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History of Psychiatry in Bristol (3)

The Beaufort Hospital

World War One

The Chaplain writing his annual report on December 31st 1914 made no mention of the war that had started.  On February 6th 1915 the Medical Superintendent reported that “in August last nearly 50 per cent of the male staff were called up for active service, their places were filled temporarily by persons with no previous experience… without inconvenience to the patients.”  The office of Junior Medical Officer was difficult to fill because of the war and other circumstances.  He noted that the cost of provisions, clothing etc. had greatly increased the expenditure but that he hoped “to tide over the present crisis without having to make any extra charge for the maintenance of patients.”  The charges “necessarily caused some little anxiety at times.”

Fishponds was urgently called into use in 1915 when the other Bristol hospitals could not cope with the increasing influx of casualties from the Western Front. It was converted at War Officeexpense and provided 1460 beds.  Very little notice of occupation was given to the asylummanagers and even less warning of transfer to patients and their relatives.

Considerable alterations were necessary to equip the Asylum as a Military Hospital. This work was carried out at the War Office’s expense and the hospital was designated the “Beaufort War Hospital, for the general medical and surgical treatment of sick and wounded soldiers.”

The Asylum medical superintendent, Dr J.V. Blatchford became Colonel (RAMC) in Charge supported by his deputy Dr Philips in appropriate rank. The Nursing Staff, all female as was the custom at that time, was provided by generally trained ladies of the Queen Alexander’s Imperial Military Nursing Order colloquially called the Q.A’s . The  mentally trained asylum  attendants who had not been called up for military service were retained as orderlies and worked under the authority of the Q.A’s.  The female mentally trained asylum nurses who had no general nursing qualifications served as auxiliary nurses and were also supervised by the Q.A’s.  There is no record of the 45 men patients who were retained for work on the grounds and in the hospital departments and shops.  Little information survives of their life.


The administration block    Main Gate   

Outside the front of the buildings   In one of the airing courts

Group picture Listening to entertainers (the Opera group) 

The Concert hall   The Chapel

Theatre no 1   laundry


There are more photographs of the soldiers who were patients than the helpers, as enterprising photographers went around photographing many of the patients on the wards, giving us a record of the appearance of many of the wards.  These are the only series of photographs of the inmates of the hospital that was made for public sale.  In the days as an asylumthis was forbidden.  The museum now has copies of over 60 images of this time.

One person who was aware of the existence of the helpers and of some of their problems was one of the early recruits to the nursing staff (RAMC), the artist Stanley Spencer, who joined up in July 1915.  His paintings and writings give an insight into what the Hospital routine was like.  He experienced little of the life of these 45 men with mental illness who remained behind in the hospital “to carry out menial tasks.”  His time at the Beaufort and the paintings he made based on it at the Sandham memorial chapel are well set out elsewhere (www.stanleyspencer.co.uk) (see also www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sandham for images of chapel and paintings).


New Patients arriving    New patients waiting to be sorted

In the back drive    The RAMC staff

Corridor Ward    Ward 13 A  

  Corridor part of Ward 13 A   Mock Wedding - there were several - how many women are there?



Of the 29,434 patients who had been admitted in the 4 years of the Beaufort only 164 were lost in death, and of these were 30 civilian emergencies who had been rushed there during the influenza epidemic of 1918.  The dedicated men and women who worked there, whatever their grumbles, served better perhaps than they knew.

In 1919 the army left the Beaufort and everything returned to normal, the same medical and administrative hierarchy, the same nursing staff less those who had been killed, the same patients returned from Gloucester, Somerset, Devon.  From Cornwall they returned in three groups, the first seen off by the Visitors at 10am, 7th December 1919 “well dressed and well clad for the journey.”  Further groups departed on October 1st 1920 and October 13th 1920.

The first civilian patient was admitted on December 18th 1919.






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Last updated: 01/31/12.