General Hospital began life in 1832, housed in some modest dwellings in Guinea Street between the Redcliffe and Bedminster Parishes. [1 Original Hospital began in Houses in Guinea St]. The new facilities were the initiative of a group of local Quakers who were appalled at the lack of health provision for the growing industrial poor of Bedminster and Redcliffe and in the early days only local residents were allowed access to treatment.
The hospital was a radical move at a time when Bristol was experiencing great change and unrest. International trade, a strong merchant class, a growing industrial population had created a strong economy in the 19th century and Bristol was a vibrant city with a diverse economy. [2. Glass Works in early 19th century Bristol] The wealthy lived up on the salubrious slopes of Clifton and Redland, well away from the unseemly business of warehouses and river traffic. By contrast, the harbourside parishes of Redcliffe and Bedminster were home to working people who had no access to doctors or hospitals and whose lot was becoming increasingly difficult. The Bristol Riots in 1831, provoked by demands for increased suffrage, symbolised the era of massive social change within which the General Hospital was founded. [3. Modern graffiti depicting the Bristol Riots of 1831].
The early hospital was so successful that demand grew for bigger premises and through personal subscriptions from wealthy benefactors and less wealthy artisans, a new, much larger hospital was built on the site of Acramans’ Anchorworks in 1853 and the “locals only” rule was relaxed. [4 Acraman’s Ironworks, Bristol c1840].
The new hospital made a grand statement with its Italianate stonework and its French Renaissance rooftops. [ 5. Bristol General Hospital c.1858] The original building began as two four-storey blocks joined by a central tower with one block facing Bathurst Basin and the other the New Cut. In 1873 the northern block was extended and in 1890 a new nurses home was wrapped around the corner to Guinea Street. The early building phases largely represent the work of W.B Gingell, a local architect known for his elegant warehouses and churches. In 1895 the firm of celebrated Bristol architect George Oatley was appointed to design the extension along Guinea Street and in the early 20th century Oatley brought a new and lighter version of classicism with the elegant south wing and lodge buildings. Additions in the 1930s were less successful, clashing with rather than adding to the existing street views. [6 & 7. View of The General showing 1912 south wing and 1930s additions in foreground].
“The Only Permanence is Change”
The hospital, as with many historic buildings, has been adapted, modified and extended in all manner of ways since its original design by Gingell in 1853. The result today is a building obscured by a whole range of styles each of which marks a particular episode in the life of the building and the city. Some relate quite simply to the basic functions such as new wards or nurses’ accommodation while others, such as the addition of cast iron balconies in 1916, speak of new fashions in patient care. The General 1923 showing cast iron balconies  One of the most significant layers of history is legible by the loss of the mansard roofs and ogee cupola which were destroyed during a bombing raid in World War II. .
A key event in the life of The General was the creation of the National Health Service in 1948. Since its early construction The General, in common with many other health institutions, had been through a great range of administrative styles but the NHS brought a whole new scale of nationalised systems which were very different from the early, neighbourhood origins of the Redcliffe hospital.
As a result of this nationalising impetus, the changing demands of service provision led to a whole range of modern additions which took no account of the existing architecture and whose only merit at the time was a short-term, low cost and speedy response to service needs. This approach has characterised the last 50 years of the life of The General and, by contrast, we now seek to take a much longer view and to ensure that the original buildings are repaired in a way that is sympathetic to their quality and significance. In the same way, any new buildings on the site will seek to respond sensitively to the historic context and will provide an elegant and contemporary expression of modern values which may sit in harmony with the values of the early founders of The General Hospital Bristol.