The Countess of Chester, in Bache, is the main NHS hospital for the Chester area with 625 beds. It was officially opened as such on 30th May, 1984, but the accident and emergency wards were open from 1983, and a hospital has existed on site since 1829.
The "Cheshire Lunatic Asylum" opened for the receipt of its first patients in August 1829, work having commenced in March 1827, 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". The plans by William Cole, County Architect, were chosen by and erected under the directions of the visiting Justices (John Feilden of Mollington, Richard Congreave of Mollington, and Townsend Ince of Christleton). "The Deva" was built by William Quay of Neston: the "1829 Building" is of brick with dressings of stone. Its design is reputedly inspired by "The Retreat" at York (dating from 1796).
Hemingway (wriiting in 1831) describes the institution as follows:
- A short distance from the ioad on the left, stands a large building, erected under the direction of the county magistrates, as a county lunatic asylum. This benevolent institution was raised at the expence of the county; to which that never failing source of revenue, the river Weaver, materially contributed. It occupies, with its gardens, airing grounds and roads, ten statute acres of land, which was purchased from the late Revr. Sir Philip Egerton, Bart. The terms for maintaining lunatic paupers belonging to the county are 7s. 6d. per week; and - those beyond its limits, l0s. The unfortunate inmates of a higher class are provided, for by special agreement. Present number of lunatics in the house between fifty and sixty. The plan of the building (for which see the accompanying plate), prepared’ by. W. Cole, jun. Esq. County Architect was selected by the county magistrates from,a variety of others that were submitted for their consideration (and to it was awarded the first premium), which, with little or no variation, has been carried into effect. The contractor was Mr. W. Quay, of Neston, who has given complete satisfaction in the execution of the work. The building is of brick, with dressings of stone; it was commenced in the month of March, 1827, and completed for the reception of patients in September 1829.—a very short period considering the extent of the undertaking. Ll. Jones M.D. is the physician, Mr. W. Rose, medical superintendant, and Mrs. Bird, matron of the institution.
The hospital underwent a significant number of name changes over time, some of which reflect changes in the perception of mental illness over the years:
- 1829 The Cheshire County Lunatic Asylum
- 1855 Chester Lunatic Asylum
- 1870 Chester County Lunatic Asylum
- 1921 County Mental Hospital (Cheshire County Council assumed responsibility)
- 1948 Upton Mental Hospital (NHS)
- 1953 Deva Hospital
- 1970 West Cheshire Hospital
- 1984 Countess of Chester Hospital
The asylum was built on land beyond Bache Hall, which was considered healthy, well drained and having pleasant views. Extensions and new wings were built through the 1850s and 1870s and new ward blocks during the 1890s. 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. An Administrative Block was built (‘The Main’,) between 1896-9, along with a central corridor system, which linked up previously separate blocks of accommodation.
A large Annexe complex was completed in 1915, intended to provide 320 beds for both ‘pauper’ and ‘private’ patients. However the commandeering of nearby Winwick Asylum (Warrington) as a War Hospital and the same at the Chester Workhouse, resulted in over 250 "Winwick" patients being transferred to Chester, along with approx 80 from Middlesborough.
As treatment for mental illness changed from imprisonment to medication and therapy, the hospital became less busy. Eventually, less than 5% of patients were forced to stay in hospital. In 1983, a new A&E department and general hospital unit opened on the site, which was then renamed Countess of Chester. At the time, Chester had two other hospitals: Chester Royal Infirmary and Chester City Hospital. However, as the Countess grew, the other two hospitals became redundant, with the Royal Infirmary closing in 1993, and Chester City in 1994. The Asylum closed in 1991 and was mostly demolished by 2008/2009, leaving little but the iconic 1829 building.