Whitchurch Hospital

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Whitchurch Hospital
Established 1895
Construction Began 1899
Opened 1908
Current Status Active
Building Style Echelon Plan
Architect(s) Oatley and Skinner
Location Whitchurch
Alternate Names
  • Cardiff City Mental Hospital


By the closing years of the century there were 476 Cardiff residents "boarded out" in the Glamorgan Asylum, and a further 500 to 600 being held in hospitals in places as far away as Chester and Carmarthen. The need for a specific provision, for the town of Cardiff alone, was clearly apparent.

Whitchurch Hospital took 10 years to build and cost nearly £350,000, an amazing sum of money for those days. The main hospital building covered nearly five acres and was designed to accommodate 750 patients.

Banded brickwork and the 150 foot water tower dominated the site which consisted of 10 hospital blocks, five for men and five for women. A self contained farm was to be an important feature of the hospital, providing food and therapeutic work for patients. There was much controversy over this farm, which was originally intended to cost some £4,000. The plan was castigated in the Welsh press, with cartoonists in particular having a field day. The proposed plans were soon altered and the cost reduced to £2,000.

The first medical superintendent was Dr Edwin Goodhall and the first patients arrived at the hospital on 1 May 1908. By the end of June more than 600 patients, mostly male but a large contingent of women as well, had been admitted.

Within a few years Whitchurch Hospital had acquired a remarkable reputation at the forefront of mental health care. This was down to the quality and commitment of the nurses and medical staff and, in particular, Dr Goodall. Concern for the welfare of patients went beyond simple custodial care and there was a very real desire to help people with their problems and, if possible, to assist them in taking a place in society, however limited that involvement might be.

During World War One the hospital was run by the military as a general medical and surgical institution, its patients having been disbanded to other mental hospitals around the area. In 1919 things returned to normal, patients returning from their enforced stays elsewhere. During the 1930s the hospital constantly received good reports, a high proportion of the nurses being qualified in both general and mental health nursing. Until the late 1930s, however, those nurses worked a 60-hour week, living in the hospital where their private and social lives were stringently governed and controlled.

Research into the causes and treatment of mental illness was always a part of Dr Goodall's programmes, and Whitchurch was well equipped with laboratories and research equipment. The number of patients discharged from Whitchurch was better than almost every other similar institution in Britain, and after-care was equally as important to Goodall and his team. During World War Two part of the hospital was again in use by the military. Eight hundred beds were handed over to the military, making Whitchurch the largest emergency services hospital in Wales. Unlike World War One, 200 beds were retained for civilian mental health patients. Over the six years of conflict British, American and occasionally even German soldiers were treated there for wounds and for the psychological trauma of modern warfare.

On 5 July 1948, however, the hospital was taken over by the Ministry of Health as the National Health Service came into existence. The hospital continued to be well-used throughout the 1960s and '70s, even though many were now questioning the viability of large, outmoded institutions such as this.

Care in the community was considered preferable in many cases and, as a consequence, Whitchurch came to be seen by many as little more than a last ditch resort where containment was more important than care and treatment. It was an emotive point and the hospital retained many ardent supporters. Even so, it was clear that the physical environment - perfect, perhaps, in the 19th century - was somewhat limited for modern medical needs. In the early years of the 21st century plans were made to close the old hospital with its echoing corridors and looming shadows. A combination of day care, specialised provision at nearby Llandough Hospital and a small, purpose-built set of wards on the site of the old Harvey Jones Adolescent Unit would be in the best interests of patients and staff.