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I have placed this cache just outside the grounds of Knockbracken Healthcare Park. Please drive or walk around the grounds of the hospital and enjoy the history and beauty of the site
Below is the history of the hospital recorded in 1977 for the hospital "Scan" magazine by Mr. E. O'Rourke who was then a charge nurse and later Patient Services Manager (now retired). After it is an update I have put together
Park at gate way on the Mill Road.
It’s History and growth
By Mr. Eamonn O’Rourke, Charge Nurse, RMN, SRN
Purdysburn Hospital is a large psychiatric Hospital situated off the main Saintfield Road five miles from Belfast city centre. Its patients come from the greater Belfast area.
This article, which will run in two parts, will give the reader some idea of the metamorphosis in a few years from a small country estate to a large, progressive, psychiatric community.
The following notes taken from the “News Letter” Monday 11th July 1955, by Colin Johnston Robb relates the story of a romantic burn and a mansion named after a Scottish miller.
“Purdysburn sequestered in a fold of the charming Castlereagh Hills, takes its name from a rippling stream winding through a romantic sylvan dell, referred to as “the Burn” with prefix of the surname Purdy. Who was this Purdy of Purdysburn?
The answer is found in an aged-browned parchment dated, 11th July 1655, which with legal precision, records that one John Purdy of the parish of Tynton near Moliaise, Dumfieshire on the estate of the Duke of Bucclench lessee of the town land of Ballynacoann (Ballycoan) for the term of fifty years.
Purdy was a miller by trade and erected a corn mill on his lease hold and around it grew a hamlet called “Purdy’s Milltown” (Milltown). The stream or burn that drove the mill became known as “Purdisburn” and later Purdysburn. The picturesque banks of the “burn” with all the surrounding well wooded land of the early eighteenth century formed the perfect environment for a perfect seat and the small house was occupied by a Captain William Hill.
The first Mansion on modest lines, was built by Hill Wilson who’s will was proved in 1773. There were ten rooms in the house and the grounds were replanted and various strange trees set.”
There are contradictory records of who built the original mansion. As stated records show that the first mansion was built by Hill Wilson, another that it was purchased by Narcissus Batt in 1823 and practically rebuilt by him. A third record shows that Narcissus Batt what is described in old documents as “A large slice of the country side raising gently from the river Lagan, towards the lower slopes of the Castlereagh Hills at Purdysburn”
Here on a mound in the midst of a park land and in a forest of great oaks he built a square fronted Mansion, and on the wall he fashioned his family crest of four flying pipestrelle bats.
Narcissus Batt was a founder of the Belfast Bank, the son of Captain Robert Batt of the 18th Royal Irish Regiment of Osier Hill, Co. Wexford and Belfast. He lived in Donegall Square North, in Donegall House, later the Royal Hotel.
Narcissus Batt had his mansion designed in the Elizabethan style of architecture by a well known London architect of the day, Thomas Hopper. In the grounds of an Elizabethan sunken garden was laid out with fifty seven boxwood edged beds in the form of the Union Jack. There some fine new hedges incorporated in the garden design and the park was studded with many stately trees.
Robert Batt son of the builder enlarged the house, and he was succeeded by his son Robert Narcissus Batt who died in 1891.
In July 1773 his announcement appeared:
“Stolen out of Purdysburn garden the figure of Hercules with his club in lead which stood on a stone pedestal. Who ever discovers the theft and leads to conviction within three months will be paid a reward of five guineas by the late Hill Wilson .”
Growth of the hospital
In 1895 the Belfast corporation purchased the Purdysburn estate of some 300 acres, for the sum of £29,500 and it was decided in 1900 on the advice of Lieutenant Colonel William Graham M.D., to erect a new asylum there on the “villa colony” principal to permit mental classification of the patients.
It is of interest to note that at the present time a large building having four acute admission wards goes by the name of “Graham Clinic” formerly Graham House, presumably after Dr. William Graham.
The mansion of the Batt’s “Purdysburn House” became the safe and comfortable abode of many generations of both patients and staff of this hospital and it was great sorrow that some of its former residents witnessed it demolition following condemnation in 1964.
A side portion of this magnificent building still stands “the Courtyard” and only recently September 1974 it was vacated by the resident patients in order to make way for an envisaged new building complex for young offenders.
I myself and many of colleagues have had the pleasure of working in this old building formerly The Courtyard and most recent years renamed Shannon.
