Brislington House, now Long Fox Manor, Georgian Bristol’s exclusive private madhouse

V0012192 The asylum and front grounds, Bath. Steel engraving after S.
Brislington House, engraving after S. C. Jones, c.1865.  Wellcome Library, London. Reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 

Brislington House, together with its founder Dr Edward Long Fox, was one of the most influential asylums in the first half of the nineteenth century. It has much in common with the York Retreat. Fox was a Quaker, like the Tukes, and he held a similar belief in the restorative power of nature and the familiar comforts of a domestic environment. Brislington House originally comprised a row of separate houses, rather than the large rambling pile that survives today. It was designed to make the patients feel at home, rather than in an institution or a prison. This was, in a large part, possible by catering primarily for paying patients, and the well-to-do at that. In this manner it operated in a similar way to Ticehurst, Sussex and Laverstock House, Wiltshire, both lucrative private asylums.

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Brislington House, now Long Fox Manor, private flats, photographed in October 1992

Edward Long Fox is an intriguing individual, he had an extensive private practice as a physician in Bristol, rose to be a senior physician at Bristol Royal Infirmary, and was an astute businessman, amassing a considerable fortune. Before embarking on the Brislington House venture he had operated a private asylum at Cleve Hill. But he was also involved in radical politics, and had an active interest in some less mainstream aspects of medicine. He seems to have been widely admired, but not universally so, accused at times of quackery and worse. [1]

Fox bought the Brislington estate in 1799, and spent several years over the planning and construction of the asylum and the laying out of the grounds around it. Building work seems to have begun in 1804, and the first patients were admitted in 1806. Fox described the arrangements:

The patients of each sex are arranged under three classes. Each class inhabits a distinct house, detached from the other by an interval of eighteen feet, with a separate court for the exercise of the patients, wherever they please; the ground of which is elevated, so that they can view the surrounding country, while a border sloping towards the wall secures them from escape. [2]

Although Brislington House is well documented, and plans survive for the buildings, no architect seems to be mentioned anywhere, or even a builder.

Ground plan of Brislington House Asylum, probably published around 1809. (public domain image)

In addition to this idyllic accommodation were less glamorous cells for the refractory patients. These can be seen on the plan above, at the foot of the walled gardens to the south of each house. It was in one of these that John Perceval (son of the former prime minister, Spencer Percival, assassinated in 1812) recorded spending a miserable period. Perceval noted that the cells were lit from above, and heated by flues in the wall rather than with open fires.

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Garden front, from  Francis Charles Fox, History and present state of Brislington house, 1836 Wellcome Library, London. Reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

At either end of the row of houses were two small detached infirmaries. The use of separate houses to aid the classification of the patients may have been inspired by contemporary French asylums, notably La Salpêtrière in Paris where the different categories of patients were assigned to separate loges or detached blocks. However, the loges at La Salpêtrière, designed by François Viel c.1786, were all of one storey and the same design. At Brislington the houses were of two or three storeys and not identical.

The buildings were also interesting for their early use of fire-proof construction; a matter which was close to Fox’s heart. When the first county asylum was built at Nottingham in 1810, Fox was in correspondence with the Committee of Governors and warmly recommended the use of iron in construction which he considered ‘did not only serve to alleviate the dangers from fire, but also from lice and vermin’. [3]

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Extract from the 6-inch OS map, revised in 1901-2. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

Fox’s success was immediate and sustained. A mark of this is the erection on the estate of Lanesborough Cottage in 1816 for Lord Lanesborough, and of Swiss Cottage in 1819 for Lord Carysfoot. The Beeches was added in the 1820s and Heath House, the large villa to the north-west of the main asylum, was built around 1829 and was occupied by Edward Fox when he retired from the management of the asylum in that year. But the asylum remained a family business, his sons Francis and Charles, both also physicians, taking over its management. After their father’s death in 1835 they issued a brochure or booklet relating the history of the asylum and its present state. In 1850-1 they undertook a major remodelling of the buildings, joining them together as they are now, and building additions, including the chapel. Previously the laundry was converted into a chapel on a Sunday, and services regularly performed there. [4]

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The chapel, Brislington House, photographed in 1992

The main building was oriented on a north-east to south-west axis, with the entrance front facing north-west, so the garden front had the sunnier south-east aspect. Both long elevations still have a rather disjointed appearance, presumably reflecting their former separation. The building is rendered with stone dressings in an Italianate palazzo style.

