Health Services in Nineteenth Century and St John’s Cottage Hospital




The Bovey Tracey Hospital, a National Health Service establishment, closed in 2017 following the reconfiguration of NHS services in the South-West.1 By 1931 land had been given so that this hospital could be built, but this was not the first ‘cottage’ hospital in Bovey Tracey.2

Twenty years earlier a meeting in the parish rooms had proposed that Bovey Tracey should have a Home Hospital or Nursing Home. This was to be in a house rented for the purpose and a place where the district nurse could live with an assistant who could care for any patients. The Nursing Association was reported as agreeing to staff this hospital as a twelve-month trial.3 This also was not the first hospital.



The first reference to the cottage hospital was in a newspaper article in April 1871 stating that a cottage hospital had been established in Bovey Tracey in two cottages on the Heathfield belonging to Mr Tapper. This was described as having the domestic arrangements under the management of Miss Divett and the medical department under the control of Dr William Haydon.4

We cannot yet pinpoint which two cottages were used for the hospital. From the 1871 Census we can see that numbers 4, 12 and 13 Heathfield Terrace were uninhabited so any of these might have provided the necessary space. (Figure 1)

Figure I Heathfield Terrace Frances Billinge 2017


Who Was the Founder?

We cannot be sure but a local general practitioner Dr William Rudall Haydon, was credited in the press with being ‘the virtual founder.’6 As Dr Haydon  graduated in 1867 and then practiced in Bovey Tracey his involvement in the hospital can have been no earlier than that.7 Bovey Tracey was not alone in wanting a cottage hospital as they were being established in other Devon towns.8

What was the local social setting in which St John’s Cottage Hospital was established?

In the middle of the 1800s Bovey Tracey’s new vicar was The Rev. and Hon. Charles Leslie Courtenay, brother of the Earl of Devon. He had been a chaplain to Queen Victoria and in 1849 had married one of her maids of honour, Lady Caroline Margaret Somers Cocks.9 Rev. Courtenay was a follower of the Oxford Movement, or Tractarianism, which championed the reintroduction of high church rituals. In 1851 he began work on a second church, St John the Evangelist which was built at his own expense and then consecrated in 1853.10 There was considerable local disquiet at this spread of Tractarianism. In 1862 a letter to the local press at the time of St. John’s dedication anniversary included the derogatory phrase, ‘The Tractarian priesthood, and the silly sheep who follow the tinkle of their bell.’11

In the same year as the dedication of the new church Rev. Courtenay  invited the Clewer Sisters to Bovey Tracey. They established a small laundry at Chapple and later the Devon House of Mercy for needy young ladies. The Clewer Sisters also ran the St Gabriel Mission House on Fore Street12 He also established an infants’ school near the new church.13 Although there were many articles in the press criticising his Tractarian practices Rev. Courtenay aimed to help the poor, and the establishment of the cottage hospital was sanctioned by him as evidenced by his curate’s involvement, described below.

By September of 1871 we learn that this hospital had been set up as a private venture and was not an official part of the Poor Law Union system under the Newton Abbot Board of Guardians. Funding of patients was an issue – should the Poor Law fund them or were they private patients? The newspaper contained a letter from Rev. Frederick Gurney, curate of St John’s Church and acting chaplain to the Cottage Hospital. It concerned three patients and asked whether they were ‘paupers’ and therefore the financial responsibility of the Newton Abbot Board of Guardians. We are told a surprising amount about the personal circumstances of one patient. Miss Luscombe had been admitted on the recommendation of the vicar of her parish (it is unclear if this was Ideford or Ilsington) after she fell off a cart and wounded her leg but the Board decided she would not otherwise have been a pauper and therefore instead of allowing her half-a-crown a week in the Cottage Hospital an order was made for the Union Workhouse. Miss Luscombe was sixteen and living as a servant at an Ideford farm with no wage and she was admitted to the Cottage Hospital. Her mother and older sister were receiving 3s and 2s per week from the Union and her mother was also receiving two pounds of meat weekly. Her brother, aged twelve,was until recently in the Union Workhouse. Reverend Gurney was critical of the Board’s decision not to fund this patient. He said the founder and supporters of the hospital intended it to be to a certain extent self-supporting and in order to effect this by Rule vii a sum varying from 1s to 3s 6d according to circumstances was expected on account of each patient. Accidents were admitted without any recommendation at all times and hours and the money question resolved afterwards. Clearly the hospital had some form of written rule book but there is no record of this having survived. It also confirms that someone other than Rev. Gurney was the founder.14


 By 1866 Adela Divett, the orphaned daughter of Edward Divett M.P. of Bystock, came to live in Bovey Tracey. She was eighteen years old, of independent means, and under the care of her uncle John Divett.15 He was an important person in the town as he was a J.P. and co-owner of the local pottery business.