It may also be of interest to note that Narcissus Batt married a Miss Hyde of Belfast and had a large building complex erected by the Ministry Of Environment and most aptly named “Hydebank.”
Besides the original three hundred acres, some farms and outlying fields were also purchased by the Corporation making up a grand total of 590 acres of beautiful park like land.
Eighty five acres of this property which lay at the western side of the main Newtownbreda Lisburn Road, bisecting the estate were allocated for the building of an infectious disease hospital. Thus our present Northern Ireland Fever Hospital more recently “Belvoir Group Hospitals”, and Montgomery House were built on this land, and both parts of the estate were connected with a subterranean passage under the public road way which is reported to be still in existence at the west gate lodge near Ballylesson.
Gradually therefore the Purdysburn we know began to take shape. The buildings were designed by Mr. George T. Hine, Consultant Architect to the English Lunacy Commissioners, to hold 1500 patients and the local architects were Messrs. Tulloch and Fitzsimmons, Belfast.
Besides “The Courtyard” only one other building of that long ago Purdysurn remains, that is Villa 1 formely Nursing Administration, and now the library and stores for Industrial Therapy”.
This old building is very interesting and of some antiquity and is described in an old manual as a “Gentleman Farmers Residence”. The entrance to this was on the part of the old “Country road, now closed and disused. The avenue to its front door actually cuts through our present Maine (Villa 13.) Part of this old avenue with its ancient Cyprus tress still exists and is still in use leading to Villa 1.
Lagan (Villa 17) is actually built on the site of the old orchard of the “Gentleman Farmers Residence” and the ancient line of lime trees which sheltered the southern end of this old world orchard is still in existence.
The building of the various other villas can be easily followed by their numerical rotation, Villa 2 being the first, Villa 3 the next and so on.
In 1905 the exodus of the patients from the old Belfast Asylum on the Grosvenor Road started and by 1914, just before the First World War up to Villa 11 were completed. It is interesting to note here that the old asylum has disappeared forever, its buildings being absorbed by the rapidly growing Royal Victoria Hospital.
Another building actually built about this time and in these grounds has also vanished completely, namely the old Sanatorium which was built for Phthisis (T.B.) patients, but never actually accommodated them and was used instead for patients suffering from Epileptic disorders. The site of this building was beside the present “Tip head” and its cement flooring is still in existence.
Villa 13, 14, 15 were all built about the middle twenties. “Graham House” (Graham Clinic) also Villa 16, 17 and the hospital extension. (Knockbracken Clinic extension) were all added about 1936. The dual purpose buildings including Rathlin, all appeared within the last twenty years. Buildings of more recent origin include the central kitchens, male (Divis) and female (Slemish) nurses quarters, Mackie Unit (Industrial Therapy). Robinson Centre (Occupational Therapy), Community centre, the (tuck shop café etc to be named as yet.) Now completed and soon to be opened is a large two story purpose built unit for the acre of Psycho Geriatric patients and to be named the “The Dorothy Gardiner Unit”
Dr. Dorothy Gardiner was the Deputy Medical Superintendent of Purdysburn Hospital for many years and resided in Purdysburn House. On the old place being condemned and having to shift her quarters to a more modern building she is reported to have wept bitterly.
Readers will now have realised that this is an extremely large hospital in extensive grounds. Buildings not yet mentioned include the massive Administration of erection of these buildings but presumably they date from approximately the same time as the early villas. Within the grounds there is a large hill called “Scoot Hill” which may mean that there is a spray of water on it and on the hill top there are two churches. The Roman Catholic Church is called St. Columba and the other is used by Presbyterian, Methodist and Church of Ireland.
There is a fairly large tower in the area which was built to hold water pumped from nearby springs. In the deeper recesses of my memory I know that I have read something of historical interest about this grand tower but to date I am able to recall this information.
Not yet have I mentioned the extensive farm buildings and their importance to the hospital patients and staff.
In recent years and complying with policy Hospital involvement ceased from the farm. It has been missed by many. The grounds of the hospital were opened, and many times I have enjoyed walking in the company of patients throughout the scenic and picturesque grounds. Some patients used to work on the farm and thoroughly enjoyed this most interesting form of Occupational Therapy.
The farm produce used to supply large quantities of food stuffs for use in the hospital. The magnificent herd of Fresian cattle were not only a pleasant site grazing in the pastures but those quart bottles of fresh milk supplied to the wards are now only a memory.
