|Date||30 July 2011|
|Location||Denbigh||SJ 05158 65147; 53.17493°N, 3.42042°W|
Following concerns over the mistreatment of Welsh-speaking mental patients sent to asylums in England, calls were made in the 1840s for an institution in North Wales. Joseph Ablett of Llanbedr Hall, Ruthin, donated 20 acres of land in Denbigh and construction of the North Wales Hospital, designed by Gloucester architect Thomas Fulljames, commenced in 1844 using limestone from the nearby Graig Quarry. The asylum opened in 1848, initially with a capacity for between 60 and 200 patients — with separate male and female accommodation of different standards for First Class, Second Class and Pauper patients. The hospital had its own farm, which was sold off in 1958, and in 1853 a gas works was installed to provide fuel for lighting. Four years later a steam engine was installed to pump water to the hospital. A number of subsequent extensions were completed at various stages throughout its history and at its peak the hospital could accommodate 1500 patients.
The beginning of a slow process towards closure started back in 1960 with a visit from the then Conservative Minister of Health Enoch Powell, whose programme of building general hospitals involved a shift in emphasis for the provision of mental healthcare away from large psychiatric institutions and towards units attached to general hospitals and increased care in the community. The main hospital at Denbigh finally closed in 1995 and the associated Gwynfryn unit in 2002. Parts of the complex are now Grade II listed buildings.
The site was purchased in 2003 by Acebench Investments Ltd. Preston solicitor Ayub Bhailok was a director of Acebench and in 2006 ownership of the site was transferred to British Virgin Islands based developers Freemont (Denbigh), owned by Bhailok’s cousin. That year planning permission was obtained to build business units, community facilities and up to 280 homes. Approval was also granted to demolish parts of the complex. In June 2008, however, the company announced that owing to the prevailing conditions in the housing market these plans were no longer viable. Demolition of certain outbuildings started in November 2008, an action that was to lead the following year to Bhailok, in his capacity as Freemont’s planning consultant, being convicted of destroying sites of protected bats. Local campaigners staged a protest over the demolition and also called for the hospital’s historic main hall to be listed. Shortly afterwards the hall was destroyed in a fire and a local teenager was later charged with arson.
Planning permission lapsed in 2009 and the owners have failed to carry out essential repairs. Moves are therefore currently underway which could eventually result in a compulsory purchase of the hospital. Denbighshire County Council recently issued an urgent works notice, with the remedial work presently being undertaken on behalf of the council being funded by an ‘external source’.