In 1871 the twenty-two year old Miss Adela Divett was living at St John’s Parke near the new church and she became involved in St John’s hospital.16 We know from her letters to the press concerning the proposed alterations to the Bovey Tracey parish church, and also her donation towards the renovation of Saddington church, Leicestershire that Adela took an interest in religious matters. She was closely involved in St John’s church and by 1881 she had the grand house called St Mary’s built for her next door to it. Adela is described as paying for the choir vestry to be built at the church, donating her royal presentation jewels to adorn a crucifix, and erecting a memorial window to her parents.17 (Figure 1) To commemorate the death of her son in WWI she erected a memorial plaque on the church wall. In 1875 Adela signed a letter to the press as treasurer Bovey Cottage Hospital.18 This letter informs us that by then the hospital had six beds and benefitted seven parishes. As Adela was the treasurer she is most likely to have been the domestic manager described in 1871 when the hospital was established.


Figure 2. Adela Hastings Beaufort’s (née Divett) jewels on a crucifix at St John’s Church. Frances Billinge 2017.


Rev. Gurney’s concerns were not addressed as later in 1872 the Newton Abbot Board of Guardians discussed whether to grant two guineas a year to Bovey Cottage Hospital instead of paying half-a -crown weekly on admission. It stated that, ‘the alleged Cottage Hospital at Bovey was quite a private affair and known by the name of St John’s Cottage Hospital.’ Consequently, after this derogatory description of a hospital developed outside of the auspices of the Poor Law Union, the motion was withdrawn.19

In 1874 there was a demand from the hospital for payment of burial fees, including the coffin, for a man who died there through an accident. Sadly this was fifteen year old Richard Honeywill who had had his eye knocked-out by a kick from a horse and he died soon afterwards. This was not agreed, and was said to be an ‘illegal’ request as no demand had been made to the Relieving Officer or the Overseer of the Parish. Such cases illustrate further friction between St John’s Cottage Hospital and the official Poor Law officers. They echo other arguments locally about who should pay for what public facility, such as a clean water supply, with the result of little being achieved.20

An 1875 newspaper report of the Newton Abbott Petty Sessions stated that Adela Divett ‘owned’ a cottage and gave Thomas Lugg notice to quit. Adela actually rented the cottage from Mr Tapper and the address was No. 4 Heathfield Cottages/ Heathfield Terrace. This had been one of the three empty properties in 1871. Apparently Adela had given possession to Thomas Lugg but Mr Tapper refused to have him as a tenant and the Luggs refused to leave. An order for possession in twenty-five days was made.21 A direct relationship between this incident and the running of the hospital is not indicated but it does illustrate Adela Divett’s involvement with Heathfield Terrace.

In 1876 Alice Maynard Hoskin daughter of S. Hoskin of Stonehouse died at St John’s Hospital Bovey Tracey aged seventeen.22

The hospital at Heathfield continued to thrive and was advertised in White’s directory of 1878/9. It stated that Miss Divett was the founder.23 Miss Mary Louise Terry is thought to have been the matron. On the 1881 census she was living with the Miss Frances and Miss Mary Fox at Heatheredge, just below Heathfield Terrace where the hospital was situated.24 All three ladies were of independent means and the Misses Fox were also involved in St John’s church. Frances and Mary were also close to Adela and in 1891 they were caring for her two young children while she was in India with her husband Francis Beaufort. By 1891 Miss Terry was working as a nurse at the Clewer sisters’ convalescent home, St Raphael’s in Torquay. A member of the Fox family, Agnes, was also a resident.25

A further reference throws more light on the cottage hospital. In 1935 the obituary to Rev. Henry Martin Wickham of St John’s Church described him as the founder of the cottage hospital on Heathfield terrace. It stated that many years ago he had been instrumental in renting a cottage in Heathfield Terrace for the purpose.26 Henry Wickham was ordained in 1878 and moved to Bovey Tracey in 1884 and so he was more likely to have continued the earlier good work of Dr William Haydon and Adela Divett. Unfortunately the 1881 Census does not indicate any of Heathfield Terrace being lived in by a nurse or patient, but as the patients might not have stayed long it is possible none were there on enumeration day.

After the 1883 Unreformed Corporations Act and the demise of the Manor and Borough of Bovey Tracey, Newton Abbot Rural District Council was established. Perhaps there were no longer arguments about who was financially responsible for patients as we do not come across further newspaper reports until twenty years later with the drive to build a new hospital.


