The construction of the General Hospital 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 in 1832 with 20 beds.
The General Hospital was clearly meeting a demand, for in 1858 work began on the buildings you see now. The land had become available on the closure of Acraman’s Ironworks. The date of the original founding (1832) is the one inscribed on the outside of the octagonal tower facing Bathurst Basin. The nurses accommodation, designed by Henry Crisp and Sir George Oatley, was completed in 1895 and extended in 1907.
No NHS in those days and the Bristol General Hospital 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 (now occupied by Casamia and Paco Pasta).
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 was 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 and its ogee dome. Although for much of the post-war period the hospital continued to be one of the main providers of clinical services to the Bristol and North Somerset area, in later years it became a specialist rehabilitation hospital. In 2008, the hospital was used as the filming location for the BBC Three drama series Being Human, which was broadcast in early 2009.
After services moved to the Bristol Royal Infirmary and to the new South Bristol Community Hospital, the hospital closed on 4 April 2012. In their conversion of Bristol General Hospital to today’s ‘General’, City and Country have preserved the building’s façade and re-built the roof and tower which had been removed due to war-time bomb damage.
[From Gordon Faulkner’s article written for the Merchants Landing website.]