A walk through Exminster Hospital

In 1841, Exminster, with a 17 acre site, was chosen out of 3 favourable sites for the new Devon Mental Hospital to be built on. It was to be situated approximately 5 miles south on the outskirts of Exeter. The buildings were to house 440 patients.  It was designed by the architect Charles Fowler who estimated the buildings to cost £40,000 to which he would be paid 5% - £2,000.  His plan was for a semi-circular building with ‘radiating galleries’.  The galleries were to be 150 feet long with single rooms on one side.  At the centre of the building was a large three-storied Administration Block or Centre House.  Tenders were invited and the lowest submitted was by a Mr Harvey, a tender of £33,163.  Various other works were necessary, for example, an ‘approach road’ and the building of sandstone walls and two entrance lodges – known as North and South Lodge. The work began on 20th March 1842. It was decided to have a turret and a bell.  The bell was to weigh 6 cwt and…

Being a patient in Exminster Hospital

Exminster Hospital was opened to male patients on 14th July 1845 and to female patients on 28th July 1845 with the official opening day on 22nd July 1845. The struggle to turn ‘asylums’ into ‘hospitals’ gained increasing importance in the early 20th century, so occupational therapy and entertainment were introduced and going from strength to strength. How a patient would spend their time depended upon their mental illness, their physical health, and their age. The first stage of a patient's admission was the treatment of any acute disturbance, drugs, rest, nursing and physical treatments.  After this phase the patient would be observed for their skills and aptitudes, interests and temperament and to assess which course of treatment should follow. In addition to these treatments, various other observations were made of their occupation, recreation and amusement, this was known as Occupational Therapy. Tennis courts and and cricket fields were introduced as well as a Recreation…

Entertainment at the Devon County Mental Hospital

Contrary to popular opinion, life in the Hospital was not always dull and monotonous. From an early stage, the Hospital prided itself in providing regular entertainment for staff as well as patients. Activities included Annual Balls, Pantomimes, lantern lectures and movie screenings as well as various types of sports. Some former staff recall that the recruitment of new staff was influenced by their ability to contribute to the Hospital's entertainment programme: 'in those days you had to be good to get in - either in sports or as a musician'. This exhibit gives you an overview of what was available and how the activities were received by staff, patients, and the local community.

Nursing in Exminster

The term 'Psychiatry' was coined in 1808 by Dr Johann Christian Reil and during the 19th century, psychiatry was established as a profession. Exminster Hospital was opened in 1845.  Dr John Charles Bucknill was appointed as the first Medical Superintendent in 1844.  Whereby feeling like the Hospital was being run with a penal attitude - most of the staff were prison trained - brought in the training scheme for nurses. Initially mental health nurses were called "keepers", or "keepers of the insane". Who, according to Dr William Ellis, "were to be given better pay and training so as to attract more respectable intelligent people" "Night Attendants" were appointed in 1878. The first and second World Wars saw a depletion in nursing staff, and in 1942 the Hospital was bombed, with the loss of lives of both patients and staff. There were still the strict regimes to follow the Second World War and segregation of patients continued. The wards were still all locked and you only held a key…