One of the businesses that Edward Colston inherited from his father in Bristol was a share in the Norton House or St Peter's sugar house. Robert Aldworth, to whom Colston's father was apprenticed, had established the first sugar refinery in Bristol in 1612. Aldworth used sugars from Spain and Portugal, but later records suggest the partners in the business were buying sugar from St Kitts in the Caribbean. Wherever the sugar came from, it was probably produced by enslaved labour. This was continuing a family business: his father William and brother Thomas had imported sugars for 20 years from 1661.
The building was built in 1401 as a merchants house for Thomas Norton, a Merchant Prince who shipped goods from Bristol to France, Spain and Portugal. The frontage was over 130ft. It was bought in 1612 by Aldworth, who can be credited for transforming the building into the ornate Jacobean architectural showpiece it became.
In order to build his sugar refinery, Aldworth bought the adjoining properties, which he rebuilt in a simpler style than his house. Aldworth also added a fourth bay to the original three gables, and unified them through decoration.The whole building became known as the Sugar House.
In 1696 the building was taken over by the Corporation for use as a mint. But this was short-lived and closed two years later.
The Corporation then used the building as a workhouse, after the establishment of the Bristol Poor Act (1696). During this time adjoining properties were purchased from William Perm in order to extend the premises. This was to be the buildings' use until the blitz, although from 1832 it was no longer needed, as a large new workhouse had been built in Stapleton. By 1890 the buildings' use had been purely administrative. From 1900 the Register Office occupied the ground floor.
Initially known as the Mint Workhouse, it became known as St. Peter's Hospital. The word hospital is here used in the sense of 'place of refuge' rather than in the medical sense.
The building stood in what is now Castle Park, between St. Peter's Church and the River Avon. On 24 November 1940 the whole area was devastated by the German Luftwaffe and the house destroyed completely. This is widely regarded as one of City's greatest architectural losses.
In the galleries we have:
Model of St. Peter's Hospital in the Places Gallery in the Places of Power and Influence display.
Jetty from St. Peter's Hospital (1600s) in the Places Gallery in the Welfare Case.
Margaret Kane describes her experience of the bombing raid of 1940, which destroyed the building, in the Places Gallery in the Places of Conflict display.