Stoke Park Colony

The Stoke Park Colony was an institution for the housing, care, and treatment of individuals with mental disabilities in Bristol, England. The Colony was founded in 1909 and reconstituted as the Stoke Park Hospital in the 1950s.

The Stoke Park Colony was founded by the National Institutions for Persons Requiring Care and Control (NIPRCC), a charitable trust responsible for the funding, maintenance, and direction of a network of institutions for the care of individuals with mental disabilities in Bristol and its surrounding areas. The NIPRCC’s founder, missionary and philanthropist Reverend Harold Nelson Burden (1859-1930), played a key role in the 1904 Royal Commission on the Care and Control of the Feeble-Minded and the subsequent Mental Deficiency Act of 1913, which together advocated for the institutional separation of those with mental disabilities into newly built ‘colonies’.

The Stoke Park Colony was the first such institution to be certified by the British government under the 1913 Act. Built on the site of Dower House, an eighteenth-century manor bought by Burden from the Duke of Beaufort in 1901, the Colony was held up by the NIPRCC as an exemplary site where individuals with mental disabilities could be given both medical care and occupational training, such as lessons in weaving, gardening, and carpentry. The Colony was greatly expanded between 1909 and 1917 through the buying up of surrounding land and the building of new accommodation blocks. In 1917, the Colony was granted an expanded licence for housing 1,528 ‘inmates’, making it the largest licenced institution in the country.

The Colony became a key site for neurological and psychiatric research in the following decades, with Burden encouraging physicians to visit and study its inhabitants. This research agenda was greatly expanded after Burden’s death by his wife, Rosa Gladys Burden (1889-1940), who founded the Burden Mental Research Trust in 1933. The Trust provided £10,000 to fund investigations, and later oversaw the building of a dedicated epilepsy clinic on the site in 1936. The clinic opened in 1939 as the Burden Neurological Institute, which established itself as a pioneering site of neurological, psychiatric, and neuroscientific research in the latter half of the twentieth-century.

Following the establishment of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948, direction of the Stoke Park Colony was passed over to the Ministry of Health in the early 1950s. The Colony was reformulated as the Stoke Park Hospital, which remained open until 1997.