Usually, the sound of a shovel in the ground is something to be celebrated in housebuilding. However, at Halloween, the sound of gravel sets a more sinister tone.
The planning office may seem like a property developer’s worst nightmare, but the stories behind some of these sites are enough to make anyone scream.
Newsham Park Hospital, Merseyside
Newsham Park Hospital was once Liverpool Seamen’s Orphan Institution, and home to children whose fathers had perished at sea. It later served as a hospital for the mentally and terminally ill, which is when its tragic past began to catch up with it. A nurse, who reported seeing ghostly apparitions, was found dead at the top of the stairs. Patients began to mutter feverishly about ‘the children’. Today, the derelict building is rusted in time, with abandoned wheelchairs and hospital trolleys littering the corridors. Ghost hunters have reported seeing shadowy figures in the decaying wards; and hearing a strange, dragging sound in the mortuary, where fridge doors hang on their hinges revealing the body draws inside.
In 1997 the property was brought at auction by Gateway Properties. However, its plan to convert the building into flats was defeated by local regeneration campaigners, and in July 2007 it was put up for sale. The site is now owned by property developer Anglefarm Limited. However, given that the waiting list for ghost tours here is currently 18-months long, getting a viewing may be a struggle.
Woodchester Mansion, Gloucestershire
Ghostly sightings have been reported here for over two centuries. The house itself is a skeleton, as workers mysteriously abandoned its construction in 1873 when its wealthy owner, William Leigh, died suddenly. Leigh had demolished an existing house to make way for the gothic revival mansion; this was perhaps an unpopular decision, as the hauntings reported here are among the most vicious in the UK. Visitors have been grabbed, pushed and cursed by an invisible entity, and fallen victim to mysterious fits. The unfinished masterpiece stands on the foundations of three previous houses, all said to be haunted.
A visit to Woodchester Mansion is the equivalent of a big 5 safari for ghost hunters. A ghostly horseman, floating head, spooky child, haunted cellar and satanic rituals are all in the mix. Perhaps a skeletal house which was never given a chance at life is a more haunting sight than an abandoned building which has fulfilled its purpose.
Denbigh Asylum, North Wales
The shell of Wales’ first psychiatric hospital is an easy setting for a ghost story. The imposing Victorian building, once resident to over 1,500 psychiatric patients, dissolved into disrepair after it was closed in 1995. However, chilling relics, such as cages where helpless patients were locked up, remain. It is said you can still hear the manic laughter and terrified screams of its inmates. Phantom footsteps and a ghostly figure clawing at its crumbling walls have also been reported. One patient, who died after receiving a frontal lobotomy, is thought to be the most likely culprit.
Planning permission to convert the building into flats was granted in 2006, but one night in November 2008, just as work was due to start, the building was engulfed by angry flames. Gutted by fire and on the brink of collapse, planning permission lapsed. In 2011, no action was taken by the owners after an urgent works notice was issued, leaving Debigshire Council with a repair bill nearing £1 million. A Compulsory Purchase Order was completed in 2015 and a new planning application has been submitted.
Sandhill Park, Somerset
Among its creepy credentials, Sandhill Park boasts a history as both a prisoner of war camp and a psychiatric hospital. In between, it has been a home for handicapped children and a military hospital. Legend has it that the tortured screams of its victims can still be heard at night. Since it closed its doors in 1991, several businesses have set up offices there and left hurriedly without explanation, leaving everything behind. This might have something to do with lights that switch on and off by themselves, doors slamming themselves shut and unexplained sounds, including whispering, groaning and a strange laugh.
The site was sold in 1991 to make way for new homes. However, the main building remained untouched until it was gutted by fire in 2011. Local developer Strongvox Homes bought the site in 2013 and have already built new homes around the decaying mansion, which it plans to convert into 28 luxury flats. Workers have just moved into the mansion to start work, and it isn’t yet known how any phantom residents might object.
Cane Hill Hospital, Croydon
Unlike other psychiatric hospitals on this list, Cane Hill was a shining example of good mental health care and the souls of those it cared for rested peacefully; until its cemetery was deconsecrated and the bodies of 6,000 patients were exhumed and cremated. After the hospital closed its doors in 2008, any plans for redevelopment were subject to lengthy delays because of the building’s location in the middle of London’s Green Belt. During in its 13 years of neglect, urban explorers reported seeing phantom figures pass through its rotting walls. Technically private property, guard dogs were brought in to stop such trespassers, however they would often run in the opposite direction of mysterious sounds, whimpering.
Planning permission was eventually won and it is now in the hands of David Wilson Homes, who are advertising a new housing development on its foundations. Given that former patients of Cane Hill include the late great David Bowie and Charlie Chaplin’s mother, new residents will have a lot to live up to.
Perhaps no ghost could rival the terror of Severells’ history. Up until reforms in mental health care in the 1960s, its doctors freely experimented on patients with some of the most brutal treatments in the history of medicine. Woman of illegitimate children, often victims of rape, were also imprisoned here and forcefully abused by their doctors. After its closure in 1997, it was left to rot. In its abandoned state, trespassers could hear agonised screams from victims whose cries for help were never heard in their lifetime.
It took more than a decade for plans to redevelop the site to be approved. Crest Nicholson have already built 248 homes on the former site; now Bloor, Taylor Wimpey and Bellway are collectively planning to add another 700. Let us hope new, happy homes are enough to give its former residents some peace.
It is perhaps surprising that hospitals feature so heavily on lists of haunted places. In terms of where a ghost might want to return to, a haunted pub seems a more believable option. Perhaps the troubled souls have been trapped in their tormented past – until a someone comes along with a shovel and sets their demons loose.