Since the letting of land and the wiring off of large areas by the government, no longer can patients nor staff enjoy traversing the pleasant scenic routes of this once formerly extensive estate.
This hospital was built on the villa system and all villas were numbered as we have already seen. In recent years, these villas have been renamed and have been given the names of Irish rivers, islands, valleys, and dales, e.g. Mourne, Shannon, Maine, Moy, Avoca, Valencia and so on. The idea behind this change was that patients could more readily identify with a familiar Irish name rather than an impersonal number.
So far I have dealt with almost entirely with the history and physical growth of the hospital were I commenced my basic training in nursing and am currently employed. I have not as yet encroached on the subject of administration of such a large complex.
In 1900 the Committee of Management having under taken to build a new asylum for the city of Belfast continued to administer the hospital under the name of Belfast Mental Hospital until 1948. With the passing of the Health Service Act (Northern Ireland 1948) the Hospital Management Committee was set up and existed from 1948 to September 1973, when the Health and Social services in Northern Ireland were reorganised. Purdysburn Hospital now comes under the control of the Eastern Health and Social Services Board.
During the period 1948-1973 there was a complete transformation of the hospital and the services it supplied for the patients. The whole atmosphere of the hospital and the environment of the patients completely changed, better accommodation, better food and clothing, improved recreation and entertainment facilities, greater freedom, in short, more dignity and comfort in daily living.
In the clinical sphere, the development of a whole range of new drugs has been of great benefit. Or better insight into the physical and psychological needs of the patients, better educational facilities, advances in the recognition of the beneficial effects of psychotherapy, role play, recreational therapy, concentrated efforts against institutional neurosis and improved facilities for Occupational and Industrial Therapies, and the rehabilitation of patients into society, has resulted in a greater turn over of cases.
The number of patients in residence increased from 1,537 on the 4th July 1948 to 1,794 in 1955 and 1, 892 in 1958 but since then numbers have decreased until the total residents are now 1200.
A comparison of the hospital staffing at 5th July 1948 with the present staffing is also enlightening.
For the purpose of treatment of 1,537 patients in 1948 a total of 348 staff was in post, whilst today staff in post is approximately 600 caring for 1200 patients.
In these figures the totals are shown for some departments.
Department 5th July 1948
Special Departments 2
Special Departments 49
It will be obvious from these figures that whilst the aim was always to provide the best quality care for the patients, the small number of staff available at the inception of the National Health Service made it impossible to provide other that the basic minimum of custodial. The build up since this has been gradual and steady.
A large scale programme of building was required to enable the patients to be cared for in comfortable and adequate ward units providing a high standard of facilities in accord with modern thinking, and over the years there has been continuous development in the way of building and modernisation of existing ward units. This has involved a tremendous expansion in expenditure of public funds involving a use in revenue expenditure from £200,000 to £2,283,002.
Since the Hospital Management Committee was set up in 1948 until September 1973 an annual report was furnished on the hospital. The twenty fifth annual report for the period ended September 30th 1973 contains reams of up to date information on administration and growth of the hospital in recent years. Figures are published on expenditure and numbers of the various departments.
Purdysburn has grown and is growing. The department were I presently work as a Charge Nurse “Rathlin” is due for upgrading this year. The building is a Psycho-Neurotic admission unit and a tender has been accepted for the renovations and will increase its size and area to nearly double.
Purdysburn Hospital continues to grow and develop. I have personally witnessed extensive modernisations in my eleven years connected with this hospital from groups of patients huddled around open coal fires, lino covered floors polished with “Block Scrubbers” i.e. heavy wooden block with a long handle placed on a piece of blanket, to central heating, carpeted floors, but most of all an entirely different approach to the welfare of the patients. Custodial care no longer exists, each patient is and individual with the individual potential necessary towards his own rehabilitation.
There is no doubt about it, although the original buildings exist Purdysburn of 1977 is an entirely different hospital that that of the early nineteen hundreds.
There is some interesting reading material in the reading room in the public record library at Balmoral Avenue relating to the Belfast Lunatic Asylum in the late 1800’s and the turn of the 1900’s.
There were two wards which were just outside of the current site that are now gone. They were Rehabilitation Wards and inpatients living or attending there would say they “live just outside Purdysburn” The purpose of these units which was later reflected in Moy Ward was to reintroduce patients to living in the community.
- Oxford House which was knocked down and there is a Park and Ride built on the site where the Beechill Road and Purdysburn Road meet
- Johannasburg House which was knocked down and a private house built, the entrance to which is opposite Primrose Hill on the Saintfield Road.
