Haunted Manchester: Barnes Hospital

When we think of ghosts, we place them in Cathedrals, Gothic Castles and dense, dark forests, but there is one place that is charged with more spooky connotations than these three put together.

By Manchester's Finest | Last updated 26 October 2021

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I am, of course talking about hospitals and mental asylums- especially the abandoned and unforgotten ones.

The idea of madness and sickness is frightening enough on its own, but illness or insanity coming at you from beyond the grave is somehow even worse. I think this is why we find these spaces so terrifying, twinned with the fact that they have seen an excessive amount of death within their walls.

Barnes Hospital originally opened in the 1870s by a philanthropist called Robert Barnes. He was concerned about the health of the thousands of factory workers who lived in squalor and worked in dangerous environments- never mind the ones suffering from various long-term ailments.

He was inspired by the world-famous nurse Florence Nightingale who brought the idea of convalescent nursing care into the public arena. This is the care required for the recovery of patients with illnesses like tuberculosis and yellow fever and also the nursing required with disability or old age. These issues and illnesses were all rife in Manchester during this time.

The Barnes Hospital was therefore set up to provide rest bite care for the workers in the city with chronic illness, in what was then beautiful countryside. Like much of the other surrounding areas in the Lancashire or Cheshire countryside, it has since been absorbed into the semi-urban environments and this gloomy, austere building now sticks out like a sore thumb and looms over the motorway.

Later in its life, Barnes Hospital was used to treat soldiers in the Second World War, many of whom were badly injured and diseased. I think it can be said that this hospital has seen a lot of death in its time, but I’m sure you didn’t need me to tell you that.

Barnes Hospital outside Cheadle is the stuff nightmares are made of.

It was once the setting for a B movie called ‘Let Sleeping Corpses Lie’– which was also known as Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. The interior is just how you would imagine, cold, dark, damp and full of sinister quietness- even the scuttling of a little mouse is enough to make you jump out of your skin.

It is a pretty sinister looking place, and I’m sure that doesn’t really help anyone when it comes to getting spooked in there. The hospital was derelict for a number of years after its closure in 1999 and lots of the damage can be attributed to a large family of gipsies who moved in back in 2002. What possessed them to move into that hell house and then make a considerable effort to make it look even more terrifying is something I will never understand.

And so we move on to the ghostly activity. Throughout its life, nurses have repeatedly reported a feeling of being watched. One nurse was delighted to see one of her terminal patients up, dressed and walking down the stairs as if to go home, only to find out that he has passed away the previous night.

Speaking of nurses, one report talks about a nurse in a dress that he placed somewhere in the 1930’s or 1940’s. The person says that he saw her, clear as day, walking from room to room softly talking to people who were not there, taking temperatures and making beds which did not exist. This ghostly nurse was doing her rounds, and most terrifying of all, was faintly whispering a tune that echoed around the entire building. Yeah, looks like I’m not sleeping tonight either.

As well as this more acute activity, people who were brave enough to go inside the building have heard, moans, bangs and doors slamming shut.

A little more recently, watchmen were employed to stop vandalism and keep the local children out. Lots of these watchmen recall seeing people walking past empty windows, especially at night, the bell in the tower excessively ringing and even the shapes of patients sitting in their rooms out of their periphery vision. It is safe to say their staff turnover was pretty high.

Spooky stuff. But I cannot help but think that the overall look of the place is a contributing factor to the things people have experienced. The place is bone chilling to look at, and I imagine that stories of ghost nurses and dying soldiers is enough to have you on your guard. We don’t get the jitters in bright open places filled with people now do we?

Whether the activity is true or not, I am told the horror of Barnes Hospital is soon to be a thing of the past. It was bought by a developer a few years back and they are now in the process of transforming its historic shell into a number of beautiful houses with all the mod-cons.

Even so, I wonder if lovely wallpapered walls, plush carpets and rain shower heads are enough to keep the spirits at bay, or will things still go bump in the night? This site has been a hotbed of sorrow, but maybe a lick of paint is all Barnes Hospital needs to finally lay this activity to rest.

*Photo credit to Nicola Miller.