A Ghost Town in West Lothian

What’s better than a brisk walk though a picturesque village, maybe an hour or so, pick up some supplies and return home to settle down with the newspapers? A perfect Sunday afternoon for many a casual walker and Bangour Village, near Dechmont in West Lothian, delivers just that – with an added twist.

A general store, bakery, library, recreational hall, multi-denominational church, hospital and several bus stops; what more could a small village need? The mood is further enhanced with a mix of optimistic birdsong casually interrupting the lethargic silence; verdant backdrops, wooded pathways, a large central playing field and the crisp smell of freshly cut grass all add to the comforting feeling of idyllic rural contentment.

But silence will be victorious. When the birds retire to their nests and the dog walkers and ramblers return home for the day, the only activity at Bangour Village will be the ghosts of patients past hurriedly making their way back to their deserted wards before lights-out is called. This West Lothian village hospital community is completely abandoned – the last staff, residents and patients left in 2004, now it lies deserted, its future uncertain.

This rambling psychiatric village complex was modelled on the contemporary Alt-Scherbitz asylum near Leipzig in Germany. An architectural competition held in 1898 was won by the somewhat exotically named Scottish architect, Hippolyte Blanc. He proceeded to build an eclectic mix of south facing villas, all set in landscaped grounds, in the 17th century Scottish Renaissance style. There is also an Edwardian Baroque Hall and Romanesque style church and a plethora of functional, multi-purpose workshops and halls. The forward-thinking applied to the patients’ accommodation did not extend to that of the nurses, their quarters remained in traditional, and somewhat formal, classical institutional style.

The first patients, from the Royal Edinburgh Asylum, were transferred to Bangour in 1904 and the hospital officially opened in 1906. It was one of the first “colony” style psychiatric developments in Scotland and it quickly became a self-contained village. With its own gardens, workshops, kitchens, water supply, drainage and fire-fighting equipment it could be self-sufficient through the efforts of the large on-site staff and the regular employment of the more able patients. It even had its own railway station.

However, clouds were already gathering ominously on the horizon and the whole village was requisitioned by the War Office through both World Wars, when it was transformed into the Edinburgh War Hospital and The Scottish Emergency Medical Hospital, reverting back to a psychiatric establishment between and after the wars.

Patient numbers peaked at record levels in 1918 as over 3000 sought treatment, prefabricated huts and marquees had to be erected to house both staff and patients. This supposedly temporary arrangement lasted until the late 1930s when a separate general hospital was opened in nearby grounds.

By the late 1980s and early 90s modernisation and N.H.S. re-organisation meant that many medical services in West Lothian were being centralised in the new St. John’s Hospital in Livingstone. The 1930’s General Hospital was first to close and the once cutting-edge village complex also started to wind down. The last villa, number 32, closed in 2004 – one hundred years after the first patients had arrived.

Today, as dusk falls, the paths, roads and pavements are in decent condition and all the original buildings still stand – eager, ready and willing. If only someone would remove the ill-fitting intruder-proof boards from the doors and windows they would spring eagerly back into action at a moment’s notice – the sports pavilion looking for its athletes, the shop for its customers. Through splintered wood you can still see the remains of that very last performance in the concert hall. No time to tidy up – not time to dawdle. But only the church retains its full dignity – the shoddy wooden boarding making little impact on the austere exterior of the village matriarch; she seems to think her time will come again.

You can easily spend an engaging hour walking around the grounds, investigating nooks, crannies, large open spaces and a diverse mix of architecture in various states of disrepair. As darkness nears the more distant, tall, ominous structures slowly fall into Hammer Horror silhouettes.

It is perhaps no surprise that this deserted village has been used as a film location, most famously in the 2005 Hollywood film, The Jacket, starring George Clooney, Keira Knightley and Kris Kristofferson – Bangour Village being transformed into Hollywood’s Alpine Grove, an asylum for the criminally insane.

The sense of forgotten lives and lost souls is also enhanced by the fact that it was recently discovered that 566 patients had been buried in unmarked graves – thankfully not in the actual grounds but in three nearby cemeteries. Memorial plaques have now been placed at Ecclesmachan, Uphall and Loaninghill cemeteries.

Strange goings-on at Bangour are not restricted to the past. In 2009 the area faced the horrific scenario of 250 people requiring treatment for serious wounds, sickness and radiation poisoning – luckily they were all medical students taking part in a counter-terrorist training exercise for the emergency services. It must have been quite a shock for the regular dog walkers.