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Main building north-west elevation, photographed October 1992

The garden front is more informal, the central seven bays are flanked by full-height bows, rather resembling angle turrets, with three windows at first and second floor levels.

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South-east elevation of the main range, 1992
Brislington House south front
South-east elevation, photographed in October 1992

Across the north end the chapel and recreation hall were built. The chapel has a Greek cross plan and follows the classical style of the rest of the asylum. Inside the box pews were still in situ in 1992 and a fine wood-carved reredos with gothic (or possibly gothick) details, some good light fittings and a painted timber compartmental ceiling. There was also a small gallery over the entrance.

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Brislington House chapel, October 1992
The chapel in 2013. Photograph by Rodw, from wikimedia commons, licence CC BY-SA 3.0
Brislington House chapel window
Detail of chapel window, the rendering was quite decayed in places in 1992, it has since been repaired and painted.
Brislington House chaple window
Memorial window in the chapel, from St Luke’s Church, Brislington. 
Brislington house chapel ceiling
Detail of the chapel ceiling. Slightly squiffy. October 1992.

The recreation hall, which was added in 1866, has a deceptively austere exterior – doubly so in the early 1990s when it was faced in rather grimy render. The interior was contrastingly lavish with a small platform at the west end, the walls panelled with bolection moulding and ornamented by anthemions and lyres, and broad pilasters with paterae decorating the frieze. The coved ceiling has bands of greek key pattern and, in the corners of the central flat section, decorative plasterwork scrolls. Similar neo-Classical inspired plaster ornamentation appears over the doors at the west end. The iron pendant lamps are equally ornate.

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Recreation Hall, photographed in October 1992

Brislington House remained in the ownership of the fox family until 1947 when it was purchased by the Governors of the United Bristol Hospitals and was used as a nurses’ home.

Brislington House, undated photograph, perhaps from the time of the sale by the Health Authority in 1984. Image from flickr reproduced under creative commons license CC BY 2.0

In 1948 it passed to the National Health Service and was put on the market by the South Western Regional health Authority in September 1984. It was then run as a private nursing home for some years before it was sold again and turned into private flats in 2001 and renamed Long Fox Manor.

The landscaped grounds and their importance as a part of the therapy for patients at Brislington House have been researched and written about by Sarah Rutherford (see studymore) and Clare Hickman, see her article on ‘The Picturesque at Brislington House, Bristol…’ in Garden History, vol.33, No.1 Summer, 2005, pp. 47-60.


  1. Leonard Smith ‘A gentleman’s mad-doctor in Georgian England: Edward Long Fox and Brislington House’ in History of Psychiatry 2008, 19 (2), pp 163-184
  2. The reference that I had for this was from Fox’s evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee on the state of Criminal and Pauper Lunatics in England and Wales of 1807. I cannot now find any such evidence from Fox to this Committee. Sarah Rutherford gives a reference to Fox giving evidence to the 1815 committee, but I can’t find that either. The quote is not from his evidence given in the late 1820s, nor does it match the report on the asylum in the 1815 committee, where the evidence was given by Edward Wakefield for Brislington House. Happy to be enlightened.
  3. Nottinghamshire Record Office, SO/40 1/50/4/1
  4. PP Report of the Committee on Madhouses in England, 11 July 1815, evidence of Edward Wakefield p.21

The Retreat, York

The Retreat, Heslington Road, York, photographed in 2009 © Copyright Gordon Hatton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

More has perhaps been written about The Retreat since its foundation in the late-eighteenth century than almost any other psychiatric hospital in Britain. Alongside Bethlem it is probably the best known. The post here merely aims to provide a brief overview, principally of the buildings. The bare bones of its history are simply told. It was founded by the Society of Friends, and more particularly by William Tuke, as a lunatic asylum for fellow Quakers. The chief spur to its foundation was to provide an alternative to the York asylum, about which some serious questions were being raised regarding the treatment of patients there, particularly of the poorest class, and the conditions in which they were kept.

