Gloucestershire Heritage Hub

Gloucestershire Archives

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 (

Document of the Month

 Gloucestershire Archives GDR/INV/1732/118

Among the most fascinating documents in our collections are the inventories taken after a person’s death.  Made between 1530 and 1782, these are lists of personal possessions belonging to the deceased (excepting land and property) made to establish the value of their estate.  They typically list personal items, furniture, furnishings and clothing, cash, debts owing or owed, crops, livestock and tools of trade – providing real ‘flesh on the bones’ for historians.  

This is the inventory of John Pierce of Newnham, made in February 1732.  It lists his clothes (‘wearing apparel’), money in his purse, four feather beds and bedsteads, four rugs, three pairs of blankets, twelve pairs of sheets, three tablecloths, one silver tankard, two silver spoons, three gold rings, tables, a chest, his brass & pewter (sadly not itemised), three fire grates and four spits, three pairs of hand-irons, two fire slices (coal shovels), two pairs of tongs and a jack (probably a thick hide glove), a clock, one small boat, two dozen chairs (chains), two bellows and lastly ‘goods forgotten’ and debts due.  All this was estimated to be worth £175 5s – around £20,650 today. 

The background to this particular inventory is that Pierce was the master and owner of the Severn trow New Newnham and drowned along with 18 passengers when she was wrecked at Awre in 1731, a reminder of how dangerous the Severn was (and still is). 

John Putley - Community Heritage Officer

Kingsholm Primary School at The Archives

In the past few months the sound of lively chatter has echoed through the Archives' corridors and strongrooms.

Kingsholm Primary School, no more than 5 minutes walk from the Heritage Hub, visited us to learn more about what we do here and take part in sessions run by staff. 

In January approximately 80 year 1 pupils (all aged 5 - 6 years) visited as part of a design and technology buildings project.

Touring the Heritage Hub, pupils compared the old and new, looked for clues that told them what the building had once been used for and saw how classrooms had been converted into offices and strongrooms. Children went inside a strongroom and were able to see some of the wonderful documents and books housed there.  Finally taking a long trek up to our main storage area (particularly long when your legs are quite short!) to see how photos are stored, returning for a meander through the garden and a close inspection of the artwork.


February and March saw Archives staff run six sessions as part of the school's 'University' module which is aimed at junior children (ages 8 – 11 years).

The University Module introduces subjects the school can’t normally include and aims to raise children's aspirations. As well as a tour of the building (where children were particularly interested in one of the Archives' strangest artefacts – Raikes the Rat) staff ran sessions that included comparing old and new maps, drawing their own map and using street names to inspire creative writing, finding out about how people in the past made ink, using feathers to write with and having a go at calligraphy. Finally the children had a session learning about gargoyles and made their own gargoyles using modelling clay or card.


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