The site of a new £7 million dementia centre is marking its centenary as a place providing health care – but its history goes back all the way to the Bronze Age.
The award winning Pendine Park care organisation is building a flagship centre of excellence where the former Bryn Seiont hospital stood on the outskirts of Caernarfon.
But 100 years ago – at a time when the First World War started – the original building opened its doors as a breakthrough health centre of a very different kind when it was established as The Bryn Seiont Tuberculosis Hospital.
Before then ancient Bronze Age artefacts, including an incense cup, now at the National Museum of Wales, were discovered there.
Construction of Canolfan Gofal Bryn Seiont (Bryn Seiont Care Centre) is now well under way and, if everything goes to plan, it will open in September 2015.
The bilingual centre and 16 extra care apartments to enable people to stay independent is the brainchild of Pendine Park proprietors Mario Kreft MBE and his wife, Gill.
The “world class” facility will also create more than 100 new jobs in the area.
The couple already run seven care homes, a domiciliary care company and a teaching care centre in the Wrexham area and Mr Kreft is a leading figure in the UK care sector.
He is the Chair of Care Forum Wales, the main representative body for the care sector in Wales, and was awarded an MBE for his contribution to social care in Wales.
They commissioned local archaeological expert Dr David Gwyn to conduct a study of the site.
Dr Gwyn said: “The hospital’s history is an interesting and important one. It is a significant site that certainly has evidence of prehistoric links and overlooks the river with a Roman fort on the other side.
“At one stage of the site’s development that is not known for sure, perhaps when the first house was built there or as the nearby railway works were done, an ancient incense cup was discovered.
“Dating back to the Bronze Age this is now housed in the National Museum of Wales and suggests that Bryn Seiont could once have been an important burial site.
“In later years the prime location obviously attracted a fairly grand local elite and then what was a private gentry house was turned into a hospital at a time when dealing with TB in Wales was a big thing.
“This gave the building a new lease of life and a focus for what I believe was some fairly innovative medical work.”
The 19th century had seen outbreaks of infectious diseases such as cholera, diphtheria, measles and typhoid brought under control but the Caernarfon area was plagued by TB, thought to be due to the slate dust from local quarries.”
A change in the law made building new hospitals easier for local authorities and in 1913, the Welsh National Memorial Association decided to buy the house and grounds of Bryn Seiont.
The mansion had previously housed nobility, gentry and clergy and the building had been built for Captain Charles Pearson, a quarry owner, in 1872.
It cost £8,074 to purchase and convert the old mansion in 1914 and the new Bryn Seiont Tuberculosis Hospital provided 36 beds, employing a staff of 19, including a matron, a sister, one nurse and four probationer nurses, seven maids and servants, one porter, two gardeners, a charwoman and a clerk.
In those days sanatorium treatment was based on the idea of it being possible to cure TB through fresh air and this is one reason Bryn Seiont was considered suitable, as it was on a hill and a little way from the town.
However, the institution also led the way in developing new ideas and a lot of ground-breaking surgical interventions were carried out on those with severe cases of TB.
The introduction of antibiotics to successfully treat TB after the Second World War meant the role of Bryn Seiont Hospital had to change.
It began to cater increasingly for the needs of elderly and infirm patients and developed as a day care facility during the 1970s.
Again, it became a leader in its field evolving a specialist role in this area and Bryn Seiont later became a hospital offering palliative care used by Macmillan nurses for cancer patients.
More recently the site has also provided a home for the Blood Transfusion Service and as an ambulance base before being identified by Pendine Park as an ideal location for their new world class facility.
Mario said: “The site has a long and illustrious history in terms of providing pioneering healthcare and we’re grateful to Dr Gwyn for unearthing its fascinating history that dates back all the way to the Bronze Age.
“The site’s history as a place where healthcare was provided began in 1914 when the First World War broke out and I would imagine a number of former soldiers were treated here after returning from the trenches.
“We believe it is appropriate that this year marks the centenary of healthcare at this location and we are confident it will have an equally distinguished future.
“The centre of excellence will be the hub other services including respite care, day care, memory clinics and outreach services supporting people in their own homes.
“This will be something very new. It’s not really been tried in Wales in the way that we intend enhance people’s lives in the community using the dementia centre for all of the practical support needs they have.”