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Abandoned buildings and how they inspire my writing

November 28, 2013

The main inspiration for the University Hospital building in Spirit Houses, and a big driving force for the book, was another abandoned building, the North Wales Hospital in Denbigh.

Opened in 1842 in response to poor treatment of Welsh Pauper Lunatics in English Asylums, the hospital continued to care for the mental health of the surrounding area until its closure in 1995. Aside from its fascinating past and very important place in social history, it’s a beautiful building and it’s a crime that so much of it has been lost to neglect, robbery, vandalism and arson over the years. Very few Victorian asylum buildings remain in Britain, many having been demolished due to irreparable neglect, or at best converted into modern accommodation. It will be a sad loss to our cultural and architectural heritage if any more are lost: when it’s gone, it’s gone forever.

The North Wales Hospital’s fate remains hanging in the balance as currently (to my knowledge) the council is trying to negotiate a compulsory purchase order with the current overseas owner who did not develop the buildings as agreed and whose planning permission has now expired. The council, working alongside the Prince’s Regeneration Trust (heroes!), has already spent around £900,000 on mothballing the building.

Even now, though, in its near-derelict state, the hospital remains an absolutely stunning example of Victorian architecture. I mean, just look: it’s beautiful.


I’d like to think that basing the appearance of University Hospital on it in Spirit Houses is my tribute and memorial to the architects who built it and the people who lived and worked there over the years.

denbigh1 denbigh2

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