Our pioneering history - Barnwood Trust

Our pioneering history

Barnwood House, a former ‘gentleman’s residence’, was opened as a public hospital for the 'care and treatment of the mentally ill' in 1860.

From the very start, Barnwood House Hospital had a philanthropic dimension, with wealthier patients subsidising those of more moderate means. 

The level of care and respect for all patients was exceptional; all rooms had open fireplaces and were warmed by hot water pipes, supplied by boilers in the basement; even the sewerage system was held up as a model of good asylum practice. 

This was quite extraordinary in the earliest years, when people with mental illness were more often regarded as an encumbrance; confined to poor houses or forced the share the fate of criminals in prison cells.

The hospital thrived through the latter years of the nineteenth century and after World War Two, Barnwood became a centre for research into the biochemistry of the brain. William Ross Ashby, psychiatrist and pioneer of cybernetics, built his ‘homeostat’ machine in a laboratory at Barnwood House, which in the 1950s, was ‘the closest thing to a synthetic brain so far designed by man’.

However, as the 1950s and 60s marked a fertile era for scientific exploration, rising research costs coincided with a downturn in patient numbers – and income – as more people took advantage of improved care provided free by the State.  As a result, the main hospital closed in 1967 and the majority of the estate was sold. 

The following year, a smaller nursing home was opened at the Manor House. The first of our sheltered housing bungalows opened in 1981 and from the early 80s the Trustees embarked on a comprehensive grant giving programme.

Through this work, today’s Trustees continue to promote the values pioneered by our founders; dignity of the individual, mutual respect and quality of life for all.

Where the money comes from

Today, Barnwood Trust derives its income from a portfolio of investments and property.

Governance and accountability

The Governors appoint Trustees to the Board from among their number and also select the Chairman and the Vice Chairman.

We currently we have 30 Governors and 9 Trustees.

The Board is responsible for agreeing the Trust’s strategic direction and the plans to implement it, and for ensuring that the management and administration of the Trust are properly carried out. 

The Trustees delegate implementation of Trust strategy and policy, and day-to-day operations to the Trust Chief Executive.

Meet our Chief Executive, Dr Sally Byng, our Chairman of the Trust, John Colquhoun and other key people. Read more…