Whitchurch Asylum

Whitchurch Asylum

Whitchurch Hospital was built as the Cardiff City Asylum in 1902-1908 according to the designs of G. H. Oatley (1863-1950) and W. S. Skinner (1853-1937). G.H. Oatley worked as the architect of the University of Bristol and his most famous building is probably the Wills Memorial Building which he designed in 1912. Oatley’s works also included the design of several mental hospitals throughout the country. Apart from the Witchurch Asylum in Cardiff he designed the Winwick Asylum in Lancashire, the Barrow Mental Hospital at Barrow Gurney and the Croydon Mental Hospital. Most of the hospitals he designed in collaboration with W.S. Skinner, who, between 1878 and 1898 worked as the assistant architect of the Bristol  Sanitary Authority.

Whitchurch Hospital, which admitted its first patient on the 1st of May 1908,  took 10 years to build and cost nearly £350,000. The main hospital building covered 5 acres (2.0 ha) and was 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 generators, 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.

The first medical superintendent was Dr Edwin Goodhall, an enlightened and pioneering psychiatrist who had trained with Dr Alois Alzheimer in Tubingen.  Goodall became a national figure in UK psychiatry. He established a very strong research team and also initiated the training and practice of mental health nursing at Whitchurch. Thus,  within a few years Whitchurch Mental 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.

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 One and World War Two the hospital was taken over by the military as a general medical and surgical institution most of its patients having been disbanded to other mental hospitals around the area.  Due to the nurses being qualified both in general and mental health care, patients were always looked after well and the hospital constantly received good reports. However, until the late 1930, the nurses at the hospital worked 60-hour weeks. Moreover, they lived in the hospital and their social and private lives were strictly governed.


On 5 July 1948, however, the hospital was taken over by the Ministry of Health as the National Health Service came into existence. It was managed by the Whitchurch and Ely Hospital Management Committee, which also managed Ely Hospital , another large psychiatric hospital in Cardiff. After the introduction of “Care in the Community” in the early 1980s the hospital went into a period of decline and the number of resident patients dwindled considerably.In November 2010 the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board  decided that it was preferable to centralise all adult mental health care services at Llandough. The hospital finally closed its doors in April 2016.