The Asylum (Baldovan Institute)

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Urban exploration today. After looking at some abandoned US buildings I decide to make the effort to gain access to this gem not far from my house. The Baldovan Institute/Strathmartine Hospital here’s some history on the buildings.

Baldovan Institution was founded in 1852, mainly through the benevolence of Sir John and Lady Jane Ogilvy and from voluntary contributions and fees. It was established on the north bank of the Dighty as an orphanage, hospital and place of education and training for ‘imbecile’ children, accomodating 30 children. As such it was the first hospital of its kind in Scotland and the second in Britain. The Orphanage opened on 30th November 1854 and the Asylum opened on 6th January 1855.
In 1856 its name was changed to Baldovan Asylum and it expanded its operations after it received its licence under the Lunacy Act of 1858, which legalised its function as a home for children. It was found that contact with ‘imbeciles’ had a detrimental effect upon the orphans and so in 1867 the Orphanage moved to other premises and the Baldovan Asylum concentrated its efforts on the care and education of mentally handicapped children. By 1879 the number of children accommodated at the Asylum had increased to 70 and the site where the Administrative block now stands was acquired. By 1904 the Main Building wards were built and occupied by 160 children.

The Mental Deficiency (Scotland) Act was passed in 1913, providing state supervision of mental defectives, which led to an increased demand for accommodation at Institutions like Baldovan. Between 1904 and 1932 further developments included another ward, staff residency, school facilities, a large Recreation Hall as well as occupational therapy and training in domestic, farm and garden work.

In 1925 the Baldovan Institution Confirmation Act sanctioned the trustees to form an Incorporation with the counties of Aberdeen, Forfar (Angus), Kincardine and Perth to undertake the management of the hospital with provision for children of all four counties.

In 1948 the running of the Hospital was transferred to the National Health Service. Subsequent developments included a change of name in 1959 to Strathmartine Hospital and major building works in 1963-1965, which saw the demolition of the original premises and the creation of new and improved facilities, including three new single storey wards and a swimming pool. Two new 25 bed wards were opened in 1980.

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This wasn’t my first visit to the site a few years back on a summer’s evening stroll the good lady and I had a wee look around the grounds but stopped short of going in the actual buildings. On that visit there seemed to be an overwhelming feeling of sadness coming from the buildings.
If you go back even further say twenty odd to thirty years ago I was actually in the buildings with my grandad to visit his brother who lived pretty much his entire life here. My memory of that visit is being in a large packed hall, the noise of everyone chattering and someone offering me a boiled sweet from a wee paper bag. I kinda broke down and vaguely remember my old grandad not being best pleased with me for ruining the visit, I never got a return trip.

UntitledGreat uncle George

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I quite liked this metal topped post, maybe it was a light or just a sign back when it was in use. Behind this is a little wooden waiting bench, the photo was not very well focused so you’ll just need to use some imagination until I get back and do more shots.

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Entering the dormitory the spooky finger prints dragged down the door tell I’m not the first.

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Some staff in a similar ward at Baldovan Institute LINK There used to be a video on Youtube that had apparently caught a ghost on camera in these buildings. The footage was of a silhouetted figure moving to the left as the camera panned right, it was clearly the outline of a female and it always made me think that it had the look of an old style nurses uniform with high collar similar to the ones worn in this linked photo.

A day in the life of one of the nurses PART 1 and PART 2

King George V becomes patron LINK

The register of lunatics LINK

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You have to wonder what box of delights this cupboard would hold.

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Back in the childhood years we lived not too far from this hospital when it was still in use, occasionally you would hear the siren being sounded at night. We used to joke that it was a lunatic that had escaped from the hospital, this is one of the sirens they would have used to send the warning. A Carters air raid siren similar to this one LINK

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Sadly the buildings are now a target for vandalism and arson which will more than likely mean more buildings that Dundee will loose to memory although they do just manage to sneak on the Angus side of the divide. So we can’t really pin this one on the local council.

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The grounds of the hospital are now completely overgrown which makes walking from building to building a bit more difficult below is a screen grab of the site ringed in red and the blue square is the part of the grounds I was in.
As I rounded the third block on my visit something reddish brown caught my eye moving through the long grass at first I thought it was a deer but soon realised it was a dog, a big dog! My guess it was with whatever security they have going around the place. I decided to leg it and get out of there until the next time.

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When I came out of the buildings and headed for home a little known film popped in my wee brain. Called Session 9 it’s about some workers in an old asylum in the US, the Danvers Lunatic Asylum. Well worth a watch if you like a wee spooky movie on a dark night. Had I remembered this before I went in my visit may have been considerably shorter.

Also a book about the former Baldovan Institute/Strathmartine Hospital called Fifty Years In The System by Jimmy Laing is an interesting read

“We arrived at the main administration block to be met by the only doctor and i remember his words to this day: ‘Come in James, you’re going to be very happy here’. How those words haunt me now. The entrance hall, with the Superintendent’s office on one side and the Matron’s office on the other, had beautifully polished floors and was decorated with various pot plants in brass containers, but through the doors the reality of Baldovan existed.
I was taken away and bathed and put to bed. That night I cried my heart out. When I compared the surroundings of my ward with the ‘government green’ walls and the ‘government cream’ ceilings and the whole place smelling of Izal disinfectant to that of the entrance hall and the Superintendent’s office with its decor and plants where my mother had last seen me I suddenly realized where I was.
As I looked around the dormitory with every bed with its institutional red bed cover I thought, ‘Oh my God, what’s going to happen to me? Am I ever going to leave here?’ I was only nine years old”.

A like on Flickr today led to the discovery that someone has scanned the Baldovan part of the book. You can read it here LINK

Another update after finding a tweet linking to a video on youtube by wattage2007 a stunning piece of aerial footage to give you an idea of the scale of the site.

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6 thoughts on “The Asylum (Baldovan Institute)

  1. Love this site. So glad I found it. My grandmother described visiting a mental institution in the early 1900’s much as you describe this. Will have to do post on it now that I am reminded. Thanks for doing this great post. Love your pics.

  2. Fascinating article, and very moving. I found it after reading a heartbreaking account of a Baldovan patient in an article by David M Greig in the April 1922 ed of the Edinburgh Medical Journal – a teenaged girl who died c. 1920. There is a haunting (though not work-safe) photograph of her, but no name, and I can’t help but wonder who she was, and what family she had. The Institution was named in the article, and I wasn’t aware it was the same place as Strathmartine in Dundee, though I lived in St Andrews for many years.
    https://archive.org/details/s3edinburghmedic28edinuoft
    pp. 153-67

  3. I found out during researching my family tree that the sister of my great grandad, Mary Duffy, was committed to the Baldovan Asylum, as a child, when her parents died.I would love to learn more about what happened to her.

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