I’ve been shooting images of abandoned Victorian and Edwardian lunatic asylums and mental hospitals ever since I was first asked to shoot one single image of the outside of one as an illustration for a book, back in 2008.

The building in question opened in 1852 and had already been abandoned since 1989. While the weather, nature, vandals, and plunderers of various types had already taken their toll on the building, it still stood imposing, defiant and forbidding. Somehow it had managed to avoid the fires, both accidental and deliberate, which had typically put an end to dozens of others as they stood awaiting the final judgment of a society that had once celebrated them as a solution to a whole range of perceived medical, moral and social problems, but was now falling over itself to sweep them away for housing, car parks, and shopping malls.

I wanted to present one of the lesser considered aspects; a collection of views of and from windows in some asylums and mental hospitals in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Italy, built between 1713 and 1937. These were often the moments where I would pause a little longer, forget the photography for a moment or two to just look and listen, and feel, or believe I could feel, just a little more able to stand in someone else’s shoes for a second. And even if in reality, of course, I had no idea how any of the patients themselves felt, the frame and aperture that a window provides meant I knew I was definitely standing in the exact spot and seeing a scene that in some cases was almost entirely unchanged from what they had looked out on, sometimes more than two and a half centuries ago.

#1

Looking Into The Central Courtyard

Looking Into The Central Courtyard

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Elizabeth
Community Member
3 years ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

All other things notwithstanding this is actually a pleasant view. I can imagine this being the best part of a patient's day.

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The grand entrances, endless corridors, imposing towers and lavish ballrooms tend to dominate the imagery that we see from asylums after their closure, and understandably so. But while I have admitted my role as something of an inevitable tourist, a passing voyeur in what was, for better or worse (and while it’s completely untrue to say these places were always negative for all of those who lived in them, it’s safe to say it was more often for the worse), not a happy place to be for most, I have always had a respect for those who called these places home, willingly or otherwise, and thought of my reason to be there more as documentation than exploitation.

#2

The Victorians Were Always More Partial To Ivy

The Victorians Were Always More Partial To Ivy

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反社会的
Community Member
3 years ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

This is stunning... and very mysterious.

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#3

A Monastic Design Is Used In This Italian Asylum

A Monastic Design Is Used In This Italian Asylum

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Laura Malaterra
Community Member
3 years ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Disturbing but fascinating atmosphere, seem to hear voices and see images that come from far away ...

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These photos span from 2008 to 2019, and the variation in quality reflects that personal journey for me too; many are shots I wouldn’t normally publish as in many cases they were taken without any particular future use in mind (or represent a time when still learning my craft) and being as I say, perhaps less photogenic or striking than many of the other images we expect to see from such locations.

#4

Nature Ignoring The Boundaries Set

Nature Ignoring The Boundaries Set

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#5

Bay Window In A Day-Room

Bay Window In A Day-Room

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nancy mendiburu
Community Member
3 years ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

I can see this being breath taking in another time, peaceful , watching Nature in all her glory.

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My journey as a photographer started around 2005. I just began playing around with a 35mm film camera and grew to love the feel of an SLR camera. By 2008 I was doing occasional paid photography work, but very small scale. I was asked to take some photos to illustrate a book, and one of these involved obtaining a picture of an asylum in Lincolnshire, England. It had been abandoned for nearly twenty years at that time, and just looked so alluring, mysterious, and compelling from the outside alone that I had to come back and find out what was inside, which I did, a couple of months later.

#6

Ventilation Window Installed In 1831

Ventilation Window Installed In 1831

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#7

Glazed Corridors Navigate The Ground Between Wards, Allowing Easy Movement, But Also Constant Containment

Glazed Corridors Navigate The Ground Between Wards, Allowing Easy Movement, But Also Constant Containment

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Cheryl Wilcox
Community Member
3 years ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

I think this photo is beautiful. I love the composition and the sunlight on the corridor wall.

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My knowledge of these historic institutions at that time was much the same as most, I suppose; it came from films and TV and meant they were places of incarceration and misery, places to be feared in their day and just as much, perhaps even more so, in their gloomy, derelict abandonment. Even the word “asylum”, so caring and maternal when first introduced as an alternative to the pejorative “madhouse” of the 18th and early 19th Centuries, had come to symbolize fear, persecution, horror and the grim concept of long-term, possibly permanent detainment against a human will.

As I explored these places on foot, finding out which were still in use, which were long gone, and which were empty, I learned more about the practicalities and layout of the places from the inside, while soaking up knowledge about their remarkable histories and the ideas which led to their creation when back on the outside.

#8

Tatters, Or Ribbons

Tatters, Or Ribbons

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Skye Ramadge
Community Member
3 years ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Detail is the importance for life, without it we shall not life life to the fullest- Jacob sinjer

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#9

December Day

December Day

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Mark Berry
Community Member
6 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

This one gives me the heebie jeebies, and I love it.