The site has been reduced in size. Belvoir Park Hospital had already long been annexed and the area between was being used by the Young Offenders Centre (Hydebank). Nowadays The Territorial Army and other government buildings occupy this space as well and Hydebank is a female prison. The footprint of the Union Jack gardens can still be seen on Google Earth
In 1986 the old Mental Health Act was replace by the new “Mental Health Order 1986”. Persons could only be detained (kept in hospital) now if they suffered form a Mental Illness, Mental Handicap or other Mental disorder and that they pose a danger to themselves or others. This means that if someone is alcoholic but has no other condition they can not be detained but they can receive treatment as a voluntary patient. Persons with only personality disorders can not be detained. At this time there were just over 1000 patients in Purdysburn Hospital. There are currently less than 250 patients on the entire hospital site. This has been due to the change in legislation, new medications that have been developed, and community care in nursing homes and hostels. Some ex-patients now live in Saintfield Lodge and Milburn House which are just outside the hospital fences. Some patients were discharged to private or Trust run nursing homes and hostels
The name of Purdysburn Hospital was changed to Knockbracken Healthcare Park around 1999 to reflect its changing use and to reduce stigma associated with the name Purdysburn. Since the late 1970’s early 1980’s there was a process of rehabilitation designed to get as many patients out of hospital as possible and retract the hospital. This came from the highest level of government (Margaret Thatcher, “twenty percent out”) with the introduction of “Community Care”. A lot of the wards closed from the mid and late 1980’s through the 1990’s. Some more wards closed in the 2000's and some are in the process of being closed today. Patients were moved from ward to ward during this process of retraction, units became mixed sex units due to changes in thinking and to save money by amalgamating similar wards. Various buildings usage changed and changed again. Some buildings lie empty; some are used by various community organisations.
Staff were taken out of the white coats for several years and wore their own clothes to break down barriers between them and patients then were put back into uniform tunics. Uniforms changed and changed again.
The School of Nursing had a huge extension put onto it yet even as it was being built nurse education was to be moved to universities with the start of “Project 2000” and the School of Nursing closed a few years after it was completed. Student Nurses no longer were workers on wards but only there on placements from university to gain experience.
The hospital was administered by the Eastern Health and Social Services Board. With a conservative government in place and ideas of practice coming in from private industry hospital “Trusts” were set up and Belfast was divided into the following; South and East Belfast Trust, North and West Belfast Trust, Green Park Trust, Belfast City Hospital Trust and The Royal Group of Hospitals. This was also occurring in England etc but hospital trusts there were much larger. Eventually all the trusts in the Belfast area were amalgamated to form one trust, The Belfast Health and Social care Trust which it is currently known as.
Wards (Villas, Units, Graham Clinics, Knockbracken and other wards)
Villas (Named A,B,C,D,E,F,G)
- Avoca. This was a Female locked ward which was closed, refurbished in 1988 and then used as a mixed ward for male and female acute and chronically ill patients. It is currently a Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (P.I.C.U) for men and women.
- Bush. This was a pre-rehabilitation ward. It was knocked down about 2003/4 to make room for a new medium secure unit, Shannon Clinic. Its is relocated to Dorothy Gardiner Unit
- Clady A and B Female Continuing Care Unit. Now closed and used for offices and staff training
- Derg Male Continuing Care Unit. Now closed and used for offices.
- Erne Male Continuing Care Unit. Now closed and used by The St. John Ambulance
- Foyle Female Continuing Care Unit. Now closed and used for offices
- Glen Female Continuing Care Unit. Now closed and used for offices
- Inver Female Admission Unit. Now closed and used for offices and staff training
- Lagan A and B (already closed by 1985). Now lying empty
- Lagan Basement (used for industrial therapy). Now lying empty (Villa 1, the old cottage lies derelict beside it)
- Maine Male Continuing Care Unit. Later closed and used for nursing people with head injuries. Now closed and patients are in one the units formerly known as Arranmore.
- Mourne. Male Continuing Care Unit. Now closed and used as offices.
- Moy Male Rehabilitation and Continuing Care Unit. Now closed and is lying empty
- Nore. Male Continuing Care Unit. Patients with a mixture of psychiatric and mental handicap problems. Now closed and is used for offices.
