Secrets of life inside in Lancashire's biggest asylum

A fascinating new exhibition promises to shed new light on life inside Whittingham Asylum which for decades was the country's largest psychiatric hospital

Thursday, 9th August 2018, 4:12 pm
Updated Monday, 13th August 2018, 11:34 am
Whittingham Asylum patient John Henry Riley's admission photographs from April 16, 1929
Whittingham Asylum patient John Henry Riley's admission photographs from April 16, 1929

For more than a century and half Whittingham Asylum loomed large in Lancashire life.At its height, the facility was the largest of its kind in Britain employing hundreds of staff and accommodating thousands of patients in a sprawling site to the north of Preston.Now a new exhibition is opening up Whittingham’s archives for the first time shedding new light on the lief and times of an often controversial part of the city history.Items as diverse as patient records including photographs and admission records, books containing details of staff wages, menus of the food fed to patients, farm livestock books and annual reports are just some of the things which will be on display at the free event tomorrow at the Whittingham and Goosnargh Social Club. The exhibition will take a close look at the relationship between diet and mental health in the asylum during the 1920s.The exhibits, loaned from Lancashire Archives, will be displayed at The Food for Thought family event, part of the Whittingham Lives arts and heritage project. Material from the Museum of Lancashire collections will also form part of the exhibition. The Whittingham Lives arts and heritage two-year project aims to research, explore, celebrate and review the culture and legacy of the asylum, which was open from 1873 to 1995. The event forms part of a series of programmes exploring the 150-year history of the asylum.Whittingham Asylum was built on farmland purchased in 1869 and the associated farm, known as Got Field, was important in producing food for the residents of the institution. As the asylum grew, more land was acquired and three more farms also supported the production of food needed to feed approximately 4,000 patients and staff. The event has been organised by the Whittingham Lives Association, and will give people the opportunity to look at original archives and artefacts from the asylum, participate in a number of family arts activities and sample local produce from a selection of stalls. Refreshments will be available. Former staff, patients, visitors and local residents are being encouraged to attend to share their memories and photos of Whittingham, Goosnargh and the asylum through the decades. County Coun Peter Buckley, Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for community and cultural services, said: “Part of the therapeutic drive of the asylum movement was to encourage physical work where possible, and many patients found themselves working with livestock, crops, gardens, and other tasks such as dairy and butchery. “Diet and nutrition were also central to the care of patients as many arrived at Whittingham physically unwell and undernourished. We will be able to demonstrate this by some photographs we will display of John Henry Riley, a 17 year- old weaver from Blackburn on his admission to and discharge from Whittingham Asylum. “The photographs show the huge difference regular healthy meals made to individuals. “We’ll also display a photograph which throws more light on the vital work of the farm system at the hospital. Father and son, James and George Allsup, were farm managers at Whittingham and for over 60 years developed the award-winning herds of pigs, cattle and heavy horses. They also managed over 500 acres, and provided the hospital with more than 300 gallons of milk every day and even 100 turkeys especially bred for Christmas. “It is also pleasing that the Whittingham Lives project itself is able to raise awareness of these important documents, which also helps us to preserve this important collection.”To find out more and get involved with the Whittingham Lives project email [email protected] or visit * The event will take place at the Whittingham and Goosnargh Social Club on saturdam August 11 from 12pm to 4pm.

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Whittingham Asylum patient John Henry Riley's discharge photographs from September 28, 1907
Whittingham Hospital
Patients' dietary table from Whittingham Asylum in 1929