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Old 19th Dec 11, 10:07
TeeJF's Avatar
Join Date: February 2011
Location: Lancashire - not far from Preston.
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Default Barrow Gurney Mental Hospital - PICTURE INTENSIVE!

Hey ho... yet another asylum... well, a "mental hospital" apparently. By the 1930s "asylum" was not PC and I guess I would have to agree.

First the history bit...

In order to prevent over crowding at the existing Victorian mental asylums in Somerset in the 1930s it was decided that a new mental hospital would have to be constructed. Work began on Barrow Gurney Mental Hospital in 1934 to the design of the Bristol architect Sir George Oatley. Final completion was late in 1937 however it was not officially opened for more than a year. Sir Lawrence Brock CBE, of the Hospital Board of Control, cut the ribbon.

The mental asylums of the Victorian and Edwardian periods tended to be constructed very much to a common design concept - that of a central ballroom, kitchens and associated services, treatment areas and administration, around which were then built numerous ward blocks, Whittingham near Preston is a prime example. Every area of the asylum was connected together with a series of corridors laid out like the spokes of a wheel, or in a linear fashion. The great advantage of such a design was that any part of the hospital could be reached without having to brave the elements outdoors. The down side though was that patients felt a tremendous sense of isolation in such imposing buildings with corridors that seemed to go on for miles. Barrow Gurney was constructed instead to a design where self contained ward block villas where isolated totally from each other, the "heart" of the hospital for administration and treatment being situated in a totally separate complex on another part of the site. To the north a large block with it's own kitchen, refectory and function hall, was built for the nurse's accommodation thus providing off duty staff a complete break from the presence of the patients.

The concept behind this "villa plan" layout was to give patients a sense of privacy and community, this having been found to be profoundly beneficial to their mental wellbeing.

During the 1930s the western world sank into a period of deep economic depression following the Wall Street crash and so funding for public works in Britain became very tight. As a result the hospital was built quickly with functional red brick, and yet despite the utilitarian construction it was still very pretty. The villas were surrounded by lawns and landscaped gardens and the extensive mature woodland already present on the site was managed in such a way as to isolate and screen the individual villas from each other, creating a sense of peace and privacy.

Despite not being officially open at that point the first patients arrived in May 1938, but war clouds were looming on the horizon. Upon the outbreak of the Second World War the hospital was requisitioned to serve the Royal Navy who did not hand it back until 1946. Bristol Mental Hospital was straining at the seams so the return into service of Barrow Gurney greatly alleviated the problem. On the 5th. July, 1948 the hospital was transferred to the newly formed National Health Service and both Barrow and the Bristol Mental Hospital were jointly managed by the Bristol Hospital Management Committee under the South Western Regional Hospital Board. With it's distinctive and highly individual layout - there were only a few mental hospitals constructed in this fashion, Aston Hall near Derby being one that springs to mind - and possibly the best stocked medical library of it's time Barrow Gurney was regarded as a progressive and forward thinking institution and it even hosted clinical conferences for psychiatrists and doctors from all over the country.

Attitudes to mental health issues were changing in Britain by the 1950s and the stigma attached for so long to patients incarcerated in "the nut house" had already begun to change when the old term "asylum" was dropped in the 30s. Now things went a step further and the term "mental" was dropped as well - it was now just plain old Barrow Gurney Hospital. By 1960 the hospital's population peaked at 453 patients but numbers began to fall as more provision was made for care at home following the instigation of Enoch Powell's far reaching policies. A target was set whereby there were to be no more than 200 patients in care at the hospital by 1975 and although it was not quite attained numbers did progressively decline until by the 1990s only three residential wards remained and the majority of patients were treated as out patients or with community support workers. The writing was on the wall and in 2003 it was announced that Barrow Gurney would close by 2008. In 2005 a national survey of NHS hospitals was carried out and Barrow Gurney earned the dubious distinction of being the dirtiest hospital in the country, with "an unacceptably dirty environment". This harsh criticism accelerated the closure of the hospital. Two of the remaining wards were shut down immediately, and by 2006 the last ward closed it's doors. And that is where the story of Barrow Gurney Hospital should end.

But nature has a way of perverting the course of man!

Developers Del Piero bought the site and immediately put comprehensive security measures in place, so for a time Barrow Gurney was practically impossible to explore. Their original plan was to drop most of the buildings on site and replace them with a modern housing estate and an extensive office complex. Planning permission was applied for and granted but a revision has recently been applied for which will see more housing and a massive reduction in the proposed office complex in favour of a "care village" for the elderly, with sheltered accommodation, a 38 bed care home, and a high dependency home for those needing 24 hour care. In addition there will be a small retail complex and a bar and restaurant. But shortly after the initial demolition began it was found that bats had taken roost in many of the buildings, and as bats are highly protected, demo had to stop. A number of "bat houses" were constructed with the aim of enticing the creatures out of the old buildings, but to date they have not particularly taken a fancy to their prospective new homes and an impasse has been reached!

