Poltimore Hospital

In the summer of 1945 the house was bought by two Exeter doctors who recognised the urgent need for new hospital bedspaces, and for a maternity hospital to cope with the post-war baby boom.  The contract for the sale was completed on August 1st 1945, a matron appointed and nursing and domestic staff recruited. Several of the latter, who were residents of the village, stayed on after having worked for Dover College, the girl’s school college and in some cases (in particular the Aldridge family) for the 4th Baron Poltimore.

Conversion to a hospital involved a great deal more work than either school had carried out. Work went on for two years, with electricians, plumbers and carpenters becoming as familiar to visitors and visiting doctors as the resident medical staff. This did not prevent patients being admitted, the first arriving in October 1945.

A major reconstruction was the conversion of the Victorian billiard room in the north range to an operating theatre with adjoining anaesthetic room and sterilising suite. The floors, walls and ceilings of these rooms were lined with blue-green terrazzo and for hygienic purposes were without sharp corners or joins. The work was carried out by an Italian firm from Totnes who guarded their methods of working and were not keen on being watched. An X-ray unit was installed, the illuminated screen for viewing photographs during operations being sited over the centre of the massive sixteenth century fireplace, using the ventilation of the chimney to keep the screen cool.

The Red Drawing Room and Saloon, together with two first floor bedrooms (the Hall Chamber and Parlour Chamber) and a bathroom, were reserved for the resident medical directors and their family and the decorations remained untouched. The Library and Ballroom were given over to two wards, The Library a five-bedded ward for men’s surgical cases and the Ballroom a ten-bedded medical ward for women.

Harvey Ward in c.1950

Most of the rooms upstairs were given over to maternity cases. During the post-war ‘baby-boom’ on one occasion nine babies were born in one day and altogether 1,401 births were recorded between 1945 and 1960. During the same period there were over 10,000 medical and surgical admissions and after 1948 over half of these were National Health Service patients.

In 1959 the doctor owners retired, and a new medical director was appointed until 1962 when Poltimore House, as a working hospital, was sold to the Regional Hospital Board. For the next thirteen years Poltimore served as part of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital group.

During this period alteration were made, internal and external which may have been necessary for a hospital but which were not always sympathetic to the building. These included the installation of a fire escape on the west wing and a passenger lift on the right of the imperial staircase, removing the previous unsafe practice of having to carry patients up and down the stairs. Fireplaces were blocked, chimney pots and some chimney stacks removed and the parapet taken down.

Most damaging of all, the seventeenth century plasterwork ceilings in the original Tudor Parlour were demolished so that the ceiling could be lowered to accommodate a strengthening steel beam.

In 1975 the Regional Hospital Board decided it had no further use for the building and it was again sold on.

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