No buyer found for burial site of former psychiatric hospital thought to hold 2,000 bodies
Hannah Neary, local democracy reporter
Landowners have dropped plans to sell 1.3 acres of burial site used for a psychiatric hospital, where 2,000 people are thought to have been buried in unmarked graves.
The site in Coity, Bridgend, located next to Parc Prison, was once the burial ground of Parc Hospital and is now used for horses. The owners have been trying to sell the land over the last five years but recently took it off the market.
Dyfed Miles, head of commercial agency at estate agents Watts & Morgan, said it is “a challenging piece of ground” where people were buried in unconsecrated plots.
The land had been advertised as a possible site for building homes, which would have required a developer to exhume the bodies and inter them elsewhere.
Mr Miles said no offers were received from developers looking to “disturb and develop” the site and while a few bids were made, none met the sum sought by the landowners.
Parc Hospital, also known as Glamorgan County Lunatic Asylum, opened in 1887 to cope with increasing demand for psychiatric care. Patients who died there were often buried in unmarked graves, which was seen as a cost-effective method.
Historian Louvain Rees said burial records show 2,000 people were buried on the site between 1887 and 1958, with some of the graves containing multiple bodies.
Local residents say the graves are still visible when it rains.
Francesca Woolls-Miles, whose great-grandmother is believed to have been buried on the site, said “it’s brilliant news” that the land is no longer for sale.
Her great-grandmother Catherine Saunders was admitted to the hospital in 1898 and died there in 1902 aged 53. She said it “would have been radically wrong” if the land was sold and the bodies exhumed.
Mrs Woolls-Miles would like to see a “small memorial” installed at the site in tribute to those who are buried there and a guarantee that further development will be prevented by the local authority taking ownership.
Historian Louvain Rees said burial records are missing for the period during which Catherine Saunders died but she would “definitely” have been buried at the hospital site as per common practice.
She said patients with mental health conditions were typically sent to Glanrhyd Hospital, built in 1864, first and then admitted to Parc Hospital if their issues were long-term or to die.
According to Ms Rees, a large number of female patients at the hospital suffered with psychosis, pre-natal depression, and post-natal depression.
“A lot of people died there from syphilis and the flu wiped out quite a lot of people because it was so contageous,” she said.
“They had shows and concerts in there and day trips. At the time, it was probably the safest place for some of them to have been.”
Francesca Woolls-Miles discovered her great-grandmother’s past when researching her family ancestry. She said the events before her death were “kept a secret” by her family.
Medical records show Catherine Saunders died from cancer but suffered from various health issues, such as pneumonia, “delusions”, insomnia and depression before her death.
She was born in Newcastle Hill, Bridgend, to Irish parents and married a Welshman with whom she had twelve children. Nine of her children died at an early age.
“It’s unimaginable,” said Mrs Woolls-Miles. “She had it very hard. There was terrible poverty then.
“There are 2,000 stories, Sarah’s is just one story. Some were children, some were very old. They would have had a hard life in the Parc and they deserve to have the same resting place as the rest of us.”
Louvain Rees, who is writing a book about the site with historian Anthony Rhys, said one of the graves made by the hospital contains six people.
“There are men, women and children in them,” she said. “One gentleman was buried with a stillborn baby.”
Dyfed Miles said the current landowners told him there used to be “metal crosses” marking the graves but they were “pinched for scrap” in the mid-20th century.
Given the land is privately-owned, there are currently no rights of access to it so anyone visiting the graves would effectively be trespassing.
“Surely a small piece of land can be preserved in a respect of these people,” said Francesca Woolls-Miles. “A lot of them probably died there unnecessarily. Mental illness wasn’t nursed like it’s nursed today and these people went through horrendous things.
“You cannot say that it is necessary to build houses on a small space of land which is the resting place of 2,000 people that may have been abused and mistreated and not looked-after like they would be today.
“There is enough green space in the county of Bridgend for houses to be built without exhuming possibly 2,000 bodies. Where would they go? I can’t see there’s any cemetery in the area that would be able to accommodate them.”