Asylum History Month

The image of the haunted asylum is at the cultural forefront near Halloween, so October is a great time to learn about asylum history. These posts provide photographs or historical information about asylums around the world. This year’s posts are about historic institutions in Australia, China, England, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, North Wales, Scotland, South Africa and Spain. These feature only outdoor pictures, and special attention is given to asylum gardens. Sundays will be dedicated to different architectural styles, theories, and designs.



North Wales Hospital Historical Society Website

Timeline of North Wales Hospital

aerial photos of Denbigh Asylum

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales

A photograph of a large grey stone building on the extensive Denbigh asylum campus. Bricks scattered here and there on the ground, some red trim on the roof, multiple chimneys, a small tower with design nods to the main clocktower at the front of the asylum. Surrounded by one story buildings of similar stone or red brick.

A second photograph shows what might be a courtyard, but filled completely with a layer of maybe thousands of red bricks - the result of a serious fire. There are brick walls which are still crumbling and a large sandy colored asylum building with many windows and chimneys. A couple familiar rooflines and the clocktower are in the background.

Callan Park Hospital (closed) gardens


“Essential to testament was the calming influence of natural beauty and pleasant parklands, designed by Director of the Botanic Gardens, Charles Moore. Further landscaping in the 1890’s included the planting of palms and and rainforest trees, and the conversion of an informal pond to the curious sunken garden, which although waterless, survives.”

[asylum projects]

Sydney, Australia

"Echelon Plan Institutions"

“Echelon - 1880 - 1932. Largely superseded the Pavilion plan of Asylums in all but the Metropolitan and Lancashire Asylums Boards. Its sudden rise in popularity being the arrangement of wards, offices and services within easy reach of each other by a network of interconnecting corridors. Typically forming a triangular, trapezium or semi-circular format.”

- Asylum Projects

[unitec arboretum facebook]

Jacaranda tree on grounds of the former Whau/Auckland asylum.

“A spring on the estate, with a waterfall on Oakley Creek, was ample for domestic and fire prevention purposes. A farm, consisting of nearly 200 acres (81 ha), was attached to the asylum, providing for healthful recreation and fresh vegetables. There were approximately 50 milk cows on the estate, and a numerous pigs An unlimited supply of fresh eggs were obtained from the farm’s poultry. Part of the land was turned into an experimental sewage farm. The oldest building has several notable trees and shrubs of interest including holm oak, sweetgum, chaste tree, and pigeonberry., now part of the Unitec Arboretum.” - Wikipedia

Auckland, New Zealand

Giardino Isola San Servolo


Venice, Italy

“Also noteworthy is the rich flora of San Servolo, originally planted for the island’s pharmacy, which was used to supply medicine to the military.”

- Wikipedia

“The park is beautiful and it has ancient trees and details: Canary palms, American agave plants, the plant of Japanese origin Chusan, Aleppo pine, a centuries-old olive trees and many other species.”

- In-Venice

“The Cottage Plan (also known as the colony plan in England) is a style of asylum planning that gained popularity at the very end of the 19th century and continued to be very popular well into the 20th century. Prior to the cottage plan, most institutions were built using the Kirkbride Plan which housed all patients and administration into one large building. It was found that the Kirkbride Plan lacked the proper facilities for noisy and violent patients. Cottage Plan institutions usually consisted of a multitude of individual buildings that housed a specific patient type. The buildings were normally two stories tall or less and were often connected to each other with a series of tunnels that were either half or fully submerged underground. Cottage Plan institutions would often be segregated by sex as well as patient type. For example there would be two individual buildings for convalescent patients, one for men and one for women. The two buildings would usually be located on opposite sides of the hospital complex. An administration building would typically be near the front and center of the complex and communal buildings, like a chapel, kitchen, gymnasium, or auditorium were often in the center.”

- Asylum Projects

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) — Overview covers definition, risks, results of this treatment for depression.

“No one knows for certain how ECT helps treat severe depression and other mental illnesses. What is known, though, is that many chemical aspects of brain function are changed during and after seizure activity. These chemical changes may build upon one another, somehow reducing symptoms of severe depression or other mental illnesses. That’s why ECT is most effective in people who receive a full course of multiple treatments.”

“[John Nash’s] illness recurred and sadly, further treatment was refused. He spent the next decades as a shadowy figure on the Princeton University campus.”

