Woodilee Mental Asylum

I travel on the train from Edinburgh to Glasgow every weekday for university, and just before the train zooms past a village called Lenzie, there are these beautifully haunting ruins in a field right next to the train track. I always assumed they were separate buildings – perhaps a church, a town hall and some sort of bridge thing – that were abandoned years, if not centuries ago. There didn’t seem to be any roads up to it, and the whole place looked dead and forgotten.

Wondering what they were, I did some digging on the net, and found out they are the ruins of a mental asylum called Woodilee Hospital. Built in 1875, it became the largest psychiatric hospital in Scotland with over 1250 inmates. I shudder at the word ‘inmate’, I wonder what awful things they did to those people during the Victorian era. The hospital carried on until 1987 when structural defects were found in the building, and most of it was closed down. It finally shut down in 2000. The hospital owned a vast amount of land (167 acres) with 4 farms which was used as ‘work therapy’ for some patients until the 1960s. This has mostly all been sold off now to make way for a new development which aims to increase Lenzie’s population by 2000 people.

Jason and I took a trip to Lenzie yesterday to explore the ruins. As expected, very close by were construction sites and new factories and warehouses. We took a wrong turning and ended up at Lenzie cemetery and so had to walk through a warehouse estate, climb through a dense forest of thorny bushes and across a quite marshy field to get to a road which was totally iced over leading us to the asylum. The place was amazing – quiet and tranquil apart from huge numbers of crows which starting cawing every time we entered any building. It was a little creepy too, imagining all the things that happened there. Also, some distant ice-cream van starting playing its music every now and then, which seemed so oddly appropriate for this place of madness. Each building was surrounded by a so-called ‘fence’, but most of the fences were either pulled down or had massive holes for people to get in. The buildings were covered in graffiti and the ground swathed in beer cans and drinks bottles, but it didn’t take away from the amazingness of the place. It was difficult to comprehend that this had only been abandoned 10 years ago. I would have believed it to be a late Victorian ruin.

It’s unclear whether the place was blown up (none of the websites about it mention what happened after closing) but one website mentions the place had several fires in the 1990s and large parts of the site were demolished. I’m curious as to why they left the four parts of the building that still remain. I can understand leaving the main building and one of the side buildings, but why two ends of a corridor (once the longest continuous corridor in Europe)? There were bits of tile and brick scattered everywhere on the fields, and marble flooring in between the grass which suggests the hospital covered much more than what still stands. I’d love to get the original blueprints of the building to see what’s gone.

Below are some of the photos I took there. I wish I knew how to take artistic photos, and also had a good enough camera! I will definitely take up a photography course when I’m older and can afford it. Click to enlarge.

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