While the motive for the foundation may have derived from the Society’s spiritual beliefs, the groundwork was entirely practical. Recent works on asylum management and design were read, the new St Luke’s Hospital in London was visited and physicians consulted. But the choice of architect was less straight forward. In the 1790s there were still few purpose-built asylums in Britain, and the architectural profession was very much in its infancy. There were no particular specialists in institutional buildings, such jobs often went to the county surveyor. The top man locally, John Carr, might have been too expensive for the Society, but he had also been the architect of the York Asylum, and not only did the Society object to the management of that asylum, but it was also stylistically at variance with the Society’s preference for unostentatious buildings.

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St Luke’s Hospital, print, London, England, 1785, from the Wellcome Library,  Wellcome Images licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International

And so they looked to one of their own faith, John Bevans, sometime carpenter and architect of London. He had never built a lunatic asylum before, and confessed that asylum planning ‘was a subject that never occupied my thoughts’, prior to his appointment. [1] However, there is some evidence that he was the designer of the Quaker Workhouse in Clerkenwell, completed in 1786, so not altogether irrelevant experience. [2]  Along with William Tuke he visited and was impressed by St Luke’s Hospital in London, and aspects of the plan were adopted for The Retreat, albeit on a reduced scale. The wings were two instead of three storeys, flat ceilings substituted for arches, and there was a central stair rather than separate stairs in each wing.  William Tuke and his son had also sketched out early plans as guidance, but as Bevans remained in London, a local architect, Peter Atkinson, was brought in to manage the construction, and draw up plans and elevations following Bevans’ directions. [3]

Before the plans could be finalised, money had to be raised and a site found. William Tuke, his son Henry and Lindley Murray raised funds by subscription from Friends throughout England and the site was acquired in 1793. When The Retreat opened in 1796 it comprised a central three-storeyed block with a recessed two-storeyed wing to the west. In the following year a corresponding wing was built to the east. The buildings were of plain brick with slate roofs.

A view of the North Front of the Retreat near York, from Samuel Tuke’s Description of the Retreat, 1813. Wellcome Library, London. Reproduced  under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Twenty-one years after the foundation of the asylum had been first considered, William Tuke’s grandson, Samuel,  published a description of The Retreat. He related that the idea had been to establish  ‘a retired Habitation, with necessary advice, attendance, &c. for the Members of our Society, …who may be in a state of Lunacy, or so deranged in mind (not Idiots) as to require such provision.’ [4]

From the outset the setting and the grounds were as important as the building itself. The founders wanted a site large enough to furnish a few acres of pasture land for cows and for gardens where the patients might take exercise. The financing was arranged on the established model of a voluntary hospital, whereby voluntary subscriptions were made towards the cost of running and maintaining the institution. Those subscribing over a certain amount could nominate poor patients on the lowest rates of admission, and could attend the governing committee meetings. [5]

Extract from the 6-inch OS Map, published in 1853. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

The central block contained the main entrance, and, on the ground floor, the kitchen, a dairy, pantry and larder on the north side, and a parlour and dining-room on the south side, as well as the principal stair. A corridor, eight feet wide, ran along the east-west axis of the whole building and the patients’ accommodation in the wings comprised single bed rooms, pump room, closets and day rooms placed either side of the corridor. As at earlier asylums, including St Luke’s and Bedlam in London, the patients’ single rooms were lit by a small window, placed high up in the wall.

Ground plan of the Retreat near York, from Samuel Tuke’s Description of the Retreat, 1813. Wellcome Library, London. Reproduced  under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

The Retreat was opened on 11 May 1796 and the first three patients were admitted in June. A local physician was appointed to attend the patients. [6]  The entrance retains its original pedimented doorcase but most of the windows have been refitted with modern sashes. The original sashes, of which only a few remained by 1992, were of iron with iron glazing bars; in order to give security without the appearance of bars one sash filled the whole height of the window but was only glazed in the lower part, and a second, moving, sash had glazing bars which, in the closed position, came exactly behind those of the first.

