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128 St George’s Road, the former women’s and children’s dispensary, known as The Read Dispensary

A Grade II Listed Building in Bristol, Bristol

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Latitude: 51.4507 / 51°27'2"N

Longitude: -2.607 / 2°36'25"W

OS Eastings: 357916

OS Northings: 172586

OS Grid: ST579725

Mapcode National: GBR C5L.DT

Mapcode Global: VH88M.RSNS

Plus Code: 9C3VF92V+75

Entry Name: 128 St George’s Road, the former women’s and children’s dispensary, known as The Read Dispensary

Listing Date: 14 December 2018

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1460256

Location: Hotwells and Harbourside, Bristol, BS1

County: Bristol

Electoral Ward/Division: Hotwells and Harbourside

Built-Up Area: Bristol

Traditional County: Gloucestershire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Bristol


Former dispensary for women and children. Designed in 1905 by Percival Hartland Thomas in the Domestic Revival style.


Former dispensary for women and children. Designed in 1905 by Percival Hartland Thomas in the Domestic Revival style.

MATERIALS: built of red brick with sections of render and half timbering, it has red brick stacks, plain clay tile roofs and timber plank entrance doors. Glazed green bricks to the window reveals and door jambs, and rubbed brick surrounds to the round windows. Some of the wrought iron windows with leaded lights survive, particularly to the south elevation; others, including both replacement windows and some later window insertions, are of uPVC.

PLAN: the two-storey building tapers from east to west, and is legible as three distinct units, the former waiting hall aligned on a north to south axis, the principal central section aligned on a west to east axis, and the former dispensary at the west end. It is built on a site that slopes downwards from north to south allowing for a basement to the southern side, and the ground floor windows to the south to be above eye level, affording privacy from the street.

EXTERIOR: the building has an irregular asymmetrical composition of three units. The north elevation comprises at its east end a wide gabled bay with half timbering above a high brick plinth. The pair of timber entrance doors with small leaded lights to the upper section are set beneath a lean-to canopy supported on timber brackets.

The central section has a hipped gableted roof with a tall east end stack and a lateral stack to the north elevation; the west end stack has been removed. The two first-floor window openings are set beneath gables and have been reduced in size retaining the upper sections of their glazed green brick reveals. To the right is a half dormer window. The ground floor is set beneath a lean-to canopy that is partially supported on timber brackets. To the left-hand side of the ground floor is a stone plaque inscribed ‘THE READ DISPENSARY’, and to the right is a pair of timber entrance doors with small leaded lights to the upper section, and a transom light above. The original ground floor window openings have brick cambered lintels.

The former dispensary at the west end has been raised to form a two-storey block with a pitched roof; the raised two-storey projection at the west end has a hipped roof. To the south side of the former dispensary is a single-storey flat-roofed entrance porch, with a timber plank entrance door to the west beneath a flat-roof canopy supported on timber brackets and a round window to the south.

The south elevation of the central section is of brick to the ground floor and rendered to the first floor. The first-floor windows, some of which are iron casements with leaded lights, are set beneath jettied, half-timbered, gables supported on timber brackets. To the left hand side of this range is the stair window. The ground floor extends forward at an angle and beneath a lean-to canopy are the high-level, ground-floor window openings. There is a round window to the left-hand end. To the centre of the ground floor wall is the foundation stone.

The wide gabled bay at the right-hand end has a stepped, jettied gable and is rendered with half timbering. The brick ground floor is set forward with rounded corners and includes two round windows, and additional window openings with timber lintels and black brick cills.

INTERIOR: not inspected (2018) but some of the fittings and fixtures survive including the staircase and the hammerbeam roof.


As women began to enter the medical profession from the mid-C19 onwards women-run dispensaries and hospitals for the specific treatment of women by female doctors began to be established, providing female doctors with the training and employment that was being denied to them in the male dominated universities and hospitals. This movement for women to become doctors is closely bound up with women’s suffrage, indeed one of the arguments for the expulsion of female medical students from Edinburgh University in the early 1870s was that women did not have the right to vote, but university graduates did, therefore women could not be university graduates. The Read Dispensary in Bristol is an example of such a dispensary, founded in 1874 for the treatment of women and children, by Dr Eliza Walker Dunbar and her friend Miss Lucy Anne Read, after whom the dispensary was named. Both women were active campaigners for women’s suffrage.

