A new book reveals the remarkable story of a Bristol mansion that was converted by its owner into a 100-bed hospital for the duration of the First World War.
The Bishop’s Knoll war hospital in Stoke Bishop was established in the home of a Bristol multi-millionaire for the treatment and recuperation of Australian soldiers wounded on the front line, and more than 2,000 servicemen recovered there.
The doctors and nurses who worked at Bishop’s Knoll had to be prepared to deal with soldiers who were still seriously injured, as well as those who were convalescing.
Bristol’s Australian Pioneer, written by Chris Stephens and published by Bristol Books, tells the story of the hospital and its founder Robert Edwin Bush. Chris’s interest in uncovering the secret histories of places was sparked in early childhood, when his own father worked at the notoriously mysterious Bletchley Park during World War Two.
Chris is an Emeritus Professor of Dentistry, and the founder of the SW England branch of the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain. It was while helping to rebuild the dry stone walls of Dolebury Warren Wood, a Woodland Trust property in Somerset, that he was inspired to write his first book on local history. This was The Reverend Dr Thomas Sedgwick Whalley and the Queen of Bath: A True Story of Georgian England at the Time of Jane Austen.
The Woodland Trust is currently restoring the grounds previously attached to Bishop’s Knoll mansion to their former glory and Chris’s interest in researching and writing the book began with his involvement in the restoration work.
Chris said: “In 1877 Bush travelled to Australia to seek his fortune, became a successful sheep farmer and an influential politician. He also became a founding vice-president of the Western Australia Cricket Association in Perth. Bush was a keen cricketer: head of the school cricket team for his last two years at Clifton College, he went on to play right-handed batsman and occasional wicket-keeper for Gloucestershire County Cricket Club. He played alongside his brother James Arthur Bush and the legendary W. G. Grace from August 1874 to June 1877.
“Bush eventually left Australia and moved back to Bristol in 1905, but he continued to regard Australia as his adopted country, and wished to do something to repay the place where he had made his fortune. When the war broke out, turning his mansion home into a hospital for Australian soldiers seemed like a fitting return. Initially the hospital had to take wounded soldiers from any commonwealth country, but by 1916, Bush had his way and only Australian patients were treated there.”
Bristol’s Australian Pioneer makes its debut during a recent resurgence of interest in the Bishop’s Knoll war hospital, with the BBC devoting a page to it in the World War One at Home section of its website.
On Wednesday 24 August 2016, a replica of a commemorative plaque that once adorned the hallway of the mansion was unveiled at the Bishop’s Knoll Woodland Trust site by Bristol High Sheriff, Helen Wilde – a fitting tribute to the extra-ordinary work carried out there during the First World War.