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The Main Building


The Centre House was a three storey building for administration purposes with galleries 150 feet long radiating from the centre like 'spokes of a cart wheel'.  The walls were rough brick, painted with whitewash and the floors were black asphalt. In 1854 work started to replace the asphalt floors with wooden ones - this took 11 years to complete.  The whitewashed walls were eventually replaced with glazed tiling.

In 1854, it was decided to install a clock and a bell in Centre House.  The bell was to weigh 6 cwt and to cost no more than £40.  The clock was supplied by Messers. D. Ross of Exeter.

A new Enquiry Office and Switchboard were added to the main building in November 1972, to the right of Centre House, to replace the previous one which was situated on the very end of the right gallery.  This became a waiting room for the staff waiting for hospital transport.



The colonnade led to all the wards radiating from the centre in a continuous semi-circle.

The double corridor from the outlying wards known as Blocks to the main Hospital building and radiating wards were to separate men and women patients whilst walking from one to the other. This was altered in 1965 to a single corridor.  The other half being used for ancillary purposes. Also in 1965, the Ground Floor colonnade was enclosed and in April 1972 the First Floor colonnade was also enclosed. 

In 1960 a lift was installed in the main colonnade going up to the first floor.  1973 saw the installation of 3 more lifts.


The first wards were built in a semi-circular pattern around the Centre House.  They were 150 feet long and quite narrow with single rooms on one side.  They were to accommodate 440 patients, 220 on either side, and the first patients were admitted to these wards on 5th August 1845 - they consisted of 20 males and 33 females.  The furniture was heavy tables screwed to the floor and wooden forms built into the walls so that they couuld not be moved.

By 1847, the number of patients had risen to 280.  At this point there were still two wings unoccupied.  So it was decided to reserve them for private patients.  But due to the increase in the number of 'ordinary' patients, after a few years, the private patients were discharged.

New buildings for male patients that began in 1859 and completed in 1861, were no sooner finished when the Committee was again informed of serious overcrowding - the numbers now being 650 - so to relieve this pressure, it was decided to raise the wings on either side of Centre House, one storey.  The accomodation again became short again in 1873 so plans were drawn up for an extension of the female blocks and work began 1874.  These wards comprised of Female Blocks 1, 2 and 2A.  

Again in the early 1880s accommodation was in short supply so many 'Borough' patients (Barnstaple, Bideford etc) were sent back to their own towns.  This was only a temporary relief so the Committee had to 'board' out patients to another authority.  So in 1883 Hampshire became the home for 20 patients at a cost of 14/- each per week.  Also then, a new dormitory was built for the treatment and care of male epileptic patients and there were beds for 69, 13 in single rooms. But it was condemned by everyone for being dark and gloomy with bad ventilation so it was pulled down and reconstructed and was known as M5 ward.  Also at this time, a new ward for 45 females was built together with a dining hall to seat 400.  These wards, Female Blocks 4 and 5, were built at the end of Female Block 3, which was already constructed.                                                                                  

On 1st August 1889, the Committee of Visitors made its first Quarterly Report to the Devon County Council, which was newly formed, and again overcrowding was noted and new buildings were required.  The chronic state of overcrowding was put down to the following reasons: increasing population, low death rate, fewer patients kept at home or in the workhouse, and an accumulation of chronic incurable patients.  Therefore,  an extension of the Male Block was opened in 1890 and a further extension of the Female Block was also in progress, which was completed in 1892 and consisted of Female Blocks 6 and 7.

At the end of the Century the number of patients stood at 1,128 - 470 males and 658 females.

1903 saw more male and female blocks (Male Blocks 7 and 8, and Female Blocks 8 and 9). built along with a male infirmary.  This work was completed in 1906.  This now brought accommodation up to 1,352.  But there was still a shortage of male beds.  

After First World War, general building was brought to a halt and focus was made of decorating and upgrading of several wards.

