An early C19 landscape laid out to accompany a purpose-built private lunatic asylum. The therapeutic use of the grounds at Brislington House and their layout were influential on the development of later C19 establishments for the treatment of mental illness.
Brislington House was established as a private lunatic asylum on a previously undeveloped site by Dr Edward Long Fox (1761-1835) in 1804-06. Edward Fox, a Quaker and member of the Fox family of Falmouth, Cornwall, practised in Bristol as a physician from 1786, being attached to the Bristol Royal Infirmary from 1786 to 1816. In 1794 Fox took over the management of a small, Quaker private asylum at Cleeve Hill, Downend, Bristol which he subsequently purchased.
The site purchased by Fox for his asylum c 1804 had formed part of Brislington Common, which had been enclosed in 1780 (Enclosure map, BRO). The site was chosen partly for its location close to the cities of Bath and Bristol which could provide a supply of affluent patients. The asylum, the first purpose-built establishment in England, was opened in 1806. A prospectus published c 1809 (SRO) explains that the asylum's distinctive plan was intended to allow Dr Fox to implement his therapeutic theories of segregation and classification by gender, medical symptoms, and social and financial background. Each block had access to its own designated airing court, beyond which was a range of cells for the restraint of refractory patients. This arrangement is shown on a plan probably published c 1809 (Huntington Library, CA), while the main buildings are shown in an engraved view which accompanied the prospectus. In addition to the airing courts, pleasure grounds with an extensive system of walks were laid out around the House; further walks led through the parkland and agricultural estate, while a cliff-top walk led through woodland above the River Avon. The grounds and agricultural estate were used for therapeutic purposes, pauper patients being employed on manual work and those of middle- and upper-class backgrounds taking walks and exercise in the grounds under the supervision of attendants (Greenwood 1822). This regime was noted with approval by the House of Commons Committee appointed to consider the 'better regulation of Madhouses in England' in 1815. By the 1830s a move away from rigid classification by social and economic circumstances allowed gentlemen patients to work in the pleasure grounds forming walks and performing other tasks; these are described in an account of his treatment at Brislington in 1830-2 written by John Perceval (Bateson 1961). In 1816 a detached cottage, Lanesborough Cottage, was built in the grounds to accommodate Lord Lanesborough, while in 1819 the Swiss Cottage was built for Lord Carysfoot. Two further detached villas, The Beeches and Heath House, were built on the western boundary of the site in the 1820s, the latter being occupied by Dr Fox from 1825. In addition, Heath Farm, then known as Heath Cottage, was in use by 1836 as a fifth detached picturesque residence for patients (Fox and Fox 1836). By the mid 1830s Brislington House was 'placed in the centre of what is now become a well wooded estate' (ibid). The estate, with its park, pleasure grounds, and farm, was intended to replicate that of a gentleman in order both to reassure the relatives of wealthy patients, and to provide a secluded place for the implementation of Dr Fox's treatments.
Dr Edward Fox retired from the direction of the asylum in 1829, passing its management to two of his sons, Dr Francis Ker Fox and Dr Charles Joseph Fox; at Dr E L Fox's death in 1835 the property was inherited jointly by the two brothers. In 1840 a detached Private House for the proprietor was constructed to the south of the original building, while in 1850-1 a major programme of alterations was undertaken. This included merging the three male and female divisions into a single unit for each sex, the extension and remodelling of the airing courts, and the construction of a chapel (Fox 1906). The asylum continued to be run by the family until the 1950s when it was sold and converted into a nurses' home. At this time the estate was fragmented, a secondary school being constructed to the south-west of the asylum, and playing fields being laid out in the park to the east and west. Heath House was destroyed in an air raid in 1940, while the former asylum building is today (2001) in the process of being converted into apartments.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
Brislington House is situated to the north of the A4, Bath Road c 1km south-east of the centre of the former village of Brislington. The c 36ha site comprises c 6ha of gardens and pleasure grounds, c 25ha of parkland which is now largely laid out as sports fields, c 2ha of former kitchen garden, and a further 3ha of woodland walks overlooking the River Avon. The site is bounded by public roads, with Bath Road forming the southern boundary, Ironmould Lane forming the eastern and northern boundaries, and Broomhill Road and Emery Road forming the western boundary. The north, east, and west boundaries are marked by high stone walls, while the south boundary is enclosed by C20 wire fences. The cliff-top walk c 400m north-east of Brislington House is separated from the core of the site by Ironmould Lane and partly by a strip of agricultural land which formed part of the C19 agricultural estate. The site is generally level to the north, west, and south of the asylum which stands on an artificially levelled terrace, beyond which the land falls to the east, allowing wide views across surrounding agricultural land to Lansdown Hill north of Bath. The north, west, and south boundaries of the site are largely enclosed by boundary plantations which screen the site.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
