Know your Hood- High Street Ghost House
Sai Ying Pun is a district paved in history which is slowly being transformed into a buzzing restaurant and cafe scene. But if you love a good ghost story, you’ve come to the right place.
Clustered around the Sai Ying Pun area are many historical buildings declared as monuments including King’s college, St Stephen’s girls college and the Old Tsan Yuk Maternity Hospital. Many have been repurposed and only a few retain their original function.
First, second, third and High street (formerly fourth street but changed due to its connotations with death) are intersected by eastern, central and western street to form a grid with the Sai Ying Pun wet market at its hub. Walking along High street, you may have noticed an interesting stone facade hauntingly looming over King George’s park. The towering stone arches brood under a modern structure now make up part of the Sai Ying Pun Community Centre.
Although beautiful, this crumb of victorian architecture houses an intriguing, dark history.
Originally used for as quarters for European nurses working in the Government Civil Hospital, the building was later transformed into a treatment facility for mentally ill patients.
In 1895, the nearby Chinese Lunatic Asylum (located where the eastern street methadone clinic stands today) combined with the European Lunatic Asylum (where the David Trench Rehabilitation Centre is currently built) became an extension of the Government Civil Hospital.
Despite relocation of patients being relocated to John Kerr refuge for the Insane, the facilities were becoming overcrowded and understaffed.
To help with this, the neighboring nurses’ quarters were converted into a 23 bed hospital for mentally ill female patients. The hospital increased its capacity to 84 beds in the next 10 years. During this time its primary function was to take care of patients being transferred to China or to their own countries. Collectively, the Chinese and European Lunatic Asylums, and the converted nurses’ quarters became known as the Victoria Mental Hospital.
Postcard image of the Old mental Hospital on High street roughly around 1898. Image sourced from: https://gwulo.com/atom/19388
When world war II came to Hong Kong, the mental hospital was taken over by the Japanese. It is rumored that the Japanese used the structure as an execution hall with a mass grave located in King George's park. It is not known what went on there during this time.
With the opening of Castle Peak Hospital in 1961, the mental hospital was closed down and abandoned by the 1970’s.
High Street Ghost House
The old mental hospital remained vacant and started falling apart for 20 years. Local residents were wary of it history. Its association with war and mental illness cast a dark shadow on the building. It was also known to be frequented by drug users and curious teenagers.
Tales of ghost sightings quickly gave way to the name ‘High Street Ghost House’. People living in the area reported sightings of headless ghosts wandering the corridors. Stories of locals seeing ‘visitors’ wandering around the complex and verandah still today. Some people are hesitant to live on high street due to its association with the hauntings.
A series of fires badly damaged the building, thought to be unintentionally started by trespassers. In 1998, the badly damaged building was decided to be restored and deemed historically valuable.
In October 2015 the Antiques Authority declared it as a monument which protects it from development.
In its prime, the original structure combined styles from Chinese and western architecture. A traditional Chinese tiled roof with contrasting green window frames set into rustic granite. There was no other building like it in Hong Kong.
Sadly, due to the extent of damage caused by fires and neglect, only the facade was able to be conserved. The decision to keep the L-shaped facade was made for a few reasons. When it was built, the verandah constituted two-thirds of the costs - reflected in the detail and craftsmanship of the facade. It was also the only part of the building given Grade 1 status, meaning that every effort should be made to keep it. There were also concerns that the facade would not hold up on its own.
The Sai Ying Pun Community Complex was built to reflect the style of the facade but with modern materials. Careful choice of lighting and structural rhythm was incorporated into the architecture to integrate it into the local environment.
These days the Victorian-style granite facade is a popular spot for wedding photography as couples sneak in to the verandah to take photos against the colonial archways.
So next time you’re in Sai Ying Pun, pass by number 2 high street. Revel in the impressive granite archways and the history of progressive medicine.. But make sure to head home before it gets dark!
Want to learn more?
All you need to know about the architecture and some of the challenges faced during construction. http://www.building.com.hk/feature/07_01syp.htm
Or to explore more interesting histories in your area, check out this interactive map!