Burn History

13 February 2019 By Burnt Off

PURDYSBURN is a hospital for the
mentally ill. 60% of the patients are
over 65 and most patients only stay
for three weeks in the acute sector of
the hospital.
PURDYSBURN has 950 patients
which are well cared for,the social
facilities include outings,
sing-songs, evening recreation, coffee
shop,bowls,badminton and a recreation
hall.The hospital is 100% devoted to
mental patients.
The buildings range from modern
units, red brick units and post war
The families of the patients tend
to neglect them,although acute
patients have good family backing.
The hospital covers 117 acres in
the surrounding area.
The following notes taken from the “News Letter” Monday 11th July 1955, by Colin Johnston Robb relates the story of a romantic burn and a mansion named after a Scottish miller.
“Purdysburn sequestered in a fold of the charming Castlereagh Hills, takes its name from a rippling stream winding through a romantic sylvan dell, referred to as “the Burn” with prefix of the surname Purdy. Who was this Purdy of Purdysburn?
The answer is found in an aged-browned parchment dated, 11th July 1655, which with legal precision, records that one John Purdy of the parish of Tynton near Moliaise, Dumfieshire on the estate of the Duke of Bucclench lessee of the town land of Ballynacoann (Ballycoan) for the term of fifty years.
Purdy was a miller by trade and erected a corn mill on his lease hold and around it grew a hamlet called “Purdy’s Milltown” (Milltown). The stream or burn that drove the mill became known as “Purdisburn” and later Purdysburn. The picturesque banks of the “burn” with all the surrounding well wooded land of the early eighteenth century formed the perfect environment for a perfect seat and the small house was occupied by a Captain William Hill.
The first Mansion on modest lines, was built by Hill Wilson who’s will was proved in 1773. There were ten rooms in the house and the grounds were replanted and various strange trees set.”
There are contradictory records of who built the original mansion. As stated records show that the first mansion was built by Hill Wilson, another that it was purchased by Narcissus Batt in 1823 and practically rebuilt by him. A third record shows that Narcissus Batt what is described in old documents as “A large slice of the country side raising gently from the river Lagan, towards the lower slopes of the Castlereagh Hills at Purdysburn”
Here on a mound in the midst of a park land and in a forest of great oaks he built a square fronted Mansion, and on the wall he fashioned his family crest of four flying pipestrelle bats.
Narcissus Batt was a founder of the Belfast Bank, the son of Captain Robert Batt of the 18th Royal Irish Regiment of Osier Hill, Co. Wexford and Belfast. He lived in Donegall Square North, in Donegall House, later the Royal Hotel.
Narcissus Batt had his mansion designed in the Elizabethan style of architecture by a well known London architect of the day, Thomas Hopper. In the grounds of an Elizabethan sunken garden was laid out with fifty seven boxwood edged beds in the form of the Union Jack. There some fine new hedges incorporated in the garden design and the park was studded with many stately trees.
Robert Batt son of the builder enlarged the house, and he was succeeded by his son Robert Narcissus Batt who died in 1891.
In July 1773 his announcement appeared:
“Stolen out of Purdysburn garden the figure of Hercules with his club in lead which stood on a stone pedestal. Who ever discovers the theft and leads to conviction within three months will be paid a reward of five guineas by the late Hill Wilson .”

Growth of the hospital

In 1895 the Belfast corporation purchased the Purdysburn estate of some 300 acres, for the sum of £29,500 and it was decided in 1900 on the advice of Lieutenant Colonel William Graham M.D., to erect a new asylum there on the “villa colony” principal to permit mental classification of the patients.
It is of interest to note that at the present time a large building having four acute admission wards goes by the name of “Graham Clinic” formerly Graham House, presumably after Dr. William Graham.
The mansion of the Batt’s “Purdysburn House” became the safe and comfortable abode of many generations of both patients and staff of this hospital and it was great sorrow that some of its former residents witnessed it demolition following condemnation in 1964.
A side portion of this magnificent building still stands “the Courtyard” and only recently September 1974 it was vacated by the resident patients in order to make way for an envisaged new building complex for young offenders.
I myself and many of colleagues have had the pleasure of working in this old building formerly The Courtyard and most recent years renamed Shannon.
It may also be of interest to note that Narcissus Batt married a Miss Hyde of Belfast and had a large building complex erected by the Ministry Of Environment and most aptly named “Hydebank.”


Besides the original three hundred acres, some farms and outlying fields were also purchased by the Corporation making up a grand total of 590 acres of beautiful park like land.
Eighty five acres of this property which lay at the western side of the main Newtownbreda Lisburn Road, bisecting the estate were allocated for the building of an infectious disease hospital. Thus our present Northern Ireland Fever Hospital more recently “Belvoir Group Hospitals”, and Montgomery House were built on this land, and both parts of the estate were connected with a subterranean passage under the public road way which is reported to be still in existence at the west gate lodge near Ballylesson.


Gradually therefore the Purdysburn we know began to take shape. The buildings were designed by Mr. George T. Hine, Consultant Architect to the English Lunacy Commissioners, to hold 1500 patients and the local architects were Messrs. Tulloch and Fitzsimmons, Belfast.
Besides “The Courtyard” only one other building of that long ago Purdysurn remains, that is Villa 1 formely Nursing Administration, and now the library and stores for Industrial Therapy”.
This old building is very interesting and of some antiquity and is described in an old manual as a “Gentleman Farmers Residence”. The entrance to this was on the part of the old “Country road, now closed and disused. The avenue to its front door actually cuts through our present Maine (Villa 13.) Part of this old avenue with its ancient Cyprus tress still exists and is still in use leading to Villa 1.
Lagan (Villa 17) is actually built on the site of the old orchard of the “Gentleman Farmers Residence” and the ancient line of lime trees which sheltered the southern end of this old world orchard is still in existence.

The building of the various other villas can be easily followed by their numerical rotation, Villa 2 being the first, Villa 3 the next and so on.

In 1905 the exodus of the patients from the old Belfast Asylum on the Grosvenor Road started and by 1914, just before the First World War up to Villa 11 were completed. It is interesting to note here that the old asylum has disappeared forever, its buildings being absorbed by the rapidly growing Royal Victoria Hospital.

Part two