Bristol General Hospital

Gordon Faulkner wrote this essay before the General Hospital was converted to housing.

The Bristol General Hospital has been put up for sale. Its construction was proposed in 1831 by a meeting of Whigs and Non-conformists who believed that they were being discriminated against by local Tories and the Church of England who ran the Bristol Infirmary, established in 1735. Clearly they had considerable support for in the next year three houses, Nos. 12, 13 & 14 Guinea Street were purchased and in them the hospital was established.

The General Hospital was clearly filling a demand for in 1858 work began on the buildings you see now. The land had become available on the closure of Acraman’s Iron Works. The date of the original founding (1832) is the one inscribed on the outside of the octagonal tower facing Bathurst Basin. No NHS in those days and the BGH required money to support it. Accordingly the building incorporated warehouse storage capacity in the basement. What could be more suitable, after all the building was on a busy dockside? The entrances to the warehousing can be seen as a line of semi-circular arches on Lower Guinea Street. The ground between the hospital and New Cut was for many years used to grow food, another aid to self-sufficiency.

In the 1930s this area became the site for a new outpatients department the construction of which in reinforced concrete is in marked contrast to the remainder of the now listed building. The hospital was quite badly damaged during the wartime bombing of Bristol, losing its top floor on Lower Guinea Street. Its facade at least is listed so that when developers eventually acquire buildings this requires them to retain the facade, not just as it is now but as it was when it was built. We shall see!

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