Merrifield Children's Unit

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View of the extended Merrifield Children's Unit, as officially opened in March 1976.

Merrifield Children’s Unit (also known as Merryfield or Merrifields) was a residential children’s and adolescents’ psychiatric institution in the grounds of Tone Vale Hospital (an adult mental hospital) approximately 3 km (1.9 miles) north west of Norton Fitzwarren, near Taunton, Somerset, England, in what is now the village Cotford St Luke.[1]


The Merrifield Unit was established by psychiatrist Dr Martin Frank (known as 'Jim') Bethell (d. 1982)[2] as a regional unit for the treatment of young people.[3] By November 1961, it was catering for 36 'psychotic and maladjusted' children.[4] In the mid-1970s, the Merrifield buildings were upgraded, and a substantial new extension was opened in March 1976 by Sir Desmond Pond.[3]

The Unit served the whole of South West England, and for much of its existence its management was under the control of Dr Bethell and nursing officer Donald Mackey.[5] Other child psychiatry specialists associated with Merrifield included Dr Adriaan Bakker[6] and Dr Frank Bayley.[7] Of the Merrifield patients, one observer notes, "Some of the children, although highly disturbed, were extremely well read and educated."[5]

References and allusions in literature[edit]

In her memoir, The Light in My Mind,[8] Joyce Passmore writes of being admitted to Merrifield in 1957 at the age of 13 suffering with epilepsy, prior to being transferred to the main adult hospital.[9] The novel Delivered Unto Lions[10] by David Austin is based on the experiences of a Merrifield patient in the 1970s.[11]

Current status[edit]

Tone Vale Hospital, Merrifield Unit’s parent institution, was closed in 1995,[12] as was Merrifield itself.[11] The entire site is now occupied by the newly built village of Cotford St Luke.[13] Merrifield is succeeded by the Orchard Lodge Young People's Unit located in Cotford St Luke.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ County Asylums
  2. ^ "Obituary". British Medical Journal (Clinical research ed.). 284 (6316): 673–674. doi:10.1136/bmj.284.6316.673. PMC 1496215Freely accessible. 
  3. ^ a b "Obituary". British Medical Journal (Clinical research ed.). 284 (6326): 1416–1417. doi:10.1136/bmj.284.6326.1416. PMC 1498317Freely accessible. 
  4. ^ Psychotic and Maladjusted Children (Hansard, 29 November 1961)
  5. ^ a b Hinton, David, & Clarke, Fred. (Eds.). (1997). The Tone Vale story: a century of care. Bishop's Lydeard: Rocket Publishing. p. 43. ISBN 1-899995-05-6
  6. ^
  7. ^ Elsevier Heath Sciences. (1976). The medical directory, 1976: general alphabetical list A - Mac & Mad - Z, Part 1. Oxford, UK: Churchill Livingstone. p. 156. ISBN 978-0-443-01440-6
  8. ^ Passmore, Joyce. (2010). The Light in My Mind. Yeovil, UK: Speak Up Somerset. ISBN 978-0-9549772-5-2
  9. ^ A YEOVIL woman has published the harrowing story of her life in the hands of mental health services including 15 years confined to a hospital which carried out controversial t...
  10. ^ Austin, David. (2010). Delivered Unto Lions. Dooagh, Ireland: CheckPoint Press. ISBN 978-1-906628-21-5
  11. ^ a b Tone Vale children's unit remembered in novel (From This is The West Country)
  12. ^ Tone Vale Hospital – Somerset | derelicte – urban exploration
  13. ^ Cotford St Luke
  14. ^ Farr, Hannah, & O’Herlihy, Anne. (Compilers). (2004, November). Child & adolescent mental health in-patients units in England, Scotland, Wales and Belfast: unit directory (2nd ed.). London: College Research Unit of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. p. 32.

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Cotford St Luke at Wikimedia Commons, which shows some of the former hospital buildings

Coordinates: 51°02′21″N 3°11′19″W / 51.0392°N 3.1886°W / 51.0392; -3.1886