Bats 1 - Developers 0!

Of course that's pretty good news for your average urbexer! The trouble now though is that Barrow Gurney has been visited by other groups of curious explorers as well, many of whom are rather less respectful of their environment. Metal theft and rampant chavvery means that the hospital buildings, with their extensive use of light weight construction techniques such as studded walls et all, have suffered very badly in a relatively short period of time. Just 15 years after closure Barrow Gurney is a complete and utter mess of total dereliction with little left intact to see. The mortuary is gone, as is the dentistry and the library; in fact it was impossible to identify any of these previously obvious structures. Access to the site was really easy, literally a "walk in". We explored Woodside, the Mother and Baby Unit, "The Centre" (the admin and treatment section of the hospital) Reception and the Alexandria Ward unit, however we did not bother with any of the isolated ward villas, being rather under whelmed by the degree of desolation we were encountering everywhere. The workshops, boiler houses and stores have been almost completely demolished however nothing has been cleared so this area if a vast pile of rubble. It appeared to us initially that the Medical Conference rooms and Library complex had been demolished too but upon study of our photographs later we "found" them again - that just shows how badly damaged everything is! Whilst wandering around in all this desolation how strange it was to find a couple of brand new builds - simple four square single story constructions, one with a way in, one without - bat houses. And it was at one of these where I got the fright of my life as a huge owl appeared from an opening high up on a wall and flew past me within a couple of feet of my head! They are completely silent which makes the shock that bit greater!

The pix!

I've put these together with an aerial map "divider" between each section of the explore so that hopefully it all makes sense. I am pretty sure some of the pix will actually be in the wrong sectors too as I have combined both my own and Tonto's photographic efforts, so apologies for that.


First sight of Barrow Gurney. This is the back car park of the Woodside block which was the nurse's accomodation and refectory.

We were quite surprised to find the place wide open and un-secured after hearing stories of extreme security measures!

Going in through the back door!.

This plan had been dropped on the floor in the corridor!

The kitchen block behind the refectory hall. Parts of this building are in fair condition, others totally trashed and sodden.

A legacy of the last day?

Head down in her viewfinder, I'm not sure what Tonto was taking here!

An example of one of the mankier parts of the building!

A hand painted piece of decoration, purpose unknown...

No self respecting nurse should be without her scales!

This would seem to indicate that parts of the top floor in Woodside were used for admin rather than just as nurse's accomodation...

Time to go!

We moved on to the Mother & Baby Unit a short distance away. The overgrown back garden still has the
most beautiful weeping willow and inside the building we found an awesome room with a huge mural on two
walls. There is an interactive panorama of it for you to play with in a moment...

The rear of the building has a large conservatory built on.

Needless to say it has been thoroughly trashed...

The upper floor corridors at the rear get beautiful light...

I wonder if this is Room 3?

Here's that weeping willow...

The mural room. Click the photo to open an interactive panorama...

HAnd here's a few detail shots of the mural...

And finally, here's a view of the front of the building...

The next stop is part of a large complex which housed most of the treatment areas of the hospital,
the reception, a medical library, conference rooms and a large Occupational Therapy suite.
The first part shown here is the medical library and conference rooms...

Much of Barrow Gurney has an almost war time barrack block feel...

Tonto must have been feeling arty at this point!

the usual rampant chavvery means there are few panes of glass left anywhere...

My token attempt at broken glass art!

This block has a large, open central courtyard which is very clear on the aerial photo...

The next area of the central complex was refferred to as "The Centre" and it contained all manner of treatment rooms including an ECT suite and an hairdressers.

As we entered we found this chir sitting by a lift. What a photo opportunity with that light!

More depressing dereliction...

Much of this building has suffered both internally and externally...

For example...

Careful framing and the carpet make this room almost look ok!

Another room with a large mural, this time the theme is the Tortoise and The Hare...

We entered the reception area via a connecting corridor...

Then we had a quick look outside...

Partial demolition. Presumably someone spotted a bat!

Back inside again now. That ceiling looked very dodgy!

There's nothing like stating the obvious!

Secure access...

Then we had another quick look outside!

The bus stop is in better nick than most of the buildings hereabouts!

Here's a panorama of the exterior of this area for you to interact with.
Click the picture and it will open in a new window...

The last place we viisted was the Alexandria Unit, a ward block and OTU.

Orft we jolly well go!

Here's Tonto!

The OTU is lovely and bright!

What a shame to see this lying forgotten...

A lifting aid, presumably for geriatric patients...

By now we'd had enough of dereliction so we knocked it on the head!

Hope you enjoyed the pix, thanks for looking...

Veni, Vidi suum custos canis admorsus meus culus...

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