Dorset House (formerly Alva House and Dorset House) and attached terrace and balustrade


Heritage Category: Listed Building

Grade: II*

List Entry Number: 1282215

Date first listed: 04-Mar-1977

Date of most recent amendment: 08-Feb-2016

Statutory Address: Ministry Of Defence, Royal Marine Force Voluntary Reserve, Dorset House, Litfield Place, Clifton Down, BS8 3NA


Ordnance survey map of Dorset House (formerly Alva House and Dorset House) and attached terrace and balustrade
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Statutory Address: Ministry Of Defence, Royal Marine Force Voluntary Reserve, Dorset House, Litfield Place, Clifton Down, BS8 3NA

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: City of Bristol (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Non Civil Parish

National Grid Reference: ST5665473407


Paired villas of 1833-4 by R.S. Pope, merchant residences adapted in 1929 to provide a treatment centre for the development of mental health care and occupational therapy techniques by Dr Elizabeth Casson OBE.

Reasons for Designation

Dorset House (formerly Alva House and Dorset House) and attached terrace and balustrade, Clifton, Bristol, which dates from 1833-4, by Richard Shackleton Pope, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: an assured Classical design, and an excellent example of early-C19 paired villas built for the Bristol merchant class; * Historic association: as the headquarters during the 1930s for the pioneering work of Dr Elizabeth Casson OBE in mental health care and the development of new techniques in occupational therapy; * Interior: the building has high quality interior fittings and fixtures; * Group value: as part of the Clifton suburb developed by the Society of Merchant Venturers in a distinctive style. It retains its companion buildings, many listed at a higher grade in recognition of their status as an important historic group.


Litfield Place on Clifton Down was developed by the Society of Merchant Venturers from 1827-35 to provide residences for the wealthy merchant class in the fashionable suburb of Clifton. The Society strictly controlled the design of the buildings, principally under the direction of architect Charles Dyer. Nos. 8 and 9 were constructed in 1833-34 as a pair of attached dwellings (1840 tithe map of Clifton), and were probably designed by Bristol architect Richard Shackleton Pope (it has stylistic links with his Royal Colonnade, Great George Street, Bristol, Grade II*). The capacious two-storey basements with loading ramps indicate that the merchant owners used them partly for storage. On the Ashmead Map of 1855, No. 9 is marked as Dorset House, and by the 1874 Ashmead map No. 8 is labelled Alva House. By the First Edition Ordnance Survey Map of 1890, the garden to Dorset House was landscaped and a terrace structure attached to the rear of the building. A group of outbuildings and greenhouses is shown at the west end of the gardens.

In 1930, the first School of Occupational Therapy in the United Kingdom was established at Dorset House by Dr Elizabeth Casson OBE MD DPM (1881-1954). Casson had worked for Octavia Hill between 1908 and 1913 at Red Cross Hall, an early occupational therapy centre, and was inspired to undertake medical training, study and develop occupational therapy techniques. She became the first female to graduate as a doctor of medicine from the University of Bristol. With a loan from her actor brother Sir Lewis Casson, she bought Dorset House in Clifton and created a residential clinic for women with mental disorders in 1929, launching the school a year later. Casson pursued a vision of a therapeutic “community where every individual was encouraged to feel that she had a real object”, drawing on Octavia Hill’s community ethos, and anticipating the post-war ‘therapeutic community’ movement. Occupational and artistic therapies included dance, drama, and countryside excursions, as well as practical activities.

The school and treatment facility grew in size and in the 1930s an accommodation block for the students was built in the garden. During the Second World War the school and clinic relocated to Bromsgrove. Apparently, Dorset House was damaged during the war and in 1946 the Dorset House School of Occupational Therapy relocated to Oxford.

Dorset House and Alva House are shown as separate houses in 1963, and sometime later the two buildings were combined. The drill hall in the lower part of the grounds is shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1976, partially over the former site of outbuildings. Various refurbishments and alterations have taken place to parts of both houses in the C20, which came to be known collectively as Dorset House. In the late C20 and C21 it has served as a Royal Marine Reserves centre (RMR Bristol), however, the building is due to be sold.


A former pair of attached houses of 1833-34, probably by R.S.Pope, adapted to single occupancy in the late C20.

MATERIALS: constructed of limestone ashlar with stone and brick chimneystacks and a slate hipped mansard roof.

PLAN: a double-depth plan of three storeys plus attic and double basement.

EXTERIOR: in the neoclassical style, the building has a symmetrical six-bay front. There are projecting single-bay wings to both sides with banded ground floors to a plat band. The central bays are recessed behind a giant Doric colonnade (unusually, 1:2:3:2:1) in antis to an entablature, with the second floor above, and a full-width cornice and parapet. The entrances are to each side, on the insides of the wings, with six-panel doors. Most window openings are plain, although those to the outer first-floor have architraves and console pediments, with 6/6-pane sashes to the right, 4/4 panes to the left with plate-glass on the second floor. There are three large dormers to the left and smaller ones to the right. A first-floor balcony across the colonnade has wrought-iron railings with Vitruvian scroll to the base and between the capitals. A narrow three-storey wing projects to the right is attached to the neighbouring building, and has stone stairs to a lower-ground floor door. The left return is banded with two lateral stacks, and a central ground-floor pediment. The single-storey block beneath is banded, with attached columns, central pedimented doorcase and outer pediments. It is approached by stone steps from the garden and stands above a cellar structure of red stone blocks with wide buttresses. The rendered rear elevation has two full-height bows to the middle, and a late-C19 ashlar canted bay to the right. There is a stone external stair to the left.

INTERIOR: the entrance lobbies have niches and are covered in richly-decorated encaustic tiles. They adjoin an axial passage to the rear, with stone cantilevered stairs at each end, with wrought-iron balusters, curved sections between, and curtails, and banded, wreathed rails. The stair lobbies to each floor have decorative pediments to the doorways, with fluted architraves. The rear ground floor has modern partitions to form offices. Back stairs are plain and in one case partly truncated.

The principal first-floor rooms have marble fire surrounds with Ionic columns and modillion cornices. There are cornices with Greek Revival decoration to the ground floor. Across the building are panelled shutters, reveals and six-panel doors (although many of the latter are replaced with fire doors), ceiling roses, and also a variety of C19 chimneypieces in assorted styles (plain to the attic floor and basement). The former party wall between the original dwellings has been discreetly opening up to each floor.

There is a flagged basement and vaulted sub-basement. The narrow infill wing adjoining No.7 Litfield Place has a former office and back stairs, and leads to the basement with ramp stairs. It has the appearance of a commercial stores.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the attached terraces, stairs and balustrades to the rear of No.9 are constructed of stone and brick with turned balusters. They probably formerly extended to No.8. The terrace was strengthened with concrete and brick supports in the early C21, and the balustrade restored. Workshops and stores are built into the area below the terrace and retaining walls continue around the flank of the building to a further section of terrace with stone balustrade towards the front of the building.

In recommending the extent of designation, we have considered whether powers of exclusion under s.1 (5A) of the 1990 Act are appropriate, and consider that they are. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the modern internal partitioning is not of special architectural or historic interest.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 379947

Legacy System: LBS


Books and journals
Gomme, A H, Jenner, M, Little, B D G, Bristol, An Architectural History, (1979), 268
Pevsner, N, Foyle, A, The Buildings of England: Somerset: North and Bristol, (2011), 342
Oxford Brookes University: Library - Dorset House: the early years (1929-1939), accessed 10/11/2015 from
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - Elizabeth Casson (1881-1954), accessed 10/11/2015 from

End of official listing