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While even the smallest public asylums in Britain were the size of a generous town hall or other big civic building, the largest spanned over a third of a mile end-to-end (around three times the length of Battersea Power Station or wider than the Empire State Building is tall), composed in some cases of more than 27,000,000 bricks and home to well over 3,500 patients and hundreds of staff. These self-contained buildings were designed to provide everything that could possibly be needed (physically, at least) within a single location which could take half a day or more to walk around, without even leaving the same set of buildings, interconnected as they were with walkways, tunnels, and seemingly endless corridors. Some of the later, more spread-out designs were three-quarters of a mile between the furthest wards, leaving staff often resorting to bicycles just to make their daily rounds.

#10

Through The Round Window

Through The Round Window

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Michelle Peters
Community Member
6 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

I love the mystery that comes with this photo

#11

A Restive Space

A Restive Space

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反社会的
Community Member
3 years ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

I find the single chair facing the window seems paranormal. It's almost like someone is still sitting there.

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The asylum that left the biggest impression on me was the first I visited, which was St John's at Bracebridge Heath in Lincolnshire (it had been the Lincolnshire County Lunatic Asylum and opened in 1852). It wasn't the biggest, or really the most interesting, perhaps - being mostly cleared and stripped of equipment, etc. - but that's what started me on a mission to photograph as many asylums as possible, and I've shot over eighty of them now, with the most recent being earlier in 2022. Nothing will quite compare to the feeling of venturing inside for the first time.

#12

The Water Tower, Visible From Almost Every Window

The Water Tower, Visible From Almost Every Window

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Sian Edwards
Community Member
3 years ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Whitchurch Hospital, Cardiff. Only closed about 2 years ago.

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#13

Cutting Edge

Cutting Edge

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TeeMarieTisMe
Community Member
3 years ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Whenever I see paint peeling like that it always reminds me of Silent Hill.

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I think that a lot of us have an innate fascination with ruins: they tell us about who we are, and who we once were. What we collectively or individually aspired to at some earlier stage, and the transient and temporary nature of even the most solid and seemingly permanent things we create.

Obviously, it helps that ruins can often be so photogenic, but much of that attraction comes from their ability to stoke the imagination and inspire a sense of reflection and wonder. They are also often - perhaps surprisingly - very nice places to be, as far away from the noise and bustle of the outside world, often with just the sounds of nature and the creaks of the building itself for company, a place to reflect and wonder.

You also never quite know what you're going to find, even if others have visited the site before, so there's a real sense of uncurated exploration and child-like excitement that is very difficult to replicate in many other areas of life, where so many experiences are tidied up, sanitized, and packaged for us.

#14

One Of The Oldest Institutions In Britain, Dating Back To 1713

One Of The Oldest Institutions In Britain, Dating Back To 1713

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#15

An Internal Courtyard, But A Day Like This Would Mean This View Was All You Were Going To Get

An Internal Courtyard, But A Day Like This Would Mean This View Was All You Were Going To Get

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I hope you enjoy seeing the pictures as much as I enjoyed taking them, and that getting to see as close as can now be offered to what the people who called these places home would have seen can give you just a little insight into the lives of those hundreds of thousands who almost never got a chance to make their own thoughts and feelings known, being buried so deeply in these initially well-meaning, but ultimately all-consuming institutions.

#16

A Corridor Warmed By Autumnal Leaves

A Corridor Warmed By Autumnal Leaves

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Michelle Peters
Community Member
6 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

This should be hung is a gallery or even a museum. The composition, the light and the history behind it make it a perfect photo.

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#17

From A Ward To The Recreation Hall

From A Ward To The Recreation Hall

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#18

Tightly Packed Ward Blocks

Tightly Packed Ward Blocks

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#19

The Worst Cells I Have Seen, These Are Located In The Basement

The Worst Cells I Have Seen, These Are Located In The Basement

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#20

From One Corridor To Another

From One Corridor To Another

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Michelle Peters
Community Member
6 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Stunning! Love the overgrowth opposite the sunny, bright building

#21

The Sky Could Be Anywhere

The Sky Could Be Anywhere

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Michelle Peters
Community Member
6 months ago (edited) Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

This is gorgeous. The colours in this photo make me smile. The colour of the drapes (or perhaps it’s jut the frame) is amazing, especially against the blue sky and white clouds

#22

The Clock Tower, Keeping The Whole Institution Beating To The Same Daily Rhythm

The Clock Tower, Keeping The Whole Institution Beating To The Same Daily Rhythm

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#23

The Lights Of The City In The Distance At Dawn

The Lights Of The City In The Distance At Dawn

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#24

Strong Windows With Small Panes

Strong Windows With Small Panes

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#25

Back To Back

Back To Back

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Mary Brommerich
Community Member
6 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Out of all these pictures, this is the space that would depress me the most. There are a lot of stories in this room.

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#26

Through Ancient Glass

Through Ancient Glass

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Michelle Peters
Community Member
6 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

This shot is so amazingly beautiful. The lighting and the framing is just gorgeous ❤️

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#27

An Internal View Offers Little Vision Beyond Brick And Glass

An Internal View Offers Little Vision Beyond Brick And Glass

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#28

Looking Towards A Courtyard Shelter - Still Ankle-Deep In Cigarette Butts To This Day

Looking Towards A Courtyard Shelter - Still Ankle-Deep In Cigarette Butts To This Day

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#30

From On High

From On High

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Note: this post originally had 40 images. It’s been shortened to the top 30 images based on user votes.