From his work with Inebriates Harold Burden became friendly with the Home Office and was invited to sit on the Royal Commission for the Care of the Feeble Minded that met from 1904 - 1908. As part of this he learnt of a need to create residential places for 'mental defective' children.
He rented a property in Birmingham, Sandwell Hall, and it was soon filled. He then decided to develop in Bristol and there developed the Stoke Park Colonies, operated by the National Institutions for Persons requiring Care and Control, licensed in 1919 at over 1700 beds when there were only 7000 similar beds licensed in the country.
This was a famous house and garden developed in 1740 - 1770 and afterwards inherited by the Beauforts, was rented to the Burdens in 1908 and occupied in on the 1 April 1909 by children and developed into a colony for women and children.
Together these made 750 beds and the Stoke Park site remained this size until the 1960's. This part of Stoke Park was the headquarters of the colonies in Bristol, though the office base was still at Howick Place in London [Telegrams: 'Burdensome, London']. Prior to 1913 it was licensed as an industrial school, with 'Captain Knowles' in charge, but with the Mental Deficiency Act a lady superintendent (R.G. Williams - the Rev. Burden's second wife) and then a medical superintendent took charge. By 1916 further large houses around Bristol were acquired and the Stoke Park group became the 'largest of any devoted to the care of the Mentally Defective', with 1268 beds and enlarging (when there were only 4547 people received under the MDA in the entire country). The whole colony enlarged to 1715 in 1919, reaching a plateau of about 1900 in 1930.
The medical offices enlarged and a small surgical unit built by Mrs R G Burden became the Burden Neurological Institute
West Side/ Stapleton Park/ Purdown
Below the hill of Stoke Park, a series of houses were purchased and developed into a colony for men only, called West Side, and later Stapleton Park and Purdown Hospital. In the 1930s a set of new villas were built to accommodate residents from Gloucestershire. In the end there were 651 beds in Purdown.
This small hall on the east of Bristol was rented and opened in 1916 for 240 males, though in time it varied between being all male and all female. The attic floor and windows were created by the Burdens, who in so doing weakened the roof so the building had to be virtually rebuilt in the 1970's. It hardly changed in number or character until the 1970's.
Leigh Court in Abbots Leigh was purchased and used for 260 women in 1917, they used the kitchen garden to provide food for the others. The size hardly changed until its closure in 1985.
The Burdens converted most of their other reformatories around the country into Mental Deficiency Colonies - The Southern Reformatory in Lewes closed for good in 1910, but the North Midlands in Ackroyd stared admitting 'Mental Defectives' in 1911 and The Midlands Reformatory, the Whittington in Chesterfield admitted from 1912. The Eastern Counties reformatory in East Harling, converted to admit 'mental defectives' in 1914. However the Reformatory premises were not judged adequate for the new Mental Deficiency Colonies, and The North Midlands closed in 1912 and the East Harling Colony, Guiltcross, at the end of 1916. Only the Whittington continued, enlarged for over 350 women.
Sandwell Hall was never registered under the Mental Deficiency Act and continued as a school and industrial school (Borstal) for 'mental defectives'. Captain Knowles moved to head it from Stoke Park and as time went on it became untenable without registration under the MDA. It started to run down after 1918 and closed in 1923, being demolished in 1928.
The Royal Victoria Home in Horfield closed as an inebriate retreat in 1910 and admitted mental Defectives in 1911. It was not big enough to survive as a colony in its own right and it was said to be used as a holiday and pre-discharge unit for Stoke Park girls.
By the 1920's the Burdens and the National Institutions for Persons Requiring Care and Control were operating only two colonies - the Stoke Park Group and the Whittington. They owned Guiltcross but it stood empty and unused, and the RVH at Horfield seemed to have been kept on for nostalgic reasons as much as good practice. The use of beds at Clevedon Hall, where the Burdens lived, reduced over the years to only those who acted as their servants, and when the Rev. Harold Nelson Burden died in 1930 his executors sold off the RVH and Guiltcross. The RVH still stands, used as accommodation for staff of the nearby prison. Guiltcross was demolished after the war, and only the old Infirmary block and two adjacent houses remains.
The Burdens had of course been instrumental in the foundation of that other reformatory, Brentry. Though they left as warden and lady superintendent in 1902 the Rev. Burden continued as Secretary and the National Institutions continued to arrange for admissions to the reformatory, decanting all the people from other reformatories to Brentry to keep it open until it was the last Reformatory in the country. They also encouraged the change of Brentry, the Inebriate Reformatory, to become a Mental Deficiency Colony for Men, operated by a consortium of councils from outside of the area. Brentry admitted its first male 'defectives' in 1917.
The Board of Control advised the Council Consortium running Brentry that to make Brentry economical they should reduce the number of staff needed by enlarging the wards. Two pairs of semi-detached houses were joined to create a 110 bed single ward.
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Last updated: 01/31/12.