THE GHOST OF ST. CRISPIN

St. Crispins is a former mental hospital on the outskirts of the English town of Northampton.

It is situated on the fringe of the historic berry wood forest and on raised ground with splendid views across the Nene valley.

It was one of the first hospitals of its kind when it opened in 1876 after several years of construction and one of the last to to close its doors in 1995.

Its distinctive red-brick pavillion style was the brainchild of a Staffordshire architect named Hugh Griffiths.

St. Crispins typified the concept of a mental institution by being completely self-contained.

The expansive grounds included a working farm, a market garden, a cemetery and of course a clock tower too.

There was on-site housing for the psychiatric doctors and nurses who worked there as well as for shoemakers, tailors, carpenters and upholsterers.

The 190 foot clock tower stood on the south facade and no one who was resident there can ever forget for whom the bell did toll.

Northampton was the town and county around which the English shoe industry was centred and Crispin, the Saint of leather and shoe making, was its spiritual patron.

It is wrong to assume that all patients detained were kept in straightjackets and were around ‘the bend’ from walking around in ever decreasing circles, mentally and physically.

Confined spaces at St. Crispins meant endless corridors which led nowhere.

This was largely home to as many as two thousand male and female patients at its height who were misfits and social inadequates of the post-victorian era, victims of crime, family abuse, delinquancy and trauma.

St. Crispins was a place for medical experiment on the wholly unfortunate who only found out what was happening to them when it was already too late.

The introduction of free national health care in 1948 took away the pauper labelling but intensified the experimentation and of course the in-take of patients.

Dignity and self-respect was senselessly demeaned and stripped away from perfectly sane individuals who became subjected to something new but in reality relabelled as occupational therapy.

It is not so far removed from the truth to say that the real loonies (lunatics) in the asylum were those who thought they knew what they were doing and who did not.

They were perhaps more institutionalised than the patients themselves.

I first visited St. Crispins in 1984, oddly enough for a wedding and I know that takes some explaining.

Suffice to say that it took place in the chapel there near the clock tower and it was the wedding of a client of mine when I practiced in Northampton as a lawyer.

I have been back to St. Crispins many times since and indeed during the twenty years or so that St. Crispins has become one of the most famous derelict sites in England and perhaps the world.

It has been ravaged by numerous fires during this period, many caused by arsonists and others which cannot be rationally explained.

St. Crispins is now but a burned out ruined shell.

A property developer bought the whole site and developed part of it into residential housing at the turn of the millenium.

The buildings and work site of the hospital itself were left relatively untouched.

Hence its dereliction and ruin today to the extent that the site is fenced off to trespassers and intruders but this does not seem to prevent the most determined and persistent from entering upon the site in spite of the obvious dangers to health and safety and posting recordings of their visit on social media.

The ascent of the clock tower remains one of my treasured memories of visiting St, Crispins over the years and indeed of Northampton as a whole for the thirty years that I called Northampton my home.

The Ghost of St. Crispin is so much more than a nurse looking out of a third floor window, paranormal messages transmitted by a restless spirit who once was a cobbler and another who was a traumatised soldier from the great war 1914-18.

A young girl whose only fault was to submit under force to a father who raped her and then kill him for his dastardly wrongdoing.

St. Crispins is a place for clear minds and a social conscience and the ghost of St. Crispins lives on to this day in 2017.

And today is his blessed day, 25th October.

The Ghost of St. Crispin is Northampton’s enigma.

The developers are legally obliged to undertake the clearing of the hospital site, if only for safety reasons, but they have not done so.

The Town Council seems reluctant or unable to apply the letter of the law and force the developer to do it because nobody, not the developer, town council or general public appears willing to remove what  represents an unlikely heritage.

One day in the not so distant future, the site of the mental hospital will be totally redeveloped.

Northampton has long become industrialised in other types of manufacturing besides footwear but the ghost of St. Crispin will never leave this town.

Newcomers may live in housing afforded by development of land which was once part of the St Crispins hospital site and in apartments converted within former shoe factories, oblivious for whom the bell in the clock tower in the distance did once toll over yonder by the berrywood forest.

 

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