Even though it has continued to live an active life since retiring, and the whole area is protected by regular security patrols, the future for Bangour Village is far from certain. Leaking roofs, the odd bit of vandalism, broken boards, shattered windows, increasing rot and rain damage are all starting to take their toll. A housing developer purchased the site in 2004 – it’s debatable whether this is a positive or negative step – and Historic Scotland have categorised twelve of the buildings and the church as “A” listed. To date, no planning applications have been approved and in March 2011 West Lothian Council appointed property advisors DTZ to further assist them in finding a buyer.

For a short walk you will struggle to finds something more unusual and atmospheric than a walk around Bangour Village Hospital. Go soon. It’s a place that’s definitely between two lives – it won’t be like this forever.


11 thoughts on “A Ghost Town in West Lothian”

  1. My Mother was a nurse in ward 9 for many years and she used to tell us some very creepy tales, i remember one tale when she told us the door to the ward was locked and she and the other staff heard keys going into the lock- the door opened and closed then locked itself again- no one was to be seen, apparently it is haunted by a gypsy womans son injured in the war and died in ward 9. I can remember sitting outside in my car in the morning to take my mum home and feeling uneasy

  2. It says on google it’s open 24/7 but the security guard stopped us cause the street lights were on lol

  3. Today I went for the first time to Bangour with my friend and two dogs.. I loved every moment of it and there was so much to take in.. I almost had a sad feeling walking around it.. Sounds silly but I felt so much mixed emotions getting drawn into the old crumbling buildings and feeling a eerily shiver go down my back.. I feel a lot of sadness still remains in these buildings. I do recommend everyone to go atleast once I’ve Been but I won’t be back lol

  4. Hey guys .. Long time from the last post but I would love to share my story. Me and 5 other friend decided to hop on the bus and go too this amazing place .. We looked and looked for a way into the buildings , Finally I pulled at a bord and it reveild an open window. We all went in, not expecting anything. After about 45 mins things started to get intresting. I got on my phone a girls voice greeting us with a friendly ‘Hello’. After we all calmed down we went to where the voice came from and all of a sudden we had all sort of things thrown at us , Stones,Books,Glass but what creeped us out the most was when we were in Villa 1 and my phone went crazy. Turning off and on non stop and we saw a dark figure down the corridor. As we moved closer it vanished and all that was left was the rusty old wheelchair he was sat on. I reccomend EVERYONE to go its amazing.

  5. To avoid confusion for anyone that doesn’t know West Lothian, if if you say you were born in Bangour hospital or that someone was at the Burns unit at Bangour, then that would have been Bangour General hospital and NOT Bangour Village hospital (otherwise known as Old Bangour). Old Bangour was a mental hospital and it’s those remains that are talked about in this article. There are no remains of Bangour General, which was demolished many years ago. Bangour General used to sit at the top of the hill, past the farm, to the north west .

  6. I remember going to bangour every weekend as a small child,my mum would load her four kids on the bus for the journey out to visit my dad. who was taken to the burns unit with horrific burns,I was two when my dad had his accident that was in 1971,I remember we had to get off the bus and use the walkover our bus didn’t go into the hospital grounds.we would chase each other round the roundabout and nick some flowers to take up to my dads ward,we would go up to the wee shop to buy sweets meant for my dad but we,d end up eating,my dad was in Bangor for five years in and out of. surgery,plastic surgery was newish then so dad didn’t get the same surgery as he would now,he fought long and hard everyday to survive and we had him for 23years after he left,even though most of the staff has either moved on or passed on I’ll never forget the time we spent at Bangor.

  7. Thats amazing Arron I’d give anything (literally) to get in one of the buildings. Amazing place that times stood still in since the last villa losed.

  8. I live in Dedridge, Livingston, and my brother and I would always walked from Livingston to Dechmont, just to see the old, deserted and eerie Bangour Village Hospital. My oldest brother was born there in 1984, and I was of course born in St Johns Hospital in 1995, since the new hospital stole the limelight from the once thriving Bangour.

    The brick bus-stop at the entrance of the grounds was the first thing I noticed when I arrived at the old place for the first time. It was filled with dead, dry Autumn leaves. It just showed that this bus-shelter was never used anymore, as I had to literally kick my way through this pile of leaves to get into it. Once I did, I looked down into the corner, and on the floor where I had just cleared away this heap of browning orange leaves, I noticed a few sheets of paper. They were dry, and I picked one up, and the year dated was 1987. It was a prescription, and on the floor beside it was an appointment slip, signed by the same name and dated the same year. To be holding this small snapshot of history, a tiny fragment of someone’s life, dropped, forgotten and lost for decades, insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but haunting in the sens that a name had risen from the leaves like a corpse from the grave. A name, just one of hundreds, had been found from this derelict hospital. I found that alone fascinating, and I hadn’t even entered the grounds yet.

