Interview: Lawrence Butterfield who worked at Whittingham Mental Hospital

Corridor in Whittingham Mental Asylum near Preston, Lancashire

Corridor in Whittingham Mental Asylum near Preston, Lancashire

One of the most popular posts on this blog was David Perkin’s description of the urban exploration of the decaying Whittingham Mental Asylum just outside of Preston, Lancashire. But, what was it like when it was still operating and what was it like to work there? We got in touch with Lawrence Butterfield who worked at Whittingham from 1986 to 1988.

Whittingham is known for being a rather spooky place, even during the day, and the Whittingham Inquiry was famous in the 1960s when terrible abuses were discovered at the hospital. Butterfield worked nights at Whittingham as a staff nurse, but he didn’t find it that scary.

He said: “I used to work nights to ensure the residents had a good night’s sleep and make sure, as many of them were institutionalised, that there were no problems.

“We used to work 7.30 PM to 7.30 AM so if anything spooky was going to happen, it would happen during these hours. I am intruiged by all the photos on the web of the asylum and the stories about ghosts and such like, but when I was working there I didn’t feel threatened or scared.

However, there were two experiences that caused Butterfield to feel a little uneasy during his shifts.

“The first ‘experience’, if you can call it that,” says Butterfield, “was when I was sitting up one night with a colleague and it must of been around 3 AM. It was common for staff nurses to visit each other during the night shifts as the patients were generally sleeping soundly. We were chatting and my colleague suddenly went very quiet and I saw the look on her face change, just for a few seconds, and I asked her what was wrong and she said she’d seen a shape on my shoulder. She said it was like a monkey shape, and only there for a second, but that there was definitely something there.

“I didn’t feel anything on my shoulder, but I can tell you after that I was a bit on edge for the rest of the shift!”

The second experience for Butterfield involved a corridor that was notorious amongst the staff at Whittingham for weird occurances.

Butterfield said: “There was this corridor that was a short cut between some of the wards, and using it would cut five-six minutes off your journey time. There were all sorts of stories flying round about it, the main one being that a girl had gone down it and half way down the lights had gone out.

“One night I decided I would take this corridor. I walked down it and you know, it really felt like someone was watching me. The way the corridor was set up meant it had windows on either side that looked into old wards, and there were all these wrought iron beds in there – old ones – and other stuff. Needless to say I walked very quickly down that corridor!”

Whittingham at it’s hey day had around 3,500 patients and was one of the largest institutions in Europe. When Lawrence was there it was holding around 2,000 patients but the Care in the Community Act of 1990 was looming and it was to be the beginning of the end for Whittingham.

“It’s a pity what’s happening with Whittingham”, says Lawrence, “although it’s not that attractive compared to other mental hospitals it’s a shame it’s just being left to rot.

“It’s sad as well that the Whittingham Inquiry is probably what the place is most well known for, despite all the great work and brilliant staff that were there. When I was there in the 1980s the Inquiry was still hanging over us – and I don’t think the trust with the local community was every regained.”

Butterfield has gone on to work for the NHS and become a high profile figure in the anti-stigma movement around mental health. He feels his time at Whittingham, he was 25 when he started, was a good grounding in mental health and allowed him to see such a large institution at work.

“I have many fond memories from working at Whittingham,” recalls Butterfield, “there was a great morale amongst the staff, despite the long shifts, and some of the patients were great work with.

“The hospital was a very imposing place to work, those huge Victorian buildings, big corridors and large grounds – and with Chingle Hall on view in the distance I can see why people think the area is haunted.”

Butterfield has now written a book about his experiences in the health service, particularly mental health issues, and his time at Whittingham is mentioned. The book, called Sticks and Stones, is available from June 30th 2009 and proceeds from the sales will go towards promoting more acceptance and understanding of mental illness.


Preston station features in new Virgin Trains advert

A new advert for Virgin Trains, celebrating the new improved journey times on the West Coast Main Line features Preston station. The guy gets off the train at the end at Preston station. I saw them filming this at Preston station, I did wonder what it was for.

And just like to say, it was not based on me and this kind of thing does not happen to me when I get on trains.

Creating a mapped Preston for everyone

The Preston map is beginning to take shape

The Preston map is beginning to take shape

Ever heard of an Open Street Map? No, it’s not that thing Google is doing where they drive past when you’re getting changed or snap your dog having a wee up against the lampost. Open Street Map is where people can help to map their local areas properly and it’s happening in Preston.

Preston has a small but dedicated street mapping community. Luke Bosman, 36, from Brockholes Wood, Preston, is one of them.

“I got into mapping when I was off work for a time and bought a GPS system,” he says, “from there I was out cycling and I found that the maps needed some work. I went online and I started to find out I could do mapping myself and help other cyclists.”

Open Street Map allows users to download maps to their own systems, make edits and upload them back onto the web for others to see. Think of it as Wikipedia for maps.

The Open Street Map community in Preston have been beavering away over the last 18 months and now the Eastern area of Preston is well covered, according to Luke.

He said: “We’re hoping that people will use the Open Street Map version, as it’s a better quality map. We take the maps out and go on routes and then add the changes that happen. You’d be surprised how inaccurate Google Maps and even the official Ordnance Survey maps can be.

“It’s one of those nerdy things that really pays off. We want people to be able to plan walking and cycle routes and be confident in knowing that those routes are correct.

“The best thing is that if you’re on your walk and something doesn’t match up to the map, you can log on and make that change yourself.”

Luke recommends getting a good GPS system if you want to get into your mapping. The Open Street Map site has details of which systems are compatible, but it’s possible your mobile phone could be.