This is a link to a “primary source” for the CBS “American Experience” Film, A Brilliant Madness, about John Nash.  The author, a psychiatrist who worked in institutions during the 1950s, says a couple things that I have issues with, like the above quote - I don’t think it’s sad John Nash refused further treatment??  But it’s still a good historical read about Insulin Coma Therapy.  For me, it helped link the ideological overlap between different forms of “treatment” at different times. 

For example, “When ECT and ICT were introduced, much academic interest was focused on the brain’s electrical activity as measured by the electroencephalogram (developed in 1929). Measurement of the brain’s electrical activity during courses of ICT showed dramatic and persistent changes. Amplitudes of the brain rhythms increased, frequencies slowed, and new patterns of spike and slow burst activity appeared. When these brain changes did not develop, the patients did not improve. The benefits of ICT were best assured when the brain’s electrical activity changed, and this occurred most often after a prolonged coma.” [bold mine]. To me, this quote shows how methods of “treatment” foreshadow each other.  Again, understanding these connections is part of understanding our heritage as specimen.

St. Loman's Hospital

“A monumental and well-detailed Victorian institutional complex, built in an Institutional Gothic style with extensive Tudor Gothic detailing, which retains its imposing early form and original character. The numerous symmetrically-arranged gable-fronted projections and the canted bays help to alleviate the enormous bulk and scale of this building, lending variety and interest to the front façade. The tall Tudor chimneystacks and the myriad of gables create an interesting roofline and a distinctive silhouette. This structure was built to designs by J. S. Mulvany (1813-1870), possibly the most celebrated architect operating in Ireland at the time. Mulvany usually favoured a quirky classical idiom in his architectural designs, however, the brief for this project stipulated that a Gothic style was used. This building perhaps references some of the work of A.W.N. Pugin at St. Patrick’s Maynooth between 1845-51, particularly the use of paired window openings to the main body of the building. However, the predominantly Tudor Gothic style used at St. Loman’s is different to the Early English Gothic style used by Pugin in much of his Irish work and is also different to that used on other contemporary asylums in Ireland, such as at Cork and Killarney, which, again, is predominately Early English Gothic in style. This building was originally built as the Mullingar District Lunatic Asylum, serving counties Meath, Westmeath and Longford. The site was purchased in 1848 from a Thomas Tuite for the sum of £829. It was opened in 1855 and cost some £35,430 to build. It was built to accommodate 300 patients and the first patients were transferred from The Richmond Hospital, Dublin, all of them female. This building was remodeled and extended to the rear (north) between 1890 and 96, to designs by Joyce and Parry, with an additional 150 beds for males and 62 for female patients added at this time. The unusual glazed galleries to the rear at the east end probably dates to this period of alteration. This monumental building forms the centerpiece of an interesting group of structures, which together illustrate changing theories and practice in hospital design over a 100 year period. This building is one of the most important elements of the architectural heritage of Westmeath and it dominates one of the main approaches into the town from the northeast side.”

- National Inventory of Architectural Heritage


Callan Park Hospital for the Insane

“The most dominant landmark in the area is the former Callan Park hospital. This was built on land acquired from the Callan Estates, a property between Balmain Road and Iron Cove. A psychiatric hospital was designed by James Barnet, the government architect, based on an asylum in Kent and utilising the principles of Dr Kirkbride, an American psychiatrist. Completed in 1884, the hospital was known until 1914 as the Callan Park Hospital for the Insane; the main part of the hospital, a cluster of sandstone buildings, was called the Kirkbride complex.

More recently, the Kirkbride complex became the home of the Sydney College of the Arts, and the hospital functions were confined to the western buildings. This is now known as Rozelle Hospital.”


Sydney, Australia

“Insulin shock therapy or insulin coma therapy (ICT) was a form of psychiatric treatment in which patients were repeatedly injected with large doses of insulin in order to produce daily comas over several weeks. It was introduced in 1927 by Austrian-American psychiatrist Manfred Sakel and used extensively in the 1940s and 1950s, mainly for schizophrenia, before falling out of favour and being replaced by neuroleptic drugs.”

mod note: according to the other ICT link I posted before this (written by a doctor), using the word “shock” in association with this treatment is maybe inconsiderate and misleading.  Not sure what the psych survivor community has to say about this but thought I would mention it just in case. <3