Saturday, 5 January 2013

we make shadows: bangour village hospital

This is Bangour Village Hospital, in Dechmont, near Edinburgh. It's easy to zoom past it on the motorway, but it covers 600 acres, hidden among woods and landscaped grounds. It opened in 1906 as the Edinburgh District Asylum, looked after soldiers during both world wars and was a working psychiatric hospital up until 2004. 

It's a place that, like my friend Rhian said when we visited, is trapped in time, and yet it's not. We make shadows of our dreams and nightmares, past and future, except that those shadows aren't out there, they're within us. I wanted to say we can let those shadows go any time we want, but I think they nestle inside, entwining with everything. How large you let those shadows loom though, that's up to you.

There's a few thousand photos of the hospital on flickr. Most of them are of the spooky abandoned kind, and then there's a set from someone who worked there, taken in 1970, snapshots in Kodachrome colour, some with patients in the wards, that raises more uncomfortable resonances. The point is that walking around there now, as plenty people do with their families, or their dogs, of a Sunday afternoon, it's not a spooky place, and, as it turns out, it wasn't ever the Victorian Bedlam of our nightmares. At least, that's not what it set out to be. 

Bangour was a prototype of a utopian ideal, based on a German village model, a humanitarian approach to mental health. There were large sports grounds, a shop. The patients lived in "villas". The mammoth building at the heart of the village wasn't for patients; that's where the nurses lived. Elsewhere on the web there's photos of the hospital in the 1940s. It looks like a Hollywood version of a sanitorium. Maybe the reality wasn't like that, and maybe the sweeping wide roads, carefully cultivated shrubbery and pristine nurses and doctors uniforms provide a parallel that's easier to handle, but they make more sense looking now than any spectres of horror films or books. It really is a beautiful place to wander around.

1 comment:

  1. Been up here a few times and its almost as if you are being watched, the weather always took a turn for the worse like it was driving me away from the site. I was walking west one day near one if the villas and I thought I heard a man calling out so I turned round but no one was there and no other person was about.