    I was fortunate enough to get into only one of the buildings, and it was the group of buildings and storage units near the large red smoke stack. The black jeep that patrols the grounds had just drove past. I timed it well, because he drove the entire grounds in a circle, so he wouldn’t be back for another half hour. The door was being held shut with a metal pole through two handles. Take out the pole, the double doors open. Easy enough. But on the other side, holding the door shit rather tightly, was a large room filled to the brim with lockers. Luckily, I am thin enough to have been able to squeeze through the thin gap, and I was in the room. High ceilings, low hanging lights with moth eaten shades and dusty old bulbs. The windows were all boarded up, so the only light supply came from the slight rays of sun that had also managed to sneak in between the cracked boards on the windows. Standing in that room was like bracing yourself to enter a Labyrinth, an endless maze of lockers, cobwebs and the unknown.

    The further I walked into the room the darker it got. I could hear birds above me, chirping quietly, secretly, as if they were discussing the sudden intrusion of the human from the outside world. I doubt these feathered creatures ever saw many humans around these parts. Perhaps their ancestors would have. Birds from 100 years before. They would have lived high in the trees of the surrounding forests, watching down upon the nurses, soldiers, and clinically insane. And now, the birds were living inside the hospital. This building had fallen to such death and decay that only birds were willing to inhabit now. But what of the lockers? What untold stories and hidden secrets lay inside these Pandora’s Box’s? I decided that it was would be a sin to leave these lockers untouched. I saw one locker just ahead of me which caught my eye. It’s hinges were glinting with the sunlight as it reflected against its dull grey metallic surface. An ancient spiderweb covered in this same dust sparkled in the sun also, the skeletons of spiders left behind. I placed my hand on the door and slowly began to open it. The cobweb broke, the story was shared, and the secrets began to unfold. There, in front of my very eyes, hung neatly on a wire coat hanger, was a white nurses outfit. Crisp, clean, crease free and gleaming white. Pristine condition. I couldn’t help but stare at the garment with awe. Such a plain and basic piece of clothing, yet in its surroundings, it became something to marvel at. It was like I had come face to face with a ghost. The headless ghost of a nurse, her torso hanging inside her locker, alone and nameless, left to hang there for God only knows how long. Left to hang there until I found her. I wish there had been a name tag, or papers, documents, files. Something to help me trace who the woman that wore this uniform was.

    Never again have I been so mesmerized by something so mundane. You see nurses uniforms all the time, but in a place like Bangour, you suddenly become very melancholy and very nostalgic. You begin to think about life nowadays and how advanced we are compared to what it used to be like. You begin to think of the lives lost, the lives brought into the world, and the lives that were all forgotten here. Who were the men and women that saved lives on a daily basis in Bangour? What stories would they have to tell if given the chance? And most importantly… did everyone leave Bangour in 2004? My feeling on that is no. They didn’t all leave.

    As I was looking at the white uniform hanging in the locker, I got the most unusual feeling. We’ve all felt that we were being watched at least once. I didn’t only feel that… I felt that someone was breathing on the back of my neck. Was I being thanked for finding it, or was I being told to back off?

  9. Looking for a place to investigate on the 22nd September with a friend,we both live local to the site and would love a few hours there after dark

  10. The ” Village ” was a heck of a lot more sinister when when I worked there in the 1980’s. Many of the men in the wards I worked in were veterans of the First World War. Shellshocked and with horrible images of gore and death in their minds they spent their whole adult lives locked or hidden away from society and became grotesque and shadowy figures who roamed the grounds and woods at night. They lived on a diet of rejection, repulsion and tobacco and largactol. Many of the nurses were kind to them, some of the nurses were less than kind!
    What a hell of a place.
    Ward 9 was most likely the one ward that gained an awful reputation for being haunted, where strange things did indeed happen. I worked in there for 7 months, it was a decant ward at that time. I still get goosebumps at the thought of working alone upstairs in that place. Strange voices moving furniture and doors closing and pushing against you. Of course there were psychiatric patients having strange conversations and looking like they knew exactly what was going on in that place. As for the patient lift, I used it once and would never even to this day go back in it!!
    Walking through the vilage now it is very sad because in it’s own unique way it was a perfect sancuary for patient and nurse alike on some occasions. The shame is also the neglect of the vast grounds and the loss of the noise and bustle and the entire feeling of community of workplace and place of refuge, shelter and rehabilitation.

  11. Walked round the site today with our dog, its was ok, fiancee got a little creeped out but I loved it. I wanted to investigate, would love to go up at dark with a group and investigate.

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