With the opening of the Nurses' Home on 7th March 1934, this released 100 much needed female beds which relieved the threat of overcrowding.  In 1936, male block 5 was demolished and rebuilt.  

In 1939 the Ministry of Health announced that wards should be set aside for the admission and treatment of service and civilian casualties in the event of war.  Officials decided that 320 beds would be needed and could be assured if the female infirmary and female private wards with male blocks 5, 6 and 7 were released.  Minor adaptions were made e.g. provision of sluices. Equipment was also provided in order to treat casualties.  April 23rd 1942 saw the bombing of the hospital.  Three mental wards and and two E.M.S. wards were destroyed - 9 patients killed and 35 injured - a small amount in comparison considering the wards held 150 patients  were in those wards.  So, began the re-building of these wards.  Adding to the difficulties of overcrowding was that also in 1942, the Hospital was taken over by the U.S.A. authorities and the hospital also had to admit 67 of their patients and admit new cases.  

Post war, 1946, saw another case of severe overcrowding with a serious shortage of nurses and in 1951 three Medical Superintendents (Drs Allan, Russell and Mullin) along with Dr Scott Forbes ( a member of the Hospital Management Committee (H.M.C.)), urged the need for more beds.  There had been no new buildings in Exminster Hospital for over 50 years.  They asked for the inclusion of an admission hospital (80 to 100 beds) and two new female wards to replace wards considered unsafe.

In 1953 there were still some wards that had insufficient toilets and no hot water at the wash basins.  1956 saw the 'condemned' ward (F19) with 37 patients had no bath or proper sluice. By 1961 many wards were improved and sanitary annexes modernised.  A bed lift from the colonnade to the first floor was installed.  Wards 27 and 29 (one above the other) was closed as unfit for patient care because of subsidence and parts were adapted for use as the Stores and Upholsterer's shop.  Also, in 1961 the Board announced that no further major schemes were to be expected but Ward 12 was substantially reconditioned and provided an admission unit (The Belvedere Clinic - Belvedere 5 and 6) this was built as a single storey 3-ward block (75 beds) and in 1963 Belvedere Annexe was added by modernising and re-naming the Farm Ward.  It was an admission unit for functionally disturbed elderly patients with small dormitories and good occupational therapy facilities.

1973 saw a much needed improvement on the wards.  Overhead rails and and curtaining round beds were provided for privacy of the elderly deteriorated patients.  No further building or cosmetic works were carried out, apart from the transference of wards to hospital buildings, for example, Ward 18 to Sannnerville Chase, due to the imminent closure of Exminster Hospital in 1987.              




The first printed dietary giving the full menu for all patients appears in the Annual Report of 1863 (see 1863 Table above).  It shows a boring, repetitive diet with breakfasts similar to suppers and dinners almost the same every day. Puddings were given on Sundays but only in place of vegetables.  Each patient, male and female, were given half a pint of beer daily and males who were in working wards, were given an extra half a pint.  This was stopped in 1882 (but the menus improved) and the diet was altered to make amends and butter was given for the first time (see Table 1883 above).  It does make you wonder that if the patients had a choice, whether they would they choose butter over beer?!!  The drinks now served were tea, coffee and cocoa.  The Medical Superintendent resented this stoppage for the patients and complained that - "such old-fashioned remedies as wine, brandy, good sound beer, rum and milk, issued freely to the sick when considered desirable, should not be given up to please a passing whim"

The annual food bill for the 1860's show the monotony of the meals. In a typical year, £2,786 being spent on meat, £18 on fruit and £5 9s 0d on fish.  The lack of interesting meals were made tolerable by the provision of beer and after dinner 'smokes' - about £140 per year was spent on tobacco, snuff and pipes.  So inevitably the removal of the beer allowance was resented by the patients.

During the Great War years the quantities of food were far less than previously, along with less variety and poor quality but this was to be expected  (see Table 1919).  In 1920, the hospital was getting back to some normality with the food quantities rising along with quality, which reflected in the health of the patients improving and the death rate falling.

