North Wales County Asylum, Denbigh


With the Lunatic Act passed in 1808 every county in the country was to provide an institute for the mentally ill, but by 1840 North Wales was still without such an institution because the poor rural communities could not afford to erect one.  This meant that the most seriously ill pauper lunatics were sent to the English Asylums.  One such asylum was the Gloucester Lunatic Asylum, the superintendent, Dr Samuel Hitch noticed the difficult situation that faced the Welsh Paupers within his asylum and this spurred him to write a letter to the Times, it read:

“So few of the lower class of the Welsh, except in some towns or the precincts of inns, speak English, and this only for the purpose of commerce, or to qualify themselves for duties of menial servants, and not to an extent which would enable them to comprehend anything higher, – whilst both the officers and servants of our English Asylums, and the English public too, and equally ignorant of the Welsh Language, – that when the poor Welshman is sent to an English Asylum he is submitted to the most refined modern cruelties, being doomed to an imprisonment amongst strange people, and an association with his fellow men, whom he is prohibited from holding communications, harassed by wants which he cannot make known and appealed to by sounds which he cannot comprehend, he become irritable and irritated; and it is proverbial in our English Asylum that the Welshmen is the most turbulent patient wherever he happens to become an inmate”

This forced the Metropolitan Commissioners in Lunacy to investigate the condition that Welsh speaking lunatics were housed under, the report to the government in 1844 revealed the appalling conditions that were rife in the Asylum system.  A group of philanthropists from Denbigh had already foreseen the outcome of the report and in October 1842 held a meeting that called attention to the need of a Hospital for the Insane in Central or North Wales.  In this meeting, an anonymous donor handed over 20 acres of land to the committee, this donor later turned out to be Joseph Ablett of Llanber Hall.  However, the project faced a number of difficulties, firstly the law did not support more than one county cooperating and building an asylum, and the other counties of Northern Wales did not want to help finance the project.  Through public subscriptions, the committee managed to raise £4,600, including donation from Queen Victoria and other Royals.

Despite these problems, building of the Hospital started in 1844.  Plans were drawn up by Mr Fulljames of Gloucester under the  guidance of his friend, Dr S. Hitch.  The Hospital was constructed from limestone bricks produced by the Graig Quarry near Denbigh and was regarded as the finest structure of its type.  The building work was completed four years later and opened on the 14th of November, 1848 and  was able to house up to 200 patients.  The clock tower was donated by a Mrs. Ablett in memory of her husband who donated the land for the Asylum.

The hospital was under ever increasing pressure to support its patients and relieve over-crowding, this led to a number of extensions occurring through out its life; the most major extension work happened in 1899.  This allowed the Hospital to house 1500 patients at its peak and offer a wide range of treatments.  In 1995 the hospital finally closed its door and has remained empty ever since, causing the buildings to degrade to a very poor state, even though they are Grade II listed.  In 2004 Prince Charles visited the site and placed all the buildings under the protection of the Phoenix Trust to ensure that the building was safe.  The future of the site is still unclear, it has recently been offered as a good site to build a prison on, but this looks to be a fleeting idea.  Also, the current owners are being ordered to carry out major structural works on the buildings to secure them, if they do not complete these works by the close of 2009 they will be forced to pay 4.8 million to have them done.

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Modified: 1st Jun 2022