Stapleton Hospital

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Stapleton Hospital
Construction Began 1779
Opened 1914 (as a Psychiatric hospital)
Closed 2005
Current Status Preserved
Building Style Rambling Plan
Location Fishponds, Bristol
Alternate Names
  • Stapleton Prison
  • Stapleton Workhouse
  • Stapleton Institution for the Maintenance and Workshop Training of Certified Mental Defectives
  • Manor Park Hospital
  • Blackberry Hill Hospital


What is now Blackberry Hill Hospital was first built as a prison in 1779 to hold naval prisoners of war who were being landed on the quay side at Bristol during the American War of Independence and later, the Napoleonic Wars. The shell of the original prison building in Manor Road still stands, as does the British Garrison Officers Mess House and the Admiralty Agents House. In 1783, George lll recognized the 13 United States as free and independent and the prisoners, who were mostly Dutch and Spanish, were sent home. Ten years later, in 1793, Stapleton Prison, as it had become, was once again prepared for use, as France declared war on Britain.

The prison was enlarged, with prison building number three built in 1804. This building - used in recent years as a nurses' residence - is still there, as is the Militia Garrison Guard House and mess house. With the Treaty of Paris in 1814, the prisoners of war went home and the buildings were used as an ordnance store and then as a marine school for errant boys.

The 1834 cholera outbreak led to many deaths through overcrowding at St Peter's Hospital, the city's first workhouse. The Guardians of the Poor first rented - and then in 1837 purchased - the old prison, which then became Stapleton Workhouse. By 1861, the Guardians of the Poor had demolished some of the old prison buildings and built the main block we know as Blackberry Hill Hospital today. All the buildings were separated by walls because the inmates of the workhouse were strictly segregated. During the First World War, Stapleton Workhouse became Stapleton Institution for the Maintenance and Workshop Training of Certified Mental Defectives.

1948 saw the National Health Service Act implemented and out of the grim, grey stone institution was born Stapleton Hospital. At its inception it was caring for 837 patients - 350 were detained under what was known as the Lunacy Act, 152 were described as mentally handicapped and 80 were described as social misfits. Improvements were slow. Even in 1948 some patients still worked for their keep, in the kitchens, the farm and the bakery.

In 1956 the hospital was once more renamed, becoming Manor Park and a stream of improvements was implemented. The old airing yards were gradually replaced by landscaped gardens, long wards were sub-divided and the old buildings were brightened up. Eight consultants and their teams cared for the 430-bed hospital.

From December 1992 this hospital entered yet another phase, merging with Glenside, the former Bristol Lunatic Asylum, that had been built next door to the old Stapleton Workhouse. This merged site was re-named Blackberry Hill Hospital. When Glenside was closed and its former patients moved out into the community, new accomodation was provided on the former Manor Park site, for those deemed not suitable for life in the community. Secure mental health services have been provided on the Blackberry Hill Hospital site for many years. Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership has renovated the existing secure in-patient unit and has built a new medium secure unit to the rear of the hospital grounds, known as Fromeside.

The old Glenside buildings have now been taken over by the University of the West of England and house their Faculty of Health and Social Care, providing training for nurses and health service professionals. Now in 2008, the former workhouse buildings at Blackberry Hill Hospital have been cleared of patients, staff and equipment and the old listed buildings are up for sale, while the newer wards on the site are being retained for the use of people with mental health problems.[1]