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Upper-floor plan of The Retreat, from Samuel Tuke’s Description of the Retreat, 1813. Wellcome Library, London. Reproduced  under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

The Retreat became the most influential asylum of its time, not so much in terms of its design, but in the treatment and care of the patients it admitted. Although the roles of William and his son Henry Tuke should not be underplayed, it was William’s grandson, Samuel, who was largely responsible for the wide sphere of influence of the hospital through his systematic study of lunacy and his publications, notably the Description of the Retreat of 1813. It was at his father’s request that Samuel began writing ‘a history and general account of the Retreat’ in 1811, but it was on his own initiative that he turned this into an opportunity for himself to read as many authors as he could come accross on the subject of insanity. He also read William Stark and Robert Reid’s accounts of the planning and design of the asylums at Glasgow and Edinburgh, both of whom had visited the Retreat. In 1812 he visited St Luke’s in London to discuss the ‘humane system’ with Thomas Dunston, the superintendent there, but was neither impressed by Dunston nor the asylum, which he considered was too prison-like in appearance.

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One of the original-style of sash window at The Retreat, designed to look like a domestic sash window but modified to create ‘hidden’ iron bars to prevent patients from escaping

On its publication, Tuke’s Description… was thrust to the fore in the subsequent controversy involving the York Asylum, and its physician, Dr Best, who took great and public exception to Tuke’s well considered work. If Best had hoped to blight the prospects of this rival asylum in York, he was doubly disappointed. Not only did he attract much publicity to the Retreat but to his own institution which was very soon exposed as corrupt in administration and inhumane in its treatment of the poorest inmates.

Neither Samuel Tuke nor John Bevans considered that the plan of the Retreat was a perfect model. Tuke considered that ‘an inferior plan well executed, may be more beneficial than a better system, under neglected managements’. [7]  Tuke was also critical of the airing courts on the south side of the building which were bounded by eight foot high walls. Although the natural slope of the ground preserved a reasonable view of the surrounding countryside, Tuke nevertheless felt that the courts were too small and that they must appear uninviting to patients where ‘the boundary of his excursion is always before his eye; which must have a gloomy effect on the already depressed mind’. Another defect of the plan which Tuke noted in his Description… was the arrangement of patients’ rooms on either side of the corridors, or galleries: ‘for, though a large portion of light is admitted, by the window at each extremity of the building, yet, the galleries on the ground floor, at least, are rather gloomy’. [8]

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Detail from a survey of The Retreat of 1828 by Watson and Pritchett.  This shows the walled airing yards on the south side of the building that Samuel Tuke criticised.  (Public Domain image)

The treatment of the patients set the Retreat apart from its contemporaries, in particular the larger London asylums. Whilst the system of ‘moral management’ developed there did not necessarily have direct expression in the design of the building, it did have an effect and elements of building reflect the greater understanding of the needs of those afflicted with mental illness. The Tukes, and the early staff of the Retreat, rejected the widely held belief that lunatics were insensible to the usual comforts of the sane, such as warmth or an appreciation of their surroundings. At both Bedlam and St Lukes the windows in the patients’ cells were unglazed, as it was considered that lunatics were insensible to cold, and the ventilation helped to disipate the stench of soiled straw which formed the patients’ bedding. In response to their more enlightened views Bevans devised the iron-framed windows for the Retreat and the fires and stoves were provided with safety guards to protect the patients. Similar thought was given to the furnishings – curtains were designed specially without any element that could be misused by a patient to harm himself or others.