Eliza Walker Dunbar (1845–1925) was one of the first female doctors in Britain and a leading figure in the provision of women’s healthcare by women. Excluded from attending medical school, she received private tuition and clinical training at St Mary’s Dispensary in London (now demolished), which had been established by Elizabeth Garret Anderson in 1866 after she became the first woman qualified in Britain to be added to the medical register. However, in 1868 the Society of Apothecaries excluded those who had not attended medical school from taking its examinations, thereby preventing further women from being added to the register. In response, Walker Dunbar attended the University of Zurich in Switzerland, where women had been permitted to attend medical classes since 1865, and passed her final examinations with special distinction in 1872. When Walker Dunbar returned to England in 1873 she was appointed to the post of house surgeon at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Sick Children. But, following the resignation of the hospital’s male doctors, leaving her in sole charge of the hospital, she was left with little choice but to resign her position. She set herself up as an unregistered medical practitioner in Clifton, Bristol and in 1874 established The Read Dispensary for Women and Children. Following The Medical Act of 1876, the King and Queen’s College of Physicians in Ireland opened its licentiate examinations to women, and in 1877, Walker Dunbar, along with five other female doctors who had also obtained their medical degrees abroad, was able to add her name to the medical register. These were the first women to be added to the register since Elizabeth Garrett Anderson in 1866.

Throughout her career Walker Dunbar continued to be concerned with women’s and children’s health, establishing the Bristol Private Hospital for Women and Children in 1895 in Berkeley Square, the first women’s hospital staffed by female doctors outside of London. It was subsequently moved to 20 Clifton Down Road (Grade II). She also acted as medical officer for a number of Bristol’s educational establishments, including the Red Lodge Reformatory for Girls, and was an active member of The Bristol & Clifton Society for Women’s Suffrage, and later the non-militant Bristol and West of England Suffrage Society, as well as being a member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and a director of Bristol Garden Suburb Ltd developing progressive workers’ housing. She supported The Read Dispensary until her death in 1925.

The Read Dispensary, funded by charitable contributions and payment received from its patients, initially operated from an existing hall two days a week serving 200 patients. This had increased to 2410 by 1904. Following the demolition of the hall as part of road improvement works, the dispensary’s board of trustees, led by Miss Read and with the help of J P Sturge and Sons (a land agent and surveyors whose family had strong links with women’s suffrage) purchased the remaining land from the Corporation of Bristol. Percival Hartland Thomas was commissioned to design the new purpose-built dispensary and the foundation stone was laid by the Duchess of Beaufort on the 25 October 1905. The completed dispensary was opened by the Lady Mayoress of Bristol on the 22 October 1906. The project had cost £2800, with £13 having been contributed by “the poor women themselves who attended the dispensary”.

The architect, Percival Hartland Thomas (1879-1960) was educated at Bristol Grammar School, and articled to James Craik from 1898 to 1901. He was in independent practice from 1903, and was surveyor to the Diocese of Bath and Wells from 1911 to 1924. His plans for the dispensary show the building as three distinct units each with its own separate entrance. At the east end was a double-height waiting hall with a hammerbeam roof and a flight of stairs to the basement. At the centre was a two-storey section with end and lateral stacks. It had a double-height waiting room to the north side and, to the south, a doctor’s consulting room to either side of a central dressing room and an eye examination room. A dog-leg staircase is shown to the south-east corner of this central section giving access to a small first-floor hospital area that included three bedrooms, a kitchen and a wash house. The unit at the west end was a single-storey dispensary.

The building has been altered in the C20 with the insertion of a mezzanine floor into the waiting hall, the addition of a second storey to the former dispensary, the removal of the west end stack and the alteration to some of the windows. It is now (2018) used as office accommodation.

Reasons for Listing

128 St George’s Road, the former women’s and children’s dispensary, known as The Read Dispensary, in Bristol, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* designed by recognised Bristol architect Percival Hartland Thomas;
* for its accomplished Domestic Revival design that is carefully and efficiently planned on an acutely angled site, massed and detailed to create a thoughtful composition that is welcoming and homely whilst fully meeting the requirements of the building as a women’s dispensary.

Historic interest:

* for its strong association with Dr Eliza Walker Dunbar one of Britain’s first qualified female doctors and a pioneer in the provision of healthcare for women by female doctors;
* for its association with the professionalisation of women in the field of medicine, and the history of England’s first female doctors;
* as a rare surviving example of a purpose-built dispensary for the specific treatment of women by women.

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