Brislington House is approached from Bath Road to the south. The entrance lies towards the centre of the southern boundary. It is marked by a pair of tall, square-section ashlar piers, from which low quadrant walls extend back to a pair of low, square-section stone piers with domed caps which frame the entrance to the drive. Immediately within the site the tarmac drive divides to pass to the east and west of the lodge (listed grade II), which comprises a two-storey ashlar structure with ornamental bargeboards, arch-headed windows set in recesses on the symmetrical gabled south facade, and a semicircular single-storey porch supported by a pair of Tuscan columns. Originally known as the Wheelhouse, the lodge was constructed in 1804-06, forming part of the original scheme for the development of the asylum and containing a mechanism for operating iron gates at the entrance (listed building description); the early C19 gates do not survive. Beyond the lodge the drive sweeps north and north-east for c 200m through mixed ornamental shrubbery on the western boundary of the pleasure grounds, before emerging onto lawns before the west facade of the asylum. The drive extends the full length of the building to reach the early C19 stables to the north. A mid or late C20 service drive leads south-east from the former stables to Ironmould Lane, providing access to C20 light industrial premises located in and around the stables. Continuing c 320m north of Brislington House through the grounds of Swiss Cottage, the principal drive reaches an entrance from Ironmould Lane to the north. The late C19 OS map (1881-3) shows this drive passing through an avenue which then extended across the field north of Ironmould Lane, flanking a path leading to the cliff-top walk; this avenue does not survive.
The Beeches, the only survivor of the three early C19 villas constructed near the western boundary of the site, has its own independent access from Broomfield Road at a point c 200m north-east of its junction with Emery Road. This entrance is marked by a late C19 lodge. Some 70m north-east of this entrance a pair of stone piers marks the former entrance to Lanesborough Cottage, which was demolished in the 1970s.
Brislington House (listed grade II) stands on an artificially levelled terrace towards the centre of the site. The building comprises two three-storey wings which flank a taller, central three-storey block to form a long, approximately rectangular range extending from north to south, the various blocks being linked by a spine corridor. The building is constructed in rendered stone under a slate roof, with Palladian-derived details. The west porch is flanked by a balustrade surmounted by urns which extends the full width of the central block. The central block on the garden or east facade has a pair of full-height semicircular bays and a centrally placed porch which gives access to a semicircular basement extension. To the north-west the mid C19 chapel breaks forward from the west facade.
The present Brislington House represents the mid C19 remodelling of Dr E L Fox's original fire-proof structure of 1804-06 which comprised a central block containing his own accommodation and that for gentlemen and lady inmates, flanked on each side by three separate blocks for lower-class male and female patients. These blocks were connected by a corridor or covered way at basement level. This scheme, which is illustrated on the plan of c 1809 (Huntington Library, CA), was altered by Dr F K Fox in 1850-1, when the flanking blocks were united to the central range behind a new west facade; at the same time the attached chapel was built to the north-west. These changes are shown on a plan of 1850 (SRO). In 1840 a new private wing was built immediately to the south of the asylum; this is shown on a plan of 1843 (SRO). Further minor alterations and additions were made to the building in the late C19 and early C20. Although it was the first purpose-built private asylum, the design of Brislington House with segregated accommodation for male and female patients of different classes was influential on the development of public asylums in the mid C19.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS
The informal pleasure grounds are situated principally to the west, south, and south-west of Brislington House; there are also informal pleasure grounds associated with the surviving detached villas north and west of the asylum. To the rear or east of the asylum is an area of formal gardens and lawns which represents the site of the former patients' airing courts.
