Piccadilly Gardens was once home to a huge ‘Lunatic Asylum’


Piccadilly Gardens these days is a no go area after a certain hour.

It's a place where, when the sun goes down, drunk revellers slip behind the curved wall to mix with other undesirables. Sprinkle some small-time criminal activity on top, and you're left with a perimeter that is actively avoided by most.

Most Mancunians are crying out for the days when Piccadilly Gardens was a proud, lush, green centrepoint of the city.

However, if you look even further back, you’ll learn that this space has a history of being troubled territory...


The glory days of Piccadilly Gardens were apparent in the 60s, 70s and 80s - with many photos of this era posted into our Facebook and Mint Manchester groups; generating hundreds, if not thousands, of positive likes and comments in the process.

But this is only a small part of the story. Piccadilly Gardens is one of the most intriguing histories in town - having once been the home of a 'lunatic asylum'.

Let's rewind the clock all the way back to 1775, when Piccadilly Gardens was an area referred to as the 'Daub Holes', or to put it into more simple terms, a sh*t-load of water-filled clay pits. The area was eventually donated by the Lord of the Manor and the pits were quickly replaced with a pond.

In that same year, the Manchester Royal Infirmary, the famous building now on Oxford Road, found its first home on the spacious, largely unused land.

A few years later in 1763, another building was set up next door - which essentially served as a space to separate the mentally ill from the rest of society, rather than help the patients.


Regarded as a 'lunatic asylum', the facility was designed by architect Richard Lane in an Elizabethan style.

The facility had 24 beds inside on opening day, but there was room for more than over 100 patients by 1800.

Private “madhouses” had a terrible reputation for abuse during this period.

Patients experiencing manic episodes would be hosed down with water, locked up in straight jackets, or have a towel wrapped around their heads and pushed into a cold bath. Some were even lobotomised.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that genuine reform for improved patient care began to take shape.

Magnus D/Flickr

Research suggests that Piccadilly lunatic asylum took a better approach to mental illness than many of its counterparts.

Whilst the treatment here would be recognised as terrifying today, there is evidence to suggest that some physicians and apothecaries here regularly attended patients and kept good medical records - which was actually a rarity for these kinds of institutions at the time.

After the surrounding area of Piccadilly began to grow, a decision was made to move the building to Cheadle in 1849. Mental illness treatment began to modernise hereafter, with institutions abandoning inhumane practices.

Today, people may complain about the current Piccadilly Gardens area being the worst it's ever been. But, as history has shown, the site does indeed have something of a checkered past.

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