Cardiff City Asylum, Whitchurch Hospital, Wales


Cardiff was initially very reluctant to spend money on building its own lunatic asylum and was boarding its patients at The County Asylum in Bridgend. By the turn of the twentieth century Cardiff had continued with this out-sourcing arrangement, but it had become problematic both for Glamorgan County and for Cardiff. During the nineteenth century Cardiff had expanded from a population of 1,870 in 1801 to 164,000 in 1901. The accompanying increase in the number of pauper lunatics was equally large. Thus, Bridgend asylum was overflowing to the extent that a second asylum had to be built. The source of the overcrowding was the high numbers of Cardiff paupers taking up beds. Indeed so great was the strain on the Bridgend asylum that Cardiff also sent people to Devon, Somerset, Chester and even Sussex. Cardiff Council came under increasing pressure from both Glamorgan County and the Lunacy Commissioners to solve this problem. This, combined with the increasing costs of boarding patients out across the country led to a reluctant decision to build their own Asylum. Costing £350,000 and ten years to build, the Cardiff City Asylum opened on 15 April 1908. The main hospital building covered 5 acres (2.0 ha), designed to accommodate 750 patients across 10 wards, 5 each for men and women. Like many Victorian institutes, it was designed as a self-contained institute, with its own 150 feet (46 m) water tower atop a power house containing two Belliss and Morcom steam-engine powered electric generator sets, which were only removed from standby in the mid-1980s. The site also contained a farm, which provided both food supplies and therapeutic work for the patients

While Cardiff had effectively been forced into building its own asylum, the process then took an unexpected turn. The Visiting Committee of the Council charged the Clerk of the Council with putting together a viable recruitment strategy for a medical superintendent. The result was that the post was advertised for £650 per annum rising to £800, an unfurnished house and various other emoluments. Forty-two candidates applied and this long list was whittled down to a short list that was impressive. All of the five candidates were Doctors of Medicine and medical superintendents of existing asylums.  In other words, the calibre of candidate was high. They appointed Dr Edwin Goodall, a student contemporary of Alois Alzheimer in Tübingen and a product of the research culture of Wakefield Asylum, Goodall’s conviction was that research in anatomy and physiology would produce benefits. He insisted from the start that the new asylum should not be titled such; it was to be a mental hospital. He made no distinction between male and female staff; male staff were to be nurses not attendants. Cure was a possibility and research vital.

The hospital opened in 1908 to great fanfare in the Western Mail and with a charabanc procession of 200 dignitaries being driven from the centre of the city to the hospital for the occasion. In a very short period of time the hospital was being portrayed as a seat of great learning and was being lauded in guidebooks to the City as one of the signs that Cardiff had come of age as a metropolitan centre. Goodall’s tenure as medical superintendent lasted from the opening of the hospital in 1908 to 1929. In 1915 the hospital was handed over to the military under the Asylum: War Hospitals Scheme and became the Welsh Metropolitan War Hospital. Dr Goodall was given the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and remained in charge. For its first two years of operation as a war hospital it dealt mainly with orthopaedic cases but in 1917 became a centre for shell-shock victims. After the war Goodall continued in the spirit of innovation and introduced the practice of female nurses nursing male patients. He opened one of the first outpatient clinics in the nearby King Edward VIIth Hospital and saw patients from all over Wales. He also continued to develop the infrastructure and ethos for the hospital to become known as a research institution.

In July 1948, the hospital was taken over by the Ministry of Health as the National Health Service came into existence. It continued to be used through to the mid-1980s, when care in the community began to reduce the number of resident patients. With the current facilities considered unsuitable for the requirements of 21st century psychiatry,  an ongoing programme to phase out and replace the old building was embarked upon. Some facilities were moved to newly built units elsewhere, such as the acute psychiatric wards at the Llanfair Unit, Llandough Hospital. Other wards have been replaced by community-based services such as Crisis Resolution and Home Treatment Teams. Whitchurch Hospital finally closed its doors in April, 2016 and is due to be stripped down and dismantled. The Hospital and its grounds have been given a Grade II listing.


Modified: 1st Jun 2022