A gravel terrace returns around the southern end of the building to give access to a terrace below the east facade of the former private house. A conservatory shown on the 1881-3 OS map forming the northern termination of this terrace does not survive. A flight of stone steps flanked by balustrades descends east to an area of lawn planted with specimen trees and conifers and bounded to the east and south-east by mixed shrubbery. To the north, the lawn is bounded by a stone wall c 3m high, in which are set a pair of wide C20 wooden gates which give access to a terrace c 65m deep which extends the full length of the east facade of the asylum. The terrace is enclosed to the west by the asylum buildings, and to the north and south by high stone walls. To the east it is retained by a further wall which is lower than those to the north and south, its down-swept parapet allowing views out across the surrounding country. The terrace is laid to lawn with late C20 island borders, three mature weeping ash planted on symmetrically arranged mounds, and a pair of mature hollies. To the north there is a late C20 swimming pool surrounded by paved seating areas and several late C20 greenhouses. The east terrace occupies the site of the airing courts laid out in 1804-06 as part of Dr Fox's original asylum scheme. As first constructed, the terrace was divided into six rectangular enclosures, each separated by stone walls and bounded to the east by a continuous range of cells to accommodate refractory patients. This arrangement is shown on the plan of c 1809 (Huntington Library, CA), which also notes that: 'Each of these Six courts has an elevated Plane of Grass occupying the middle, and a walk round it under the Walls. From these mounts the Patients can view the surrounding Country. Each Court is appropriated to a distinct Class of Patients and accessible to them at all times under the care of separate Keepers'. In 1815 a Parliamentary Visitor noted that silver pheasants and doves were kept in the courts for the diversion of the patients (quoted in Fox 1906), while in 1836 it was noted that an arcade extended the length of each court to allow patients to exercise in wet weather (Fox and Fox 1836). These arrangements are shown in an engraving published in 1836 (ibid), which also indicates that the airing courts were planted with trees and shrubs. The plan of 1843 (SRO) shows the ornamental layout of the airing courts with walks, lawns, shrubbery, and mounts, while a further plan of 1850 indicates the amalgamation of the three airing courts for each gender into two; the ornamental layout appears to have been simplified at the same period. In 1875, S C Fripp prepared plans for a pair of ornamental summerhouses to be constructed adjacent to the ladies' and gentlemen's sitting rooms in the central block; these are shown on the late C19 OS map but do not survive today. By 1881 (OS) the layout of the airing courts had been further simplified with the removal of the internal division on the male and female sides. A central dividing wall was retained and the two airing courts were laid out with cruciform walks dividing areas of lawn planted with specimen trees (OS 1881-3). The range of cells to the east of the airing courts was removed between 1846 (Tithe map) and 1881 (OS), at which time their site, and an enclosed garden to their east, were incorporated into the airing courts. The east terrace thus attained its present area.
To the west of the House is an area of informal lawns planted with specimen trees including mature cedars, and evergreen shrubbery. Some 50m west and on the axis of the centre of the asylum, a slightly raised level terrace, partly occupied by a C20 hard tennis court, corresponds to the early C19 bowling green constructed by Dr Fox for the recreation of patients (Fox c 1809). The pleasure grounds west of the House are separated from the park beyond by C19 metal estate fencing, and to the north connect with the pleasure grounds associated with Swiss Cottage (listed grade II). These pleasure grounds extend west of the north drive leading to Ironmould Lane, and include walks leading through mature trees and mixed shrubbery with a small pond. Their present arrangement corresponds closely to that shown on the 1846 Tithe map.
South of the asylum an area of lawn is bounded to the south-east and south-west by further areas of informal pleasure grounds. The lawn is now enclosed to the south by a late C20 hedge, but formerly connected with parkland to the south-east of the asylum. To the south-east of the lawn a belt of mature trees and evergreen shrubs screens the south wall of the kitchen garden; a mid C20 drive leads through this planting to reach Ironmould Lane, while a mid C20 single-storey sports pavilion stands on the site of a small conservatory which is shown on the late C19 OS map c 80m south-south-east of the asylum. To the south-west of the lawn curvilinear walks extend through a belt of mature trees, conifers, and evergreen shrubbery which extends parallel to the principal drive. One walk leads c 260m south-south-west to emerge onto the drive adjacent to the lodge, while another walk, partly edged by rustic stones and boulders, leads c 60m south-south-west to reach a flight of rustic stone steps which ascends to a level, approximately circular viewing platform. The western side of this platform is enclosed by a low, horseshoe-shaped rustic stone bench and monolithic rocks, while the eastern side is enclosed by C19 ornamental wire fencing, allowing views east across the park towards Lansdown Hill. The centre of the platform is occupied by a cyclopean stone table. The viewing platform is constructed above a semicircular stone-lined alcove which is reached by a flight of rustic stone steps which descends from the platform. The front of the alcove is supported by a cyclopean stone pillar, while the interior retains traces of a bench seat. The viewing platform and alcove may have been constructed before c 1840, as the park enclosure to the south is described as 'Grotto Field' on the Tithe map (1846); the feature is indicated on the OS map of 1881-3. To the west and south-west of the alcove, a walk follows a low stone retaining wall or ha-ha; this is now set back from the boundary between the pleasure grounds and park, but in the C19 would have allowed views east across the park from the walk (Tithe map, 1846; OS 1881-3).