- Roe. Male Continuing Care Unit. Now closed and is used for offices and for staff training
- Shimna. This was a male locked ward. In 1987/1988 the female patients from Avoca were moved into it with the men until Avoca was refurbished. It then closed for refurbishment and when it was ready it was reopened to take the Continuing Care patients male and female from Avoca. Shimna was then known as a locked ward for the chronically disturbed and Avoca was known as a locked ward for the acutely disturbed. Closed and is now used for Psychotherapy
I have always been told that these units were built by the American Army during World War Two for soldiers stationed there but I dont think they were. A particular style of Nissen hut was called "American Quonset" One of the wards was called Quonset and although now used for occupational Thearpy is still called Quonset. They are brick built so probably not the original buildings as the American Nissen huts were made of metal. However the actual site of the base was is referenced on the Parish website of Drumbo and Carryduff... "1940 saw the requistioning of the workshops of P.J. Walls by the British War Office, the site extended and used as an army camp – The British replaced by the Americans, the Americans in turn by the Gibraltarians" This area is just after the resevoir as you head towards Belfast on the same side and is used for industrial units. (Almost opposite McDonalds)
The units were originally single sex units but with changing ideas became mixed sex units. The current directive is that all patients should be offered single sex accommodation.
- Skerries. Psycho-geriatric unit (due to close and move to Valencia)
- Mahee Psycho-geriatric unit (due to close and move to Valencia)
- Inishfree Psycho-geriatric unit (Closed. Amalgamated with Knockbracken Clinic Male to form CRU)
- Arranmore Psycho-geriatric unit (Now being used for head injury patients from Maine)
- Valencia Psycho-geriatric unit
- Clare. Psycho-geriatric unit. Closed now used and a locked ward for chronically disturbed patients
- Copeland Psycho-geriatric unit. Burned down deliberately in 2005 whilst it was being used as a unit for nursing young disturbed persons.
- Quonset. This was used and still is for occupational therapy.
- Knockbracken Clinic Male. Frail Elderly (Now CRU)
- Knockbracken Clinic Female. Frail Elderly (Now closed)
- Knockbracken Female Extension (Later renamed Errigle). Frail Elderly. Now closed.
- Shannon. (“The old Shannon”) Respite care for the elderly (now closed)
- Offices, dentist, podiatry, pharmacy
Graham Clinic (Graham’s home on the map)
This was used by the American Army during the war as a hospital
- Male “A” Acute admission. Now closed and used as offices
- Male “B” Acute admission. Now closed and used as offices
- Female “A” Acute admission. Now closed and used as offices
- Female “B” Acute admission. Now closed. It was used as an alcohol education unit briefly but apparently had a 2% success rate and is now used for staff training
- Male Admissions
- Female Admissions
Dorothy Gardiner Unit “A” and “B”
This was a psycho-geriatric unit. It was used for Acute Admission for many years after Graham Clinic male A and B closed. It is currently used by patients who were formerly in Moy and Bush wards or patients of that same type. The upstairs (“B” is currently used as offices)
This was a purpose built psycho-geriatric ward which was only used for a few years and then closed. It is currently used for offices.
Central canteen (and food production unit)
Still in use. At one stage this unit supplied food to other hospitals but now only does lunches for the hospital site
Medium Secure Unit opened in 2006
34 Beds used for to nurse forensic patients
The Mackie Unit
An Occupational and Industrial Therapy Unit now closed as used by a day centre
The Singing Kettle and Tuck Shop
Still in use though only during the daytime. An area for patients to meet and relax and socialise with each other
The Knockbracken Hall
Only used for occasional functions and training
It used to be used very actively by patients. Every week there was a cinema for the patients and every month there was a staff function.
The Administration building
Still in use today. For a good few years this was the headquarters of The South and East Belfast Trust.
School of Nursing
Now closed and used by Northern Ireland Ambulance Service
Old Farm Buildings
Used by “The Burn Equestrian Centre”
- Male closed in 1985
- Female closed in early 1990’s
The Gate lodge
This was the hospital switchboard for many years until the switch board was moved into the Administration Building. It was closed and used as a Dr’s Surgery for an outside GP. It appears to be vacant now
The Laundry and sewing room
Laundry closed. Sewing room still in use.
The water tower/ Clock tower
This is the only protected building on site. It is a landmark and cane be easily seen from the otherside of Belfast. Water was pumped to the top of the tower and gravity fed the water to the wards. It was out of use long before 1985
Has been closed since about the late 1980's
Corrections made 15/11/11
If anyone has any corrections or more detail or any other information about the history of the hospital please email me and i will include it here
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