Hospitals & Asylums

Denbigh Asylum – North Wales Hospital

Denbigh Asylum

Denbigh Asylum was a purpose built asylum for lunatic paupers of the North Wales Counties. Before it’s construction is 1848, patients of the region were often sent to English Asylums, mainly Gloucester.

The County Asylums Act 1808 permitted but not compelled, county councils to provide care for the pauper lunatics. They could be removed from workhouses and prisons and have their needs catered for in institutions known as asylums.

By 1841 only 14 English counties had created such institutions and North Wales had none, hence why patients of the most serious cases were sent to Gloucester. The medical superintendent of Gloucester, Dr Samuel Hitch was well aware of the difficulties faced by Welsh-speaking patients in his Asylum. So much so, he lobbied The Times newspaper regarding the ill treatment the Welsh received.

Having brought the issue into the public eye, the Metropolitan Commissioners in Lunacy were compelled to investigate the claims. In 1844 a report to the government duly concurred with Dr Hitch’s description of the miserable conditions. In the same year 20 acres of land was donated in Denbigh by Joseph Ablett of Llamber Hall for the purpose of constructing an asylum for the counties of North Wales. £4600 was raised through public subscriptions and donations from Queen Victoria and other royals.

Administration Block

The asylum was design by Mr Fulljames and was built using locally quarried limestone brick. Mr Ablett’s widow donated a clock which was incorporated into the structure. It’s first medical superintendent was non other than Dr Samuel Hitch.

During the build, new legislation came into effect that made it compulsory for every county to provide an asylum for their insane. On 14 November 1848, Denbigh Asylum opened its doors for the first time, with beds for up to 200 patients.

Expansion And Later Years

Maintenance shops and boiler house were added in 1862. Turkish baths were also added in 1871 for the treatment of melancholia.

In 1941 electro-convulsive shock therapy was used. As was sleep therapy and pre-frontal leucotomy. In 1961, epileptics were placed on a vegetarian diet.

Over the years, the population increased and the asylum expanded, most majorly in 1899. At its peak, it was home to over 1500 patients. It later changed it’s name to North Wales Psychiatric Hospital and finally closed it’s doors for good in 1995 after 147 years of service.

Prince Charles visited Denbigh in 2004 and placed the buildings under the protection of the Phoenix Trust.

r Samuel Hitch
A Sorry State

Unwanted Attention

In October 2008 Denbigh Asylum gained unwanted attention after the popular TV show Most Haunted descended on the site for their televised investigation entitled ‘The Village Of The Damned’. A month later the magnificent ballroom was subjected to an arson attack, which resulted in its demolition.

In 2011, the council spent nearly £1m on urgent structural work to make the site safe. North Wales Hospital has suffered further attacks by arsonists since. The last being just a week after our visit.

Just within the last couple of days, local Denbighshire contractors Jones Bros, have been granted permission to develop the site into 200 homes, whilst preserving the Grade II listed building.


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