ABLEWIKI:Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital

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Giskey (insert if applicable)
Place Pretoria West
Street Ketjen
City Pretoria
Magestrial District City of Tshwane
Province Gauteng
Country South Africa
GPS Co-ordinates
Condition Very Good - Moderate
Planning Authority Department of Public Works


Sytze Wopkes Wierda

Sr Herbert Baker?

Construction Company/Team W.Goetz
Date of Origin Earliest buildings - 1892
Previous Names

Krankzinnigengesticht te Pretoria

Pretoria Lunatic Asylum

Pretoria Sielsieke Hospitaal (1912)

Weskoppies (Psychiatric) Hospital (1947)


Current Owner Deaprtment of Health
Previous Use Place of detention of lunatics and the mentally deranged.
Current Use Place for the treatment of mental illness.




Weskoppies, formerly known as Krankzinnigengesticht te Pretoria, opened in may 1892. It was the first and only psychiatric institution in the ZAR ( Zuid Afrikaanshe Republiek), which later became the Transvaal. Outside the independent ZAR by 1890, there were a number of mental hospitals: Grahamstown (1875); Pietermaritzburg (1880 ; Bloemfontien (1883) and Port Alfred (1889). Before Weskoppies opened, all lunatics (as the mentally ill were referred to until much later) were kept in prisons as there was nowhere else for them to go.


The Department of Public Works put out the tenders for Weskoppies construction in February 1890. The buildings were to be based on plans and specifications given by the Government Engineer-Architect S.Wierda. The tender was awarded to W.Goetz for £12 620. The building site was located 3km West of the Pretoria Station and was considered to be quite a distance from the city but in a beautiful and serene location – perfect for the treatment of the insane.
Once opened, three curators were appointed by the government. They were to draw up guidelines for themselves and for others who would be employed at the hospital. This led to the promulgation of Act 9 of 1894. This gave a Magistrate the power to allow people to be detained and certified as insane based solely on the diagnosis of two medical practitioners. This was the first law allowing for the legal detainment of people considered to be mentally unstable.
When the first patients were admitted in May 1892, arriving mainly from prisons, the facilities and condition of the hospital was satisfactory. In 1898 the number of patients totalled to 138 and the hospital was equipped with a telephone – a privilege then – due to its distant position. The official description of the institution at this time was a beautiful building healthily situated with large gardens and cultivated fields.

It was soon realised that the number of black patients was far greater than expected and thus more facilities and accommodation were needed immediately. During the first 3 years additional buildings, rooms, houses and out buildings were acquired. Thereafter, funds were depleted and the conditions of the hospital began to deteriorate. The deterioration continued to worsen during the years of the Anglo Boer war (1899 – 1902). By the time that new curators and medical directors were employed they were faced with a number of problems: serious overcrowding, badly ventilated and insanitary rooms; lack of trained attendants and a lack of space for work and recreation foe the patients.
In the early years, there had been a large distance between the hospital and the town. As the growth of Pretoria brought the institution ever closer, measures to protect the public were put in place. Fences and high walls were chosen. In the 60s the institution adopted the open-door policy and there were no fences or walls and the patients were free to walk around the grounds. Only the very dangerous patients were kept behind closed doors. In 1979 a Child and Family Unit was added for children up to the age of 13 to be treated for depression, anxiety etc. 1988 saw the addition of a Young Peoples Unit catering for troubled teens (14-18). By 1991, the wards were fully integrated and there were no separate wards for white patients.


Weskoppies is one of the biggest and oldest psychiatric institutions in South Africa. It provides insightful information into the treatment of mental illness from the late 1800s to the present. It is also the first hospital to become a monument in South Africa and even though only the 1904-1907 additions to the site have official heritage status, there remain a large number of buildings on the site that should be heritage sites. The hospital also serves as a teaching hospital for students from UP as well as other institions.

Current Known Heritage Status

The façade of the main building and adjoining 6 buildings as well as the garden infront of the building were declared a national monument in1981.  There are older buildings on the property that qualify for heritage status but no application has been put forward yet. The property as a whole is considered a provinvial heritage site.

