April 2023

Gloucestershire Heritage Hub

Cataloguing The Barnwood House Hospital Collection

Barnwood House Hospital was established around the early 1800s and operated as a private mental asylum until its closure in 1968. The impact of the hospital on the community of the City of Gloucester and indeed its national reputation over many years at the forefront of the treatment of mental illness cannot be underestimated. The ethos of the hospital can be demonstrated by the hospital’s rule book stating that “Because they are insane, the patients are not to be treated with less respect than they would be entitled to if they were of sound mind and at liberty” and “They are not the less ladies and gentlemen because they are unsound in mind”. 


D3725/1/167/4: Photograph of Barnwood House and grounds, including a few staff and patients [late 19th century].

Every effort was made to surround the patients with an environment that would be conducive to their recovery from their illness. This was to be achieved by having a welcoming interior, the provision of healthy food from the hospital’s own farm and exercise in the hospital’s pleasant grounds, regular routines, high quality staff, trips to the seaside and as early as 1930 a pioneering occupational therapy department offering classes in handicrafts such as weaving and basket-making given by expert tuition. 

D3725/1/100/1, Minutes of subscribers to the intended general asylum, 1794-1813, 1859.  This is the oldest record in the collection.  The start of the first page reads “At a Meeting of the Subscribers to the intended General Asylum for the reception of Insane persons held at the Infirmary in Gloucester on Thursday the 16th day of January 1794….”.

The hospital gained a reputation for high quality research and training. In 1939 Barnwood House in association with the Burden Neurological Institute became the first hospital to make use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) as a treatment. Five patients from Barnwood were selected to receive ECT. In 1941, again in conjunction with the Burden Neurological Institute, the hospital first carried out a pre-frontal leucotomy where the white matter of the frontal lobes is surgically cut. None of the first four patients to receive the treatment left hospital after the operation but were described as more manageable and well behaved. After this initial trial an ongoing programme of performing the operation on patients took place, carried out by the neurosurgeon Wylie McKissock. The hospital gained a reputation for high quality training in mental nursing after 1926 even having a separate building solely for this purpose.

To read the full blog written by Jon Shepherd (Community Cataloguing Archivist) click Cataloguing The Barnwood House Hospital Collection | Gloucestershire Archives (wordpress.com)


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