The Retreat quickly became a success and additional accommodation was soon required. The first addition of the west wing, part of the original design, was made almost as soon as the first phase of construction had been completed in 1796. In 1799 a building was added for male patients and a separate airing ground provided. This was the five-bay wing added at the south-east corner. It was appropriated to the more violent patients. Later, in 1803, a corresponding wing was added to the south-west corner for female patients. Further accommodation was still required and in 1810 a house near Walmgate Bar was acquired for £1,200. This house was, for a time, known as ‘the Appendage’. It was sold in 1823 to the Yorkshire Quarterly Meeting as a boys’ school. Another house was acquired in 1816 on Garrow Hill.

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Extract from the 6-inch OS map, revised in 1929, showing how The Retreat had been extended and added to, and also the encroaching suburbs of York. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

An annexe to the south, known as ‘the Lodge’ was built in 1816-17, rebuilt on a larger scale in 1875. In about 1827 the south-east wing was extended eastwards and two new wings had been added on the north corners replacing the stable block on the east and the brew house and bake house on the west. There was also an octagonal gate lodge on Heslington Road.

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The Lodge, added to the south side of The Retreat, 1875. Photographed in 1993.
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Detail showing the central part of The Lodge with its elegant iron and glass veranda. Photographed in 1993

Expansion continued in the second half of the nineteenth century, beginning with an appeal for building funds launched in 1852, resulting in another new wing in 1854. Further additions were made in 1858-60. Villas were acquired in 1879 (Belle Vue) and built in 1880 (East Villa) while from the 1890s the now ageing buildings were remodelled by Walter Brierley, and a new recreation room constructed in 1906. [9]

The North-West wing of The Retreat.  Begun in 1827, remodelled in the 1890s. Photographed in 1993.

A nurses’ home was built in 1899, but a newer and larger one was built in the 1920s following a limited competition for the design. This was won by Chapman & Jenkinson of Sheffield. Bedrooms for fifty nurses were provided on the first and second floors, and a kitchen, dining-hall and sitting-rooms occupied the ground floor. It was constructed of local grey bricks with hand-made red brick and some stone dressings, and Westmorland slates for the roof. The contractors were William Birch & Sons of York and work was completed by 1929. [10]

The Retreat continues to provide specialist mental health care, occupying its original site and most of its original buildings, a testament to the success of the original founders and the validity of their ideals. (see


  1. A. Digby, Madness, Morality and Medicine. A Study of the York Retreat, 1796-1914, 1984, p.18
  2. Survey of London vol.46 South and East Clerkenwell, pp.341-2
  3. Anne-Marie Akehurst ‘The York Retreat A Vernacular of Equality’, pp 81-4, in Peter Guillery, ed Built from Below British Architecture and the Vernacular, 2011
  4. Samuel Tuke, Description of the Retreat, an institution near York for Insane Persons of the Society of Friends, 1813, p.26
  5. Samuel Tuke, Description of the Retreat, an institution near York for Insane Persons of the Society of Friends, 1813, p.29
  6. Samuel Tuke, Description of the Retreat, an institution near York for Insane Persons of the Society of Friends, 1813, p.46
  7. Samuel Tuke, Description of the Retreat, an institution near York for Insane Persons of the Society of Friends, 1813, p.47-9
  8. Samuel Tuke, Description of the Retreat, an institution near York for Insane Persons of the Society of Friends, 1813, p. 106
  9. VCH
  10. The Builder, 12 Feb. 1926, p.276; 26 April 1929, pp 764-76

Further Reading

This is far from comprehensive, but just a few key texts or books/articles that I have read and found interesting.

Anne-Marie Akehurst ‘The York Retreat A Vernacular of Equality’, pp 81-4, in Peter Guillery, ed Built from Below British Architecture and the Vernacular, 2011
Anne Digby, Madness, Morality and Medicine. A Study of the York Retreat, 1985
Barry Edginton, ‘The Design of Moral Architecture at the York Retreat’ in Journal of Design History, 2003 vol.16 (2) pp.103-117
H. C. Hunt, A Retired Habitation, A History of The Retreat, York, 1932
R. Hunter and I. Macalpine, Description of the Retreat… 1964
Samuel Tuke, Description of the Retreat, an institution near York for Insane Persons of the Society of Friends, 1813