With the onset of World War Two came the rationing of food, making hard work for the staff having to check ration books and the filling in of forms.  The diet was kept to as high a standard as possible with the quantities available (see Table 1945).  The higher standard of diet in 1947 (see Table 1947 above), compared to previous years, reflected in the fewer cases of Tuberculosis. In 1948, The National Health Service was introduced but due to the War, quantities still rationed. Also in this year, the Commissioners of the Board of Control noted 400 women ate together in the female dining room with not enough mugs and tumblers and the long dining tables and backless benches were depressing.

The 1950s saw great improvements in the Catering Department.  The following were brought in:-

1) Supper for all patients as far as possible,

2) A weekly minimum for each patient of 5 pints of milk, fresh fruit twice, 3 eggs and for each main meal 6 oz fresh meat (weight uncooked including bone etc.)

3) Improvements to the kitchen and early rebuilding of the new kitchen and stores.

In the 1960s patients all ate in their own wards.  In 1968 a ward catering service was introduced, staffed initially by kitchen staff and again the Centre kitchen was modernised.

In 1974 the menu could be compared to that of a Hotel (see Table 1974 above).  The menu stayed more or less the same until the closure of the Hospital in 1987.  

The food was put into heated trolleys that were unplugged in the Centre Kitchen, (attached to an electric tug for the outside blocks and pulled around by catering staff in the main building) and transported to the wards,  then plugged back in once on the wards to keep the food as hot as it was when it left the kitchen.

The kitchen staff consisted of many skilled employees including: kitchen superintendent, chefs/cooks, bakers, butchers, along with hard working kitchen porters who would assist the trained staff with such tasks as preparation of vegetables and washing of dishes etc.

As well as catering for patients and staff on a daily basis there were often other functions to be catered for, such as, retirement parties, weddings, funeral wakes, christenings (most of which would be held in the Social Club but the food was prepared by the kitchen staff), meetings, buffets for team matches, for example, darts, cricket and snooker matches.


A memory from a member of The Administration staff was of receiving a phone call from a Devon and Cornwall Police Officer who, in a very stern voice, asked - 'does the hospital own a tug for conveying food trolleys around the hospital?' 'yes' replied the Administrator, ‘did you know that it’s passing Lympstone Barracks at the moment? It’s going at five miles per hour. We’ve apprehended the driver and he says he wanted to go and have a swim’. he replied.  It hadn’t been missed at all!!


The Exe Vale (Staff) Social Club was started in 1966, with it being sited in Exminster Hospital to the right of Centre House but a floor below the main building and corridor and was entered by going outside the main building and alongside the railings beneath the small car park. The following year, Digby had their own social club.  Licensed bars were allowed but gaming and betting were to be strictly controlled.  It was a place for all members of staff to relax and enjoy whilst off duty.  Although the bar was not open during the day, staff could still enjoy the facilities.  If you weren't a member of staff you could still enjoy the Club by being 'signed in' by a member of staff - each member of staff could sign in 2 guests.  

It consisted of a main bar with a comfortable lounge area which was a quiet area to relax and chat with colleagues and friends.

The Games Room consisted of a Juke Box, Pinball machine, Pool Table, 2 Slot machines, a dart board, Space Invaders Machine and comfy chairs and tables.

There was also a separate Skittles Alley (which was added in November 1969 along with toilets) and a Snooker Room.  There was also the occasional disco to enjoy, usually run by a member of staff.

The Social Club had their own teams for darts, skittles and snooker who would travel to other clubs and pubs etc for matches in a league table as well as home games.

It also provided a catering service for functions, such as, weddings, christenings, parties etc. at a much lower rate than other pubs, restaurants, hotels etc in the area.

It was a very popular place for all ages (although children were not encouraged to be in the lounge area) and there was no underage drinking of alcohol - not when the majority of the bar staff knew your age and or your parents!!  But it was somewhere that you could walk into and always see somebody that you knew to have a chat with!