In 1868, because of a shortage of space in the existing county asylums of Lancaster, Prestwich and Rainhill, Lancashire magistrates agreed to build a fourth asylum for Pauper Lunatics. The new asylum, designed by Henry Littler, architect to the Lancashire Asylum Board, was in the village of Goosnargh, not far from Preston. Building began in 1869 and patients, transferred from Prestwich, were admitted in 1872 to help with construction work and in running the asylum.
Whittingham Asylum officially opened on 1 April 1873. It was designed to accommodate 1,000 patients. It was to become one of the largest mental hospitals in the country, eventually housing 3,533 patients. Whittingham was a village in its own right: it had a church, five farms, a brewery and staff accommodation, as well as its own laundry, post office and telephone exchange, reservoir, gas works, and a railway station – connected by a branch line to the village of Grimsargh. This was used to transport coal and other goods, and provided free travel for staff and visitors.
Whittingham Hospital closed in 1995 and the abandoned buildings began to be demolished in 2014. The site is now home to new housing developments, Whittingham Park, as well as Guild Lodge, a secure mental health in-patient facility, and the Goosnargh and Whittingham Social Club.
The aim of the ambitious Victorian asylum-building programme – to provide places of safety for people with mental illness – influenced the provision of mental health services for over a century. By the 1970s new drugs and therapies to treat mental illness had been developed. Long-term patients were moved into the community, or were cared for in much smaller units.
Click on the following link to view a visual timeline of The History of Whittingham Asylum.
Erratum Statement: Please note the following correction on page 7 of the visual timeline 1960-2000 under the 1970’s: All listed were prominent critics of aspects of psychiatry, only Szasz, Laing and Cooper were actually psychiatrists, Foucault was a philosopher and historian of ideas.