The park is situated to the north-east, west, and south-east of Brislington House. The area to the north-east is partly occupied by late C20 light industrial units; the remainder of this area is pasture and gardens attached to a late C20 bungalow. A belt of plantation extends parallel to the northern boundary; this is indicated on the 1846 Tithe map and formerly contained a boundary walk. The park to the south-east of the asylum is laid out as playing fields and is enclosed to the north by shrubbery which serves to screen the south wall of the kitchen garden, and to the south-east by a stone wall fronting Ironmould Lane. A belt of plantation extends along the southern boundary fronting Bath Road, while to the west this area is enclosed by the pleasure grounds. The Tithe map (1846) describes this area as 'Grotto Field', and indicates a small area of plantation in its south-east corner; this had been extended along the southern boundary by 1881 (OS).
The park to the west of Brislington House is today laid out as sports fields associated with the mid C20 St Brendan's College, a school which stands c 170m west of Brislington House and c 80m east of The Beeches. Plantations enclose the north, west, and south-west boundaries of this area, and traces of the perimeter walk and C19 metal estate fencing separating the plantations from the park survive to the north. A low earthwork ridge crossing the playing fields from a point c 80m west of Brislington House represents the course of a partly tree-lined walk which led from The Beeches to the asylum. Some 180m north of this ridge, a tree-lined walk crossing the playing fields corresponds to the C19 walk connecting the asylum to the site of the former Heath House and Lanesborough Cottage. Of the three early C19 detached villas built by Dr Fox adjacent to the western boundary of the park, only The Beeches survives, standing in mature informal pleasure grounds characterised by specimen trees, lawns, and mixed shrubbery. Lanesborough Cottage, c 70m north of The Beeches, survived until the 1970s and its site is marked by some mature trees and shrubbery, as is the site of Heath Cottage which stood c 230m north-east of The Beeches until its destruction by a bomb in 1940.
The present (2001) layout of the park and the disposition of boundary planting and the surviving detached villas correspond closely to that shown on the Greenwoods' Map of Somerset (1822) and the Tithe map of 1846. The location of the asylum within a landscaped park setting was intended by Dr Fox both to create reassuringly genteel surroundings for his patients and their relatives, and to provide 'abundant occupation for those who are able to engage in agricultural or horticultural pursuits' (Fox and Fox 1836). The park provided facilities for cricket and football, and at certain seasons, greyhound coursing (ibid). Exercise, including walking in the grounds, was seen by Dr Fox and his successors as an essential part of the treatment offered at Brislington House.
The kitchen garden is situated to the east of the former airing courts and is enclosed to the north, east, and south by high stone walls. To the west it is enclosed by the retaining wall of the airing court, which is partly screened by a line of overgrown fruit trees. Today (2001) the kitchen garden is laid out as sports pitches.
The early C19 kitchen garden was situated immediately east of the cells for refractory patients on the eastern side of the airing courts. Flues for stoves heating glasshouses built against the east face of the cell walls provided heat for the patients without the necessity for open fires (ibid). This arrangement is shown on the plan of c 1809 (Huntington Library, CA), and on the Tithe map of 1846, although at that date the kitchen garden is described as a yard. The Tithe map shows three further enclosures, one a garden and orchard, the other two being arable fields occupying the site of the present kitchen garden. The present arrangement was achieved between 1846 (Tithe map) and 1881 (OS) when the cells were demolished, the airing courts extended east, and the three garden or arable enclosures thrown together to form a kitchen garden. In 1881 the OS shows the garden divided into rectangular sections by walks, with a concentration of fruit trees in the south and south-east sections.