Luke now has plans to organise a mapping meet-up, where a group of people meet and then map set routes, most likely with a few beers afterwards, and his long-term aim is to deliver something for the Preston Guild in 2012.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could deliver a detailed map of Preston for the Guild?”, enthuses Luke, “to be able to hand over a living and breathing map, created by the people of Preston, that is second to none in terms of accuracy.”

If you’re interested in Open Street Map and would like to get involved then you can get in touch with Luke Bosman via Twitter.

Water water bottled everywhere

This is a guest post from Martin Brown. He is a blogger on the built environment at isite and can be found on twitter @martinbrown. If you’d like to write a guest post for Preston Blog check out how you can get involved.

Lancashire's public bodies have been splashing out on bottled water

Lancashire's public bodies have been splashing out on bottled water

The Lancashire Evening Post has revealed the cost in terms of money and carbon foorprint of Lancashire’s public organisations using bottled water rather than tap water.

Almost £100,000 of Lancashire taxpayers’ money was spent on bottled water in one year, despite health bosses advising people to drink tap water.

The Evening Post can reveal Lancashire County Council spent £35,944 on bottled water last year while NHS Central Lancashire spent nearly £18,000 even though a litre of tap water costs less than 1p

But perhaps there is another cost, seemingly hidden, and that is the environmental (carbon) cost of water transportation, of disposing or recycling the plastic bottles and alarmingly the damage to the environment from plastic bottles and bottle caps, as demonstrated in this ‘must watch’  TED talk: the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Why isn’t Preston’s MP on Twitter?

Mark Hendrick is Preston's MP

Mark Hendrick is Preston's MP

I was browsing the web and came across this excellent site that lists which MPs are on Twitter and gives you an insight into the corridors of power. It’s called Tweetminster. It got me thinking, is Preston’s MP Mark Hendrick on Twitter?

I checked out the list of MPs on the Tweetminster site and couldn’t find him. I tried his own website, no mention of Twitter there. I tried searching Twitter, but no luck – was not registered.

I think it’s great if MPs are on Twitter, it’s a top way of being transparent and also connecting with your electorate and the people who you are supposed to serve once elected into office. A great example of an MP using Twitter is Labour MP tom_watson (there’s also Tories and Lib Dems using it well, I just picked the best example I could find before someone shouts at me for being bias).

So, I found the contact page on Mark Hendrick’s website and wrote him an email with the subject: Twitter – why aren’t you on it?

Dear Mr Hendrick,

I’d like to inform you about a great web service called Twitter (you may have seen it being talked about in the media). There is a website tracking which MPs are using the service, to keep in touch with their constituents and improve the transparency of the democratic process, called Tweetminister ( I took a look through the list of MPs using the service and couldn’t find your name.

Preston has an ever increasing Twitter community (

) and it would be a great move if a public figure such as yourself were to join in the conversation.

At Preston Blog ( we’ve been using Twitter to connect with people in the Preston area and we’d be happy to show you the ropes. We’ve even used Twitter to organise Preston’s first ‘Tweetup’ ( where local people will be coming together to discuss ‘How the web can be used for Preston Guild 2012’ and using twitter and other web 2.0 tools to capture and bottle that discussion.

I hope you’ll look into using Twitter, as other MPs such as Tom Watson ( have, and you’ll see that is still available. Get on there and register it quick!

We look forward to tweeting at you.

Preston Blog

It’ll be interesting to see what he has to say in response. Maybe he’ll even make an appearance at Preston Tweetup? I’d like to think that he’ll get on Twitter and respond by tweeting at us – that’d be impressive. Twitter is a great tool for sharing ‘what are you doing?’, and for an MP to be able to tell us what they are doing – we elected them in after all – I’d take interest in that. I know he’s probably a very busy man, but I’d like to be able to follow what the very busy elected official is.
If you’d like to drop Mark Hendrick an email and tell him about Twitter, feel free. His contact details are on his website. I’m sure if lots of us tell him about it, it’ll seem like even more of a good idea.

What will Preston be doing for Earth Hour?

Google showed its support for Earth Hour 2008

Google showed its support for Earth Hour 2008

On Saturday 28th March 2009 the world will turn out its lights to send a message to world leaders that the world’s natural resources at running out and something needs to be done.

The question is, what will Preston be doing in 2009 for Earth Hour? Already local authorities across the UK have been signing up to Earth Hour and pledging to turn the lights out where they can to save energy. Preston City Council appears to have signed up and will be taking the pledge to turn off lights on March 28th where possible.

The event is organised by the WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature) and here’s what it’s all about:

Earth Hour 2009 is a global call to action to every individual, every business and every community. A call to stand up, to take responsibility and to get involved in working towards a sustainable future. Iconic buildings and landmarks from Europe to The Americas will stand in darkness. People across the world will turn off their lights and join together in creating the vital conversation about the future of our precious planet.

Watch the official Earth Hour 2009 video

So, what will you be doing for Earth Hour? Will you be taking part? Will you be doing nothing and carrying on as normal? Are you hosting an event?

Whittingham Asylum… forgotten?

This is a guest post David Perkins, he is a keen photographer, web designer and urban explorer. He blogs at Planetperki and you can follow him on twitter @perki. If you would like to write a guest post for Preston Blog check out how you can get involved.

Whittingham Asylum

I know that there are a lot of people in and around Preston and the UK who know of or have been to Whittingham Asylum since it was shut in 1995, either to have a wander around, try to scare themselves or just to walk their dog. After quite a lot of research I decided to go to Whittingham and take some photographs before it is no more. What was Whittingham Asylum will soon be rubble according to some sources, so I wanted to make sure that this place was preserved in photographic form. Continue reading