Purdown Hospital 2722

Bristol, England, Bristol, City of

Brief Description

The hospital grounds are on an 18th-century landscape park, formerly Stapleton Grove and Stapleton Park. Purdown Hospital contains three separate Georgian houses, and the grounds are now bisected by the M32 Parkway.

History

Part of the site was granted to Tewkesbury Abbey in 1174, and was farmed by the Benedictine Order of St. James (Barton) until the suppression of 1536. The site went into private ownership, and in 1783-4 the medieval Heath House was demolished and the present building was erected.

Detailed Description

The following description dates from the time of the last survey (1987). The site may have changed considerably since then:

The Purdown ridge is contiguous with the landscaped grounds of Stoke Park, Stoke Gifford, and provides a rugged counterpoint to that intimate garden. The two form a wedge of open country penetrating the City of Bristol from the north-east. The ridge is widely visible from north and east Bristol. Its natural prominence is emphasised by the tall telecom radio repeater mast erected on its summit. It forms a rural backdrop to the motorists' gateway to Bristol and as such is regarded as an important landscape.

Purdown Hospital contains three separate Georgian houses (see features). Heath House commanded prospects to the south-east over the Frome Valley and to the south-west across Horfield Valley towards Bristol. Its principal entrance was formerly from Sir John's Lane. This area is now quaintly overgrown and ruinous. Entry is now from the main hospital site.

Beech House (formerly Stapleton Grove) is now the central administration building. It is intact, though it has suffered some unfortunate additions to its roofline in the form of a wooden top storey.

The original entrance to The Grove was via a lane from Park Road which has reverted to a footpath, flanked and roofed as a subway and passing through a pennant stone arch beneath a drive which is now a dead-end. Entrance today is via a new road, which continues over the M32 to Heath House. The Elms is a day centre, fronting onto Park Road, Stapleton.

Both Beech House and The Elms have mature ornamental conifers around the buildings. The land to the west of the motorway abuts a large housing estate. There are public rights of way on the site, but for since about 1970 access has been general and unrestricted. The anti-aircraft gun site is a favourite playground with local children.

The hospital grounds are bisected by the M32 Parkway, connected by a road bridge and a cattle bridge. The two parts on either side of the motorway have distinct characters. The main site to the south-east is institutional and subject to normal health authority management. Across the bridge, the Purdown ridge has a wild and remote feel, an impression that is enhanced by the lack of a comprehensive maintenance regime.

The grasslands within and beyond the outer boundary wall of Heath House has partly tumbled down to scrub and brambles, and perimeter trees have grown over-mature with many dead specimens. Although broken down in places, the walls to the walled garden and the boundary wall of Heath House skirting Sir John's Lane are in reasonable condition. The outbuildings within the garden of Heath House are complete though decaying.

Heath House had been recently vacated at the time of the last survey (1987), as it was surplus to requirements. Elm Tree Farm had been a working farm into the 1980s, under the Colony System. It now has a residual function as a vegetable garden and poultry yard for occupational therapy.

At the time of the last survey (1987), Frenchay Health Authority had recently announced its intention to apply for housing development approval for much of Purdown and Stoke Park, but the result of this has not been ascertained.

Features
  • House (featured building)
  • Description: This is Heath House, which was built for the Smyth family. It has approximately 4 acres of walled garden, with outbuildings, gate and lodge, all within a walled estate. The house is surrounded by the mature trees of Heath House Covert.
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  • Building
  • Description: This is Beech House. It is an early-19th century house, formerly Stapleton Grove.
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  • Building
  • Description: This is The Elms. It is an early-19th century house, which was a hospital day centre at the time of the last survey (1987).
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  • Tower
  • Description: This feature is a massive rubble-built (pennant sandstone) tower, possibly the body of a windmill. It now forms one corner of a 20th century ward building.
  • Structure
  • Description: This is a World War 2 M.O.D. site for an anti-aircraft gun. It is covered in graffitti. The structure is in reinforced concrete.
History

Detailed History

Purdown was formerly part of the manor of Barton Regis (literally King's Farm), carved from the Royal Forest of Kingswood to supply provender for the Earls of Gloucester at Bristol Castle. Barton Manor was divided, its lands being appropriated to the endowment of churches. This area was granted to Tewkesbury Abbey in 1174, and was farmed by the Benedictine Order of St. James (Barton) until the suppression of 1536.

Heath House was bought by a Bristol merchant, Robert Thorne. "In 1546, the Walker family became tenants....and their successors lived there for five generations" (see references, Jancar). Eventually it passed, through marriage, to a branch of the Smyth family, prominent Bristol merchants, in 1767. They demolished the medieval Heath House in 1783-4 and erected the present building.

When they succeeded to the grander Ashton Court the Smyths lost interest in Heath House, which was let to a succession of tenants until it was auctioned in 1911. No bid was received and the house was bought privately by the Reverend Harold Burden the same year. It was incorporated into the new Purdown Hospital extension of his Stoke Park Colony for the amelioration of young people of enfeebled mind.

Some of the outlying estate lands were incorporated into the new municipal Eastville Park in 1911. The old stone tower, which originally may have formed the body of a windmill, was still a free-standing structure in a rustic setting in the early-20th century, when it formed part of Stapleton Park Farm. It was subsequently incorporated into one of the hospital ward buildings.

Upon the wall of an outbuilding to Beech House is a stone plaque bearing the following inscription:

IN MEMORY OF RAJAH RAM MOHUN ROY

FOUNDER OF THE BRAHMO SOMAJ AND PIONEER OF MANY SIDED REFORMS IN INDIA. A MAN OF DEEP RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE. A FRIEND TO ALL THE RELIGIONS OF THE SPIRIT. A GREAT LINGUIST WHO CAST A PERMANENT LIGHT ON THE CHIEF RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD. BORN AT RADHANAGORE BENGAL IN 1771. VISITED ENGLAND IN 1831 AND 1833 TO ADVANCE THE SOCIAL AND POLITICAL INTERESTS OF HIS COUNTRY. HE LIVED IN THIS HOUSE IN THE SUMMER OF 1833 AND DIED HERE ON SEPTEMBER 27th IN THE SAME YEAR. THIS TABLET IS ERECTED AS A TOKEN OF THEIR DEEPEST REVERENCE BY HIS FELLOW COUNTRYMEN ON THE OCCASION OF THE FIRST CENTENARY OF THE BRAHMO SOMAJ.

Rajah Ram Mohun Roy's splendid Islamic tomb is in Arno's Vale Cemetery.

During Victorian times, Purdown was a popular venue for bare-fist fighting and W.G. Grace played here for Stapleton Cricket Club. The ridge received city-wide recognition as a result of the wartime exploits of ‘Purdown Percy'. It was commonly believed that the anti-aircraft site housed an immense supergun, ‘Purdown Percy', the blast of which, magnified by its elevated position, shook the district and could be heard all over Bristol above the noise of the air raids. In fact, the gun emplacement was armed with four high-velocity cannon that all fired simultaneously. The ruined camp, gun bases and magazines were scheduled as an Ancient Monument in the 1980s.

The Lockleaze Housing Estate was built by the Bristol Corporation in 1948. They also acquired the western strip of Purdown to form a recreation ground. This area is standard non-descript parkland.

In 1968, the wartime repeater tower was replaced by the present structure, with a group of low buildings at its base.

Period

  • 18th Century
Associated People
Contact
References

References

Contributors

  • Stewart Harding

    1

  • Avon Gardens Trust