In 1907 discussions were started in Bovey Tracey for a hospital to be developed on a new site. This was to take twenty years to come to fruition, but street collections and subscriptions were started, and a site was promised.27

At a public meeting in 1910 Dr Goodwyn proposed the establishment of  a Home Hospital/ Nursing Home and  said that poor patients had to be operated on in their cottages or in the Mission House by permission of the Clewer Sisters. He described that Moretonhampstead and Ashburton had hospitals and Bovey needed to come into line. It was agreed to rent a house in which the district nurse should live plus a ward maid to help look after the patients.28 It was at this time that the cottage hospital moved from Heathfield Terrace to 4 Marlborough Terrace. This lasted for one year until the landlord gave notice. Miss Hoare was the nurse in charge as shown on the 1911 Census.29 Miss Esther Hoare came from Axminster, and Mrs Susan Dymond of Coleridge was the cook. On census day they were caring for two patients being Winifred Sladdon a former domestic aged 19 born locally, and Joseph Perryman formerly a labourer aged 86 also born in Bovey Tracey.

Figure 3. Number 4 Marlborough terrace. Frances Billinge 2017

Some time in 1911/1912 the hospital moved to Revelstoke, Mary Street. Miss Hoare continued to be in charge, with six beds at her disposal. In 1912 part of the Carnival proceeds went to the Bovey Tracey Hospital.30(Figure 4 )

Figure 4. Revelstoke, Mary Street. Frances Billinge 2017.

In 1913 the Local Government Board approved Newton Abbot Board of Guardians increasing its subscription to the hospital from three guineas a year to six guineas.31 In 1914 there was a slight deficit in the Cottage Hospital account. Dr Goodwyn was still involved and a gift of £75 was received from MrsCroker.32

By 1931 enough money had been raised for the new hospital to be built on Furzeleigh Lane.



During Victorian times country-life was being promoted as a healthy alternative to town and city life. Despite the use of lignite from Bluewaters as fuel at the Bovey Pottery, and less so latterly as domestic fuel, moving into Bovey Tracey was promoted on health grounds. An advertisment for Front House in 1853 stated that, ‘The air is bracing and healthful’, and one in 1855 for Belmont (Ashwell) praised the, ‘salubrity of its air and the healthfulness of its locality.’33

Jabez Mugford, one-time mayor and entertaining after-dinner speaker won applause when he told the guests that Bovey Tracey would always be a better place to live than Chudleigh because fresh air off Dartmoor reached Bovey first before then passing on to Chudleigh.34

Despite this fresh air there was an outbreak of scarlet fever in 1877 and the disease spread rapidly into ten houses in East Street and Fore Street. There were ten fatalities, mainly children. Three children died in one cottage, ‘where the disease seemed to be aggravated by overcrowding, dirt, and want of ventilation.’ There was a call for better ventilation of the main sewer and more water for flushing the sewer (Medical report read to the Rural Sanitary Authority of the Newton Abbot Union which met weekly).35

Landlords could also be held to account, and in 1902 Edward Endacott was reprimanded for not complying with an order to improve sanitary provision at his three dwellings on East Street where thirteen occupants shared a single pit privy which was 50 yards away. He claimed insufficient water. The three heads of household were John Harris Snr, John Harris Jnr and Mrs Lucy Slatterley. The water main in East Street had been broken by a steam roller in 1901, but this probably had no bearing on the case.36

Remedial work was not undertaken and the dwellings were condemned. Endacott was still refusing to let officers from Newton Rural Council inspect the properties. In 1909 Endacott, now aged 81 and partially crippled, was assaulted by Mrs Lucy Satterley, one of his tenants, when he tried to evict her, apparently in order to allow him to, at last, improve the property. However the Newton Sessions magistrates found against him and he was fined 10s for assault.37


East Street was home to several doctors over the years. They lived close by their potential patients and their involvement in local accidents and other incidents is well documented in the local press and census material of the time.38

1861/71      Nathaniel Haydon at Front House

1866           John Hurd Wood

1870           William Haydon

1881           Henry Hodson at Front House

1891/01      Henry Goodwyn at Rowardennan (South Down House)

1902           Murray Babbington Steuart at Rowardennan

1906           Mrs Kate Coombes, midwife.

1906/11      Henry Goodwyn at Church Stile

1910           Richard Mossiter Huxtable at Rowardennan.

1914           Alfred Dallas at Rowardennan

1911           Neville Parker, retired physician at Moorlands.

1928           T. Frank Arnott at Moorlands.

1946           ‘Dr T. Frank Arnott, having returned from military service, has resumed practice with his partner Dr J. C. Harrison, at Moorlands’.

These mainly Victorian doctors fulfilled several roles which are strange to us with our NHS familiarity. In 1893 the Kelly Directory listed Dr Goodwyn’s roles as including Certifying surgeon for Bovey Tracey and Chudleigh; Medical Officer and Public Vaccinator for Bovey Tracey and Ilsington