Some 400m north of Brislington House, and separated from the park by Ironmould Lane and partly by a narrow strip of agricultural land, is a detached area of pleasure grounds comprising a cliff-top walk above the River Avon. The walk is partly retained by stone walls, and partly constructed as a level terrace along the cliff-top through deciduous woodland and evergreen shrubbery known as Fox's Wood. The steep, north-east-facing slope below the walk is also partly wooded, and there are dramatic views south-east along the Avon valley and north-east and east to the far side of the river. A level area within the woodland corresponds to the site of an early C19 thatched rustic summerhouse known as The Battery (photograph album, BRO), but no trace of this structure survives above ground. A steep gully to the north of the site of The Battery contains remains of a tramway used to haul coal for the asylum from a wharf by the river (Bygone Brislington 1986), which is now separated from the woodland walk by the mid C19 railway. The cliff-top walk was developed in the early C19 by Dr Fox for the recreation of his patients. The walk and The Battery summerhouse were described by John Perceval in his account (1831-2); Perceval commented that he considered it a 'most imprudent place to take them [the patients]' (Bateson 1961). The walk and summerhouse are indicated on the 1846 Tithe map.
To the north-west of the cliff-top walk, Heath Farm is situated in gardens which are largely laid to lawn. To the south-east of the house a rectangular pond is now dry; the pond was marked on the Tithe map (1846). Between the pond and Pear Tree Meadow to the south-east is a group of five mature cedars which correspond to the ornamental planting shown on the late C19 OS map. Heath Farm farmhouse (listed grade II) was fitted-up by Dr Fox in the early C19 with picturesque bargeboards, windows, and a gabled porch in order to serve as a further detached residence for his patients; it is illustrated in the account published in 1836 by Francis and Charles Fox. The farm buildings to the north of the farmhouse formed the centre of the asylum's agricultural estate which by 1836 extended to over 200 acres (c 81ha).
E L Fox, Brislington House, An Asylum for Lunatics... An Account of the Establishment (c 1809), (Somerset Record Office)
Report together with The Minutes of Evidence, and an Appendix of Papers from the Committee appointed to consider the provision being made for the better regulation of Madhouses in England (1815), p 298
E L Fox, Brislington House, An Asylum for Lunatics... An Account of the Establishment (new edn with additional letter from Lord Robert Seymour, c 1817) (Bedfordshire Record Office)
C and J Greenwood, Somersetshire Delineated (1822)
F and C Fox, History and Present State of Brislington House near Bristol, an Asylum for the cure and reception of Insane Persons (1836) (Bristol Reference Library)
Brislington House Prospectus (1902) (Bristol Reference Library)
A Fox, A Short Account of Brislington House, 1804-1906, [published in Brislington House Quarterly Newsletter Centenary Number (1906), pp 4-14 (Somerset Record Office)]
G Bateson (ed), Perceval's Narrative A Patient's Account of his Psychosis 1830-32 (1961)
S Stoddard, Mr Braikenridge's Brislington (1981), p 10
Bygone Brislington (1986), pp 19-22
Brislington Common Enclosure map, 1780 (39624/1-2), (Bristol Record Office)
C and J Greenwood, Map of Somerset, 1822
The Ground Plan of the Asylum for Lunatics at Brislington House near Bristol, c 1809 (Stowe Papers, maps and plans Box 10, item 4), (Huntington Library, San Marino, CA)
Plan of Brislington House, 1843 (Q/RLu 42/6), (Somerset Record Office)
Tithe map for Brislington parish, 1846 (Bristol Record Office)
Brislington House Ground Plan, 1850 (Q/RLu 42/2), (Somerset Record Office)
S C Fripp, Brislington House and detached buildings, 1857 (Q/RLu 42/9), (Somerset Record Office)
S C Fripp, Plan for proposed Summer Houses in airing ground Brislington House, 1875 (Q/RLu 42/16), (Somerset Record Office)
OS 6" to 1 mile: 2nd edition published 1905
3rd edition published 1921
OS 25" to 1 mile: 1st edition surveyed 1881-3
Engraved view of Brislington House, c 1809 (in Fox c 1809)
Engraved views of Brislington House, airing courts, Heath Farm, Swiss Cottage, and entrance lodge, c 1836 (in Fox and Fox 1836)
Brislington House near Bristol, Somersetshire, engraving after S C Jones, View of the west front as remodelled in 1850 (BB72/4645), (NMR, Swindon)
Early C20 photographs of Brislington House and grounds, c 1900 (39624/5), (Bristol Record Office)
Description written: May 2001
Register Inspector: JML
Edited: January 2004