Known Interested and Affected Parties

Provincial Heritage Resource Agency (PHRA)

South African Heritage Resource Agency (SAHRA)

The Department of Health Services

The University of Pretoria - Medical Faculty


The buildings are situated on a large site 84 ha. The site was originally the Old Botanical Gardens and is in an area of fairly high ecological sensitivity and is characterised by quartzite ridges that are home to a unique plant species. Although water use was limited in the first few years as the only supply was from a well, 500 trees were planted in the gardens. Once a municipal connection was secured 2.5 ha of land was cultivated, mainly vegetables. As the institution grew so did the facilities. Tennis courts, a swimming pool, a bowls green and a soccer field were added for the patient’s recreation time. The patients, during the early years after the ABW, played a large role in the landscaping of the site. Flowers and trees were planted and large green lawns for social gatherings were planted and maintained.

The present day gardens are not as beautiful as one would imagine.  Trees line the roads and create a forest and a sense of isolation from the rest of the world. You are however, reminded of the fact that you are actually in a mainly industrial area in Pretoria the closer you get to the gate.  There are indeed large lawns that in summer are pleasantly green.  The tennis courts and bowls green are in bad condition and the soccer field unattendened to.


The hospital started with an initial 5 three storey buildings. These were designed according to S.Wierdas specifications and reflected his later named “Republican Style”. These buildings are characterised by red bricks and rows of white painted windows with small panes of glass. Over the years, when additional facilities and accommodation was needed galvanised iron cells temporary structures were added.  The additional facilities acquired in the first three years can also be seen around the grounds.  They are mainly red brick with high pitched roofs, tall brick chimneys or thin iron chimneys with stone plinths. In 1907 additions of 7 buildings by famed British architect Hine, were added at the furthest South part of the site.  They are red brick Edwardian buildings with pitched roofs and sand stome deatil around the white windows. This new complex began with 3 buildings and soon grew into seven with 2 buildings being added on either side. The main building has a large clock tower, easily visible from the surrounding gardens. Prefabricated facilities can be seen scattered on the grounds as well and the maximum security unit is secluded on the South-Eastern corner of the site. This is surrounded by fences and high walls.  Recent additons include an extension in 1988 amounting to R4.8 million, for occupational therapy facilties as well as for geriatrics and in 1989 amounting to R3.1 million for new training facilities. These structures have low pitched roofs, are made from a light face brick and steel window and door frames.  Architecturally they are dull and boring and emphasize the opinion of the institution being a horrible place to be sent to. 



Englebrecht,B. 1982,'Weskoppies verrig liefdes werk: Persoonlike aandag wir elke pasiënt'. Oggendblas, 15 July, p.9.

Geel, A. 2005,A community link project for Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital, ML(Prof) dissertation, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, viewed 2010-08-25 <>

Hom, S. 1992, 'Pretoria-hospitall vier vanjaar sy 100ste bestaansjaar', Beeld, 28 July,.p.24.

Humphries,F. 1989, 'R3.1-million extension to Weskoppies hospital opened', Pretoria News, 1 August, p.3.

Meiring,H. 1980. Pretoria 125. Human & Rousseau Publishers, CapeTown.

Plug,C. & Roos,J.L. 1992, 'Weskoppies Hospital, founded 1892 - the early years' South African Medical Journal, 15 February 1992, vol.81, p.218-221.

Pretoria Correspondent, 1992, 'Unusual treatments marked early days', The Star, 30 January, p.15.

Pretoria Correspondent, 1992, 'Weskoppies goes 'nutsover its centenary, The Star, 30 January, p.15.

Reilly,C. 1992, 'Weskoppies: a centuary of change', Pretoria News,29 January, p.14.

South African Heritage Resource Agency available at

Unknown, 1981, 'Hospitaals 'n monument', Die Vaderland ,31 July, p.4.

Unknown, 1992,'Weskoppies het baie verander in 100 jaar', Die Transvaler, 22 April, p.8.

Unknown, 1989,'Weskoppies brei uit', Beeld, 22 August, p.8.

Van der Walt, R. 2009, A healing outdoor experience : the potential of outdoor environments to enhance psychological healing at Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital, ML(Prof) dissertation, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, viewed 2010-08-25 < >


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