The county of Cheshire was one of the earlier authorities to provide accommodation for lunatics and a site at Upton by Chester was purchased for purpose of accommodating them. The building took the form of a symmetrical corridor plan layout with both wings swept back enclosing space at the rear of the building for airing courts. William Cole Jr. designed the building in the then current neo-classical style in red brick of two storeys and basement level, with a pedimented third storey above the main entrance, which also accommodated the superintendent and matron during the early years. A large drive approached the facade from the Liverpool road, bordered by airing courts closest to the asylum. As with the majority of asylums at this time both pauper and private subscription patients were accommodated in the same building.
Demand for space led to two storey extension wings north and south of the building into the airing court in 1849 and additional detached blocks designed by T.M. Penson were added behind the main building between 1857 and 1863 in what had been the superintendent’s garden. Further projecting extensions were erected in 1870 to the frontage main building. The medical superintendent and chaplain also had their own residences erected in the grounds during this period, freeing up space in the main building for more patients. A new asylum was opened to serve the east of the county at Macclesfield in 1871, further reducing demand on the capacity of the existing building.
The extensions to the main building were minor in comparison with improvements that were planned by G.E. Grayson and E.A Ould to the north of the existing complex. An entirely new range of buildings was constructed to provide new accommodation for male inmates freeing up all the existing wards for females. The new structure also incorporated a new administrative block, nurse’s accommodation, recreation hall, water tower, boiler house and engineers department all linked by a long corridor which joined up with the existing female detached block to the west of the site. This new accommodation was developed between 1892-1896 and resembled the broad arrow plan layouts developed at the 2nd Gloucestershire Asylum (Coney Hill, 1880), 3rd West Riding Asylum (Menston, 1883) and 2nd Glamorgan Asylum (Parc Gwyllt, 1887) albeit adapted to utilise the existing building. The layout as at the other broad arrow asylums utilises long connecting corridors with spurs to connect to broadly spaced wards en echelon. At Upton, these wards were located both sided of the main spine corridor. The new services areas were placed between the new and older buildings to provide convenient access to both male and female inmates. These were supplemented further by a detached single storey villa for epileptics in 1912 close to the chapel.
World War I brought great demand on the entire County and Borough Asylum system in England and Wales with loss of male attendants to the military and the utilisation of a number of institutions by the military, necessitating relocation of entire inmate populations to other asylums. The Cheshire asylums primarily received inmates from the Lancashire County Asylum at Winwick, which had become the Lord Derby War Hospital for the duration of the conflict and these were not returned until well after the armistice. Advances in treatment led to the development of an detached acute hospital to the north of the male section in order to treat and discharge patients without requiring admission to the wards of the main asylum itself. The Annexe as it became known included infirmary wards and its own recreation and dining hall and was largely completed by 1915. The design followed the compact arrow plan, the standard layout of the time and comprised 4 closely linked ward blocks, two for each sex, one for sick and one for admissions. Further additions were made to the east of this block during the mid 1920’s for two receiving wards and a nurse’s home constructed to the south of the main complex during the late 1930’s completing the development of the site during county council ownership.
After World War II the hospital passed into the ownership of the National Health Service and was linked more closely to other health services in the area and away from the geographically distant Parkside hospital. Links were formed with Clatterbridge hospital (the former Bebington Workhouse), Chester Royal Infirmary and the City Hospital which would eventually lead to the redevelopment of the latter two on the Upton site. An annexe was also developed within Moston hospital, formerly a military hospital. Under the NHS the mental hospital changed from Upton mental hospital, to Deva Hospital during the 1960’s and then to the West Cheshire hospital. A fire destroyed the recreation hall during 1971 which was subsequently replaced by the Phoenix centre. Additional staff cottages were also developed between the male wing and the Liverpool road.
Plans were developed to improve and redevelop Chester’s general hospitals during the 1970’s which identified the West Cheshire Hospital site as the preferred location for combining all services into a new district general hospital combining Chester Royal Infirmary and the City hospital whilst effectively maintaining the mental hospital as a psychiatric wing. The new hospital opened as the Countess of Chester hospital in 1984 and from that time the mental hospital became a part of that complex with a view to providing an integrated service. As part of the Countess of Chester hospital, the psychiatric beds were gradually reduced in line with the Care in the Community program allowing long stay patients to be discharged. The oldest wards, particularly those in the original ‘1829’ building were closed first and this space was turned over to office space for the headquarters of the regional health authority. With the demise of health authorities, the development of trusts and the divide of general and mental providers, the psychiatric unit reverted to its previous name as the West Cheshire Hospital once more. The remaining wards in the male wing were eventually also vacated along with the administration block and services area, with services concentrated in the Annexe building. With full closure in sight, Bowmere, a new psychiatric unit was developed adjacent to the Countess of Chester buildings, on the site of the nurse’s home. On the opening of the Bowmere unit the remaining services were transferred from the annexe and the site finally closed.
Since closure, the majority of later buildings have been demolished including the Annexe and male wing, although the original ‘1829’ building survives in continued usage as does the former Chaplains residence. The majority of the site has been absorbed by extensions to the Countess of Chester health park or been redeveloped as housing.