St Michael's Cheshire Home (formerly St Michael's Free Home for Consumptives)


Heritage Category: Listed Building

Grade: II*

List Entry Number: 1425501

Date first listed: 04-Sep-2015

Statutory Address: St Michael's, Cheddar Road, Axbridge, Somerset, BS26 2DW


Ordnance survey map of St Michael's Cheshire Home (formerly St Michael's Free Home for Consumptives)
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Statutory Address: St Michael's, Cheddar Road, Axbridge, Somerset, BS26 2DW

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

County: Somerset

District: Sedgemoor (District Authority)

Parish: Axbridge

National Grid Reference: ST4408754808


Former St Michael’s Free Home for Consumptives built for patients suffering from tuberculosis. It was designed by William Butterfield in the Gothic Revival style in 1878, extended in 1882 by the same architect, with further additions made in the C20. It was founded by Mrs Matilda Blanche Gibbs. It is now (2015) in use as a convalescence home. The C20 single-storey wings to the east and north-west, and the late-C20 single-storey community room built within the courtyard of the U-shaped range are not included in the listing. A late-C20 detached sheltered housing unit, to the north-east of the main building, a late-C20 bungalow (the bungalow is adjacent to the entrance lodge; the entrance lodge is listed separately at Grade II), and the metal field-boundary fencing and gates are also excluded from the listing.

Reasons for Designation

St Michael’s Cheshire Home is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: a late-C19 purpose-built specialist hospital with an exceptionally high-level of architectural quality, internally as well as externally, including an impressive Gothic Revival central chapel; * Historic interest: the private sanatorium was a philanthropic enterprise founded by Mrs Matilda Gibbs, wife to William Gibbs the prominent C19 businessman, in memory of her husband and the three children she tragically lost to tuberculosis; * Degree of survival: despite necessary alterations, the former sanatorium’s plan form is still legible; the surviving fabric illustrates well the philosophy and functional requirements behind the care of tuberculosis patients; * Association: designed by William Butterfield, one of the foremost Gothic Revival architects of the C19, who had a long association with the Gibbs family due to their respective links to the Oxford Movement; * Group value: it has an unusually complete group of ancillary buildings (listed at Grade II), which help to illustrate the historic function of the former sanatorium complex.


St Michael’s Home was founded by Matilda Blanche Gibbs (1817-1887), wife of William Gibbs (1790-1875), the notable merchant, philanthropist, and owner of the estate of Tyntesfield, North Somerset since 1834. The Gibbs’ had seven children; three died due to pulmonary tuberculosis. Following their deaths, Mrs Gibbs sought to help those with the condition by establishing a facility where suffers could receive long-term care and treatment. Her initial plan was to build a home in Surrey. However, due to concerns over the suitability of the climate, she turned her attention to an isolated spot on the Mendip slopes, to the north west of the village of Axbridge, Somerset. The sanatorium was dedicated to the patron saint of the sick and the suffering, St. Michael. The home was run by the Associate Community of St. Peter, an Anglican-Catholic Sisterhood from Woking, London, who had looked after the Gibbs’ youngest daughter before her death in 1874.

Mrs Gibbs enlisted the renowned Gothic-Revival architect William Butterfield (1814-1900), whose other works include the Church of St John, Clevedon (1875-6; Grade II*) and the Butterfield Wing, Royal Hampshire County Hospital (1863-8; listed Grade II). Matilda and her husband William Gibbs were Anglo-Catholics and supporters of the Oxford Movement (a mid-C19 High-Church Anglican movement), with which Butterfield was closely associated. Mr Gibbs had approved the commissioning of Butterfield to design Keble College, Oxford (1870, listed Grade I), including the chapel which William funded. St Michael’s Free Home for Consumptives was opened on 28 September 1878. The building consisted of a U-shaped plan with a central chapel and wards on either side. There were 24 beds; half for men and half for women. A lodge with stables was built at the main entrance gate to the south, at the bottom of a tree-lined avenue. A grace-and-favour parsonage with its own stables and coach house was built to the south-east for the resident chaplain.

Built into a slope, the main building has three storeys to the south and two to the north. The ground floor contained a men’s hall and kitchen area, the first the men’s ward, and the second the women’s ward. To encourage full use of the grounds, all of the floors had level access to the gardens; on the top floor this was via a raised walkway on the north side of the building. To the west was a lawn area with stone terracing to the south. The building was extended in 1882 by the addition of a south wing, also designed by Butterfield, providing accommodation for a further 26 patients and rooms for the sisters above. A farm located within the grounds provided fresh food and patients were encouraged to help with its running where possible. By 1886 a cemetery for deceased patients was added to the north-west corner of the estate. Males were buried on the south side and females on the north (the headstones were moved to the side of the cemetery in early C21). Two mortuary buildings, one next to the rear entrance to the chapel and another shelter positioned along the path to the cemetery were also provided. At the end of the C19 a set of pathways were laid out in the woodland to the north and shelters were built in the grounds to encourage patients to enjoy the fresh air. The hospital’s water supply was from an underground reservoir to the north, first shown on the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1903).

In the early-C20 a three-storey pavilion was added to the south-east corner of the main building and included two glazed balconies on the upper floors. By 1930 a laundry house had been built within the northern woodland and another outbuilding, possibly a game/ meat larder, was added to the east side of the home. The larder was later converted into ancillary accommodation and linked to a 1977 wing.

From the mid-C20 and the discovery of antibiotics, the rates of tuberculosis had begun to decline. In 1956 St. Michael’s ceased to be used solely as a tuberculosis sanatorium and in 1968 the Sisters of St Peter returned to Woking. The home was taken over by the Cheshire Foundation Home, founded by Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, for the care of the incurably sick and disabled. The facility became known as St. Michael Cheshire Care Home. A community room was added in 1975. In 1977 an accommodation wing was added to the east. Another wing was added to the north-west in 1984. Dan Olive, a local architect designed the extensions with the intention of complementing the style of the C19 building. In the 1990s two bungalows were built in the grounds to cater for semi-assisted living. In the late-C20 the parsonage and its garden were sold and subdivided to form a pair of semi-detached dwellings. It was later brought back into single ownership and is now (2015), a guest house.


Former St Michael’s Free Home for Consumptives built for patients suffering from tuberculosis, it was designed by William Butterfield in the Gothic Revival style in 1878, extended in 1882 by the same architect, with further additions made in the C20. It was founded by Mrs Matilda Blanche Gibbs. It is now (2015) in use as a convalescence home. The C20 single-storey wings to the east and north-west, and the late-C20 single-storey community room built within the courtyard of the U-shaped range are not included in the listing. A late-C20 detached sheltered housing unit, to the north-east of the main building, and a late-C20 bungalow, adjacent to the entrance lodge (lodge listed Grade II), are also excluded from the listing.

MATERIALS: local rubble stone quarried in the Mendips, with Bath-stone dressing, all under a tile roof with stepped, stone-clad stacks.

PLAN: to the north is the 1878 U-shaped range with an attached raised walkway; to the south is the1882 wing.

EXTERIOR: to the south is the 1882 entrance wing. It is three storeys and has six bays. The entrance is within an off-centre projecting gable bay with a two-leaf timber door with decorative hinges within an arched hoodmould. It is flanked by clasped buttresses and above is a drip mould. The two floors above have paired tracery windows with central quatrefoils. There are two bays to the left and three to the right with both single- and paired-lights windows and dormers on the third storey. The southern gable end has a two-storey canted-bay window. The rear has an asymmetrical fenestration with windows in the same style as the rest of the wing.

To the north is the original two-storey U-shaped range that faces west. The front elevation is a recessed range with two central bays standing forward that are topped by gable and a stone cross, flanked on either side by two further bays. All the windows are triple lancets with trefoil heads; the ground-floor windows and those in the central bays are set into recessed arches. Two of the ground-floor windows have been removed and the arches opened up to form entrances to the courtyard. The courtyard has been in filled by a late-C20 structure with a corrugated roof (not included in the listing). At either side of the range are projecting gable-end wings. The left wing is two-storeys and has a canted bay. The right wing is three storeys and has been extended with a hipped tower added to the gable end. At the base of the tower is a covered walkway, an adjacent a set of external stone steps. The windows in these wings are paired, trefoil-headed lancet windows. Attached to the north-west corner of this range is a 1980s wings (not included in the listing). Beyond is the original north elevation to the main house. The first three bays have sash windows and dormers above. A first-floor door leads onto a raised concrete walkway, with metal rails and supported by brick piers, that leads to the woodland to the north. To the left is a two-storey canted bay with trefoil-headed lancets. At the centre of the east elevation is the gable end of the chapel incorporating a stained-glass triple-lancet east window with a central cinquefoil. The left and right returns both contain double-lancet chancel windows with central quatrefoils. Beneath is a single-storey flat-roof sacristy with a four-light central window, a plank door on north return and a double-lancet window on the south. At the south-east corner of this elevation is an early-C20 pavilion addition, with first and second floor glazed balconies (current glazing is late-C20). An attached 1977 wing extends to the east and links to a former 1930s detached outbuilding (not included in the listing). There are some cast-iron rain goods and ventilation grates. The majority of the roofs are pitched with stone ridge stacks.

INTERIOR: the principal staircase is at the junction of the 1878 and 1882 wings. The current dog-leg stair has been built over the original bifurcated stone staircase, which largely survives beneath and enclosed behind doors on either side of the half-flight. The arrangement of the rooms in the 1882 wing is largely unaltered. The ground-floor rooms contain former communal rooms, with bedrooms on the two floors above.

The chapel is the architectural centrepiece of the 1878 range. The two-leaf chapel door is decorated with elaborate scroll hinges. Within the chapel, flanking the entrance are two sets of fixed decorative timber pews. Above the door is a stone relief depicting the Three Marys at the Crucifixion and below is a dedication from Mrs Gibbs in memory of her husband. On either side of the nave are two storeys of shuttered openings (now blocked behind), within recessed arches, that enabled patients in the adjacent wards to view the services from their beds. An organ with painted pipes stands in the centre of the left-hand wall, opposite a side entrance. The chancel end is raised and clad on either side by decorative timber panelling. At the east end is a painted timber-and-stone altar with carved timber canopy. On either side of the chancel are doors; the left of which leads through to the sacristy and the right to a single-room chapel of the Blessed Sacrament with a painted floor and ceiling. The chapel has a scissor-braced roof. The nave-roof structure is exposed; the chancel is sealed over with decorative gilded bosses and timber panels painted in a celestial motif. The two are divided by a central cusped truss supported by stone corbels. The floor is mono-chrome tiles, although it is understood that an earlier decorative timber floor survives beneath.

The chapel entrance sits opposite a statue depicting St. Michael’s Defeat of Satan. The main corridors (running along the west side of the 1878 range) have multi-chrome tile floors and painted cusped trusses that survive above the suspended ceiling. On either side of the chapel are two storeys of former wards. In the south-east corner is the early-C20 three-storey glazed-balcony pavilion with parquet flooring throughout.

Original panelled doors survive within the two C19 ranges; some have been replaced with late-C20 fire doors*. Above the former bedroom doors are dedications to religious figures, sites and virtues, either as painted or raised lettering. A large number of the fire surrounds survive in a variety of styles and materials. The most elaborate are found in the former wards on either side of the chapel; cast-iron grates with tile inserts within carved marble surrounds topped by a pediment with a trefoil pinnacle and an incised central rose detail. The other fireplaces include chamfered timber surrounds, with and without marble inserts, in the former bedrooms, and more modest surrounds in the former sisters’ rooms. The infrastructure of the C19 ventilation system also survives, including the timber panelled ventilation units with decorative metal taps. Some of the taps have been given particular attention and designed as a hand clasping a rod. There is also a surviving decorative brass gas flame bracket on the first floor in the 1878 range.

The lower ground floor on the south side of the building contains the service rooms, including the kitchen, parlour, and stores with corresponding window and door vents. Many of their former functions are painted on the door frames above. A stone winder staircase leads down to the basement level and the former coal shoots.

Within the C19 ranges there have been minor later subdivisions. There is also a C20 lift shaft* in the 1878 range.

* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the C20 lift shaft and late-C20 fire doors are not of special architectural or historic interest.

This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 10/05/2016


Books and journals
Hassell, D, Wilson, Z, This Special Place: A History of St. Michael's Home, Axbridge, (2005)
Thompson, P, William Butterfield Victorian Architect, (1971)

End of official listing