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Glenside Hospital Museum houses collections relating to the history of Bristol Psychiatric and Learning Disability Hospitals.

The Museum, set within the grounds of the building which opened in 1861 as The Bristol Lunatic Asylum, tells the 130 year story of a psychiatric hospital. Originally built for 300 patients the hospital quickly expanded to accommodating over a 1000 patients at any one. Apart from three years as a War Hospital from 1915 to 1919 when it specialised in orthopaedics. The hospital was for those with a mental illness. It closed in 1994.

The museum is housed in the hospital chapel, a Grade II listed building built in 1881 for the patients of Bristol’s first purpose built Lunatic Asylum. Bristol Lunatic Asylum was opened in 1861 and underwent several names changes including Beaufort War Hospital, Bristol Mental Hospital and Glenside Hospital, now the main hospital buildings are occupied by the University of the West of England Faculty of Health and Social Care.Since the 1880’s Nurse Training has been delivered on this site.

Throughout its history the building has gone through many changes, but looking at the warm grey pennant stone you can easily imagine the lives of the many people who have lived and worked here.

The large collection of artefacts, photographs and information provide a picture of life and work in the former hospital.

History of the Museum

Dr Early 1917 - 2004

Dr Early 1917 – 2004

The museum was founded by Dr Donal Felix Early, a consultant psychiatrist at Glenside Hospital. The collection was first displayed on the balcony in the dining room of the hospital in 1984. Dr Early and some of his colleagues saved and collected objects from all corners of the building. We have them to thank for our core collection with items from Victorian times, the First World War and beyond.

Dr Early’s book “The Lunatic Pauper Palace” Glenside Hospital Bristol 1861-1994, is a fascinating read about the history of the building and the tensions of running a mental health hospital.

When the Hospital closed in 1994, the use of the derelict chapel was given to the Museum. The chapel was in a very poor state of disrepair, all of the stained glass windows were boarded up and the interior of the chapel had become home to pigeons and squirrels. The volunteers set to work scrubbing the floors, removing the boards from the windows, placing the exhibits on the pews and opened to the public.

Iputting up the exhibition in chapel 2n 2009 the museum had to be closed as the building needed work to be carried out on the lighting, guttering and roof. This meant all of the collections had to be removed. Once the works had been completed a team of volunteers put the museum back. Luke Pomeroy, a young volunteer re-designed and re-built the layout of the museum, deferring his MA at Leicester University in Museum Studies. He has gone onto work at the Science Museum and Museum of London. In 2010 the refurbished museum was opened.

It is a regular destination for people on Bristol Open Doors Day every September, receiving hundreds of visitors.

The museum was successful in gaining a Heritage Lottery Grant in 2011 to collect memories of Glenside Hospital from those who lived and worked there. This has enabled the Museum to collect over 40 interviews giving many perspectives. These are available for those researching or wanting an better understanding of the history of mental health care. The museum continues to collect memories from anyone that worked or visited the hospital, so please contact us if you have a story to tell.

In 2013 the Museum gained another grant from Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund to explore their World War One heritage. The museum has a collection of postcards and artefacts from the period during the war when the hospital was requisitioned by the War Office and the building became Beaufort War Hospital.  If you know of anyone in your family who came to Beaufort War Hospital we would love to hear from you, even if it just a name, or sentence or two.

The museum has no paid members of staff, and relies entirely on the commitment of dedicated volunteers in order to stay open.

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