The Story of Mental Health in Gloucestershire

The story of the long history of mental health provision in Gloucester starts in 1794 when a subscription fund was set up to pay for the cost of building what would become known as Horton Road Hospital in Gloucester (the first County Asylum in Gloucestershire). The subscribers of the day included the vaccinations pioneer, Dr Edward Jenner, from Berkeley in Gloucestershire, Robert Raikes – the founder of Sunday Schools – from Gloucester, and Sir George Onesiphorus Paul, a well-known social reformer and philanthropist. 

The Horton Road Asylum did not open until 1823 and several architects were appointed between 1794 and1823. The first architectural drawings were done by John Nash, responsible for many of the Georgian and Regency crescents and terraces in Bath.  

By the mid 1830’s Horton Road Asylum had the highest rate of recorded cures in the field of mental ill health in all of England. It was the eighth asylum to be built in England, following the success of the Retreat in York. 

Gloucester has a special significance in the UK in the history of mental health. The inaugural meeting of what is now the Royal College of Psychiatrists was held at Horton Road Hospital in Gloucester in 1841. One of the founding members of the Royal College of Psychiatrists was Dr Samuel Hitch, Resident Physician at Horton Road Hospital, and a leading pioneer in the treatment of mental health. He played a major role in creating the Association of Medical Officers of Asylums & Hospitals for the Insane, the forerunner of the now named Royal College of Psychiatrists. For further information please see “Gloucester and the beginnings of the RMPA” in the Journal of Mental Science449, pp. 603-632, 1961, by A. Walk & DL Walker.


In the same year, 1841, mechanical restraints were withdrawn from the daily routine at Horton Road Asylum. At that time only a handful of asylums had taken this step and it was seen as enlightened and humane. 


By 1883 Gloucester had 3 asylums: the original one, in Horton Road; Barnwood House in Barnwood, and the newly opened Coney Hill Asylum. Horton Road and Coney Hill were both managed by the local authority forerunners of the NHS, and Barnwood House was private. With the passing of the Mental Treatment Act 1930, which introduced voluntary patient admissions to asylums, the number of patients grew exponentially. Ivor Gurney, the World War 1 internationally acclaimed poet, was a private patient at Barnwood House. This asylum helped to pioneer the use of ECT from December 1939, and its medical Directors were interested in experimental psychiatry and treatments that were then thought of as innovative and forward thinking, including leucotomy. Barnwood House Hospital also introduced psychotherapy for its patients. 


In 1930 a new Physician Superintendent, Dr Frederick Logan, was appointed to the Coney Hill County Asylum in Gloucester, and he was amongst the first to introduce outpatient care, a dedicated service for adolescents, a form of occupational therapy and “parole” for male patients. He retired in 1955, and saw the changes in the treatment of mental ill health from the introduction of the 1930 Mental Treatment Act (replacing the outdated Lunacy Act 1890) right through to the very early ideas promoting community care, and including the foundation of the NHS in 1948. 


Gloucestershire Archives has what is widely regarded as a very comprehensive collection of both clinical and administrative records from 1823 until the last of the County Asylums in Gloucestershire (Coney Hill Hospital) closed in 1994. An almost complete collection of records outlining treatments, case notes, patient histories, epidemiology, and admissions and discharges for well over 170 years. 



Correspondence between Dr Ann Bailey, formerly Consultant Psychiatrist at Coney Hill Hospital, and Gloucestershire Archives 

Ian Hollingsbee, Gloucester’s Asylums 1794-2002(ISBN 0-9543534-0-4)

David Drakeley