Historical Archives of
the Upton Asylum
laterly the West Cheshire hospital and then the Countess

The Cheshire County Lunatic Asylum opened in September 1829, under the auspices of the 1808 County Asylum Act which allowed for Justices of the Peace to levy a county rate in order to establish asylums to accommodate pauper lunatics.

to view map showing stages of development (NB - large file)

The original building, still called “The 1829 Building” consisted of a long front with two return wings. It was built on land purchased from the Egerton estate; the architect was W Cole Jnr and the contractor W Quay of Neston. It was built in brick with stone dressing. Around the front courtyard there were stables, repair shops and the mortuary. The basements in the front section of the building housed the kitchens, brewhouse, storehouse and laundry. In the central section of the house there were the offices of the doctor and matron and other staff quarters. At the rear were the exercise yards and well.

Initially the Asylum had accommodation for 90 patients, men in the south wing and women in the north. The patients slept on straw bedding and used unbreakable bowls, horn feeding mugs and wooden spoons. To look after these patients there were 12 attendants and a matron ( Mrs Bird ) but no regular night nurse and the two doctors ( L I Jones & Mr W Rose ) were neither resident nor full time.

It was not until 1853 that the first full time resident Medical Superintendent was appointed.

Bagshaw's directory of 1850 records Frederick Fitch as resident surgeon.

The 1874 Cheshire Directory states the capacity as 500 and with typically 400 patients - men slightly exceeding women.
John Hannah Davidson MD is recorded as the medical superintendant; Alexander Lawrence MD as his assistant; Mrs Louisa Douglas as matron; John Ellis Edwards as Clerk; Rev Ralph Congrave as Chaplain.

Throughout the nineteenth century the Asylum expanded in order to accommodate an ever increasing number of pauper lunatics. “The 1829 Building” was extended and in 1896 a major building programme started which resulted in the complex known as “The Main”. It included accommodation for 404 patients, attendants and administration blocks. This expansion to the Asylum cost £65,896 19s 6d.

In the early twentieth century further building took place which resulted in “The Annexe”.

The staff who dealt with the pauper lunatics was headed by the Medical Superintendent. He had his own house and servants, the principle aspects of his job being concerned with the administration and legal aspects of the running of the Asylum. There was very little medical treatment available for mental illness except for sedatives such as bromide & paraldehyde. The assistant medical officers were principally dealing with the general health of the patients. Due to this lack of medical treatment the attendants were appointed principally for their practical skills such as farm work, carpentry, laundry, cooking etc. The Asylum being as far as practicable a self sufficient organisation. Attendants were poorly paid and lived in with part of their pay consisting of free lodgings, food and laundry.

The average number of patients during 1860 was 300; rising to 600 in 1890 and again to 900 by the year 1900. These numbers significantly boosted population figures for Upton & Bache at that time.

By the twentieth century attendants were receiving classes in first aid and able to study for the Medico-Psychological certificate in asylum nursing.

The isolated, stagnating world of the Asylum was broken into by the impact of the First World War on the British home front. The most immediate issue was the lose of male staff to the armed forces. This staffing crisis was aggravated by the fact that the Asylum had to accommodate patients from Winwick and imbeciles from the Chester Workhouse as these institutes were taken over the government as War Hospitals. The only solution was to employ more women and break the traditionally practice of male attendants nursing male lunatics. In 1915 Florence Robinson who had been employed at the Asylum since 1905 was put in charge of Male 4 ward with a rise in income of £5 per year.

The first two years of the War saw big increases in food prices and food shortages. The Asylum ploughed up more of its land including some of the airing courts. A poultry farm was set up in some of the outbuildings at Bache Hall under the control of a Miss Hartley. Female staff and patients as well as male were employed on the land. By 1917, a year which began badly across the country with cold and snow up to April, this amounted to 50 female patients and 20 nurses.

In November 1918 the War ended. The Asylum along with the rest of the Country was coping with the influenza epidemic. The buildings were shabby and in need of repair. During 1919 the Winwick patients went back to Warrington. It was not until 1920 that all the male staff returned from the armed forces to their jobs.