Located in Denbigh, Denbighshire Wales
Photo © 2006 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
North Wales Hospital (Denbigh Asylum) History
The North Wales Lunatic Asylum was the first psychiatric institution built in Wales; construction began in 1844 and completed in 1848 in the town of Denbigh. The U-shaped Tudorbethain style hospital was built due to the spreading word of mistreatment of Welsh people in English asylums; The North Wales Hospital would be a haven for welsh speaking residents to seek treatment without prejudice or a language barrier.
Renovations and extensions were made at the hospital from 1867 until 1956, when the hospital reached its maximum capacity at 1,500 patients living inside her walls and 1,000 staff at hand. Physical treatments such as Cardiazol, malarial treatment, insulin shock treatment, and sulphur based drugs were used and developed in the 1920s and 1930s, and 1941-1942 saw the advent of electro convulsive therapy (ECT) and prefrontal leucotomy (lobotomy) treatments.
In 1960, Enoch Powell visited the North Wales Hospital, and later announced the "Hospital Plan" for England and Wales, which proposed that psychiatric care facilities be attached to general hospitals and favored community care over institutional settings. This was the beginning of the end for the North Wales Hospital and others like it; in 1987 a ten year strategy to close the hospital was formed. The North Wales Hospital was closed in sections from 1991 to 2002; most notable was the closure of the main hospital building in 1995.
On July 12, 2004, The Prince of Wales visited the hospital and administered a speech detailing his Phoenix Trust, a historic building trust that prevented the structure from being demolished. The hospital is currently slated to be converted into private homes. Asbestos abatement has started October 2008.
A book called Care and Treatment of the Mentally Ill in North Wales, 1800-2000, by Pamela Michael (2003, ISBN 0-7083-1740-5) describes the rise and fall of the North Wales Hospital from its origins in 1848 to its closure in 1995. The author uses patient case notes to discuss life in an asylum, to look at changing diagnostic and treatment patterns, and to explore the ways in which ordinary people understood and experienced mental illness. Through an examination of the ways in which disruptive behavior has been contained, she also considers the social and cultural meanings of mental illness in Wales over the past two hundred years.
The North Wales Hospital, Denbigh 1842-1995, by Clwyd Wynne (2006, ISBN 0-9550338-4-5) also documents the hospital from its beginnings to the closing in 1995. Also check out the wonderful North Wales Hospital artwork by Rachel Gadsden, which has been featured on the BBC.
Below is a video with many historic photos of the hospital.