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Whitchurch Mental Asylum

With 2 years break from exploring and photographing derelict buildings, there was no better way to get back into things than a freshly closed down former mental asylum.

It's been known for a fair few years that Whitchurch Hospital, also known as Whitchurch Mental Hospital and Cardiff City Asylum was due to close. After many delays, patients finally moved out on the 15th April 2016, leaving all of the wards empty and lonely... that's where we stepped in!

Cardiff City Asylum cost £350,000.00 to build and opened on the 15th April 1908. The main hospital building covered 5 acres and was designed to accommodate 750 patients across 10 wards, 5 each for men and women.

Throughout it's life it was used as a military hospital in both World War I and II where the facility was then called the Welsh Metropolitan War Hospital. During World War II, it became the largest emergency services hospital in South Wales, treating British, US Army and German Personnel although 200 beds were retained for civilian use.

On the 5th July 1948, the hospital was taken over by the Ministry of Health as the NHS came into existence. It continued to be used through to the mid-1980s when care in the community began to reduce the number of resident patients.

The images above show wards West 5/5a which were abandoned over 30 years ago. The wards were no longer suitable for the current requirements and locks were bolted for the last time. Over the years, damp has hit this section badly and floors are unsafe which was experienced while South Wales Police carried out a search for a missing person but ended up uncovering a large cannabis factory. During the search, a SWP officer fell through the floor resulting in several months off work and months of physio.

In November 2010, the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board decided that it was preferable to centrailise all adult mental health care services at Llandough. Plans for a residential development of 150 houses and 180 flats on the Whitchurch site had first been raised in 1996 and provisionally agreed in 2001. The permission was renewed in February 2016 for a further 4 years.

We have had oue eye on Whitchurch for a while but never actually thought we would be the first to explore the site as a whole. There was a few attempts a few days after it closed that failed but after a few plans drawn up, it was time to put them into action.

One planned visit to take nothing but externals led to gaining entry through an open door to the Crisis Assessment Unit on the east side and that's where the explore began! For over 2 weeks, we've been back to the hospital grounds daily armed with information about the next ward and methods to enter without any illegal acts, how to avoid alarms and the dreaded CCTV system that is monitored via the Health Boards security room 24hrs a day.

With each ward having different locks, alarms and camera placements, it was challenging to get around but after a long time, we did it

Since the hospital closed to patients back in April this year, the site has already been the victim of our best friends... the metal fairies! Thankfully, the security across the site is fairly on the ball and they have been caught and arrested each time. The most serious incident being where a large knife was pulled out and a crowbar used to assault the two security guards within the grounds.

The reason we bring this up is that within some parts of the hospital sits thousands of patient records spanning the lifetime of the asylum. These are fully exposed to whoever wants to pop inside and take a read. We seriously now know the mental status of at least 7 people within our street.

Walking around the hospitals wards was shocking, either the site has suffered damp badly over the period of the last few months or in actual fact, patients were staying in horrid conditions. Windows that wouldn't close or in some cases wouldn't open. Bedrooms that stank of urine and other odours. Ward communal areas that smell of the previous years meals. Paint pealing off the walls, carpets with tears, wooden floors with burn marks.

You hear every noise possible as you sit silent within the wards. Even times when we knew where security were and knew that nobody else was in the building, you could hear voices, human made bangs. Curtains blowing with the wind, the noise of animals outside, sirens in the distance and the local railway line is constant!

We really don't know how long Whitchurch Hospital will be standing. Metal thieves are working hard to rip the place apart and I think it won't be long until the site ends up burnt to the ground.

The current plans are that Hospital Security will be onsite until November 2016 when it will then be handed over to a private company. In the meantime, due to recent activity, fencing will be erected around the site within the next week or so (So they say)

We're not fully done with this site. Plans are being made to return with the new 35mm film camera, black and white film and have some fun!

We have taken the time to speak to past patients and staff about their time here and we’ll be publishing a video on it over the next few weeks.

Patient Memories

The “Rec” Hall

On September 5th 2016 at 19:25, there was a knock on the UEP house door… it was our lovely friends at South Wales Police. After security at Whitchurch Mental Asylum decided to make false accusations that a member of the team had broken in and stolen property from within the site, Shaun was arrested for 3 offences. 21 hours and 3 house searches later, he was released without charge.

A few days later, we returned to the site but this time we were confronted by some very pissed off security guards… knee, head and rib injuries later, South Wales Police were once again called but this time by us! After a quick search, we were off on our way.

We’ll be back soon though…

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Visit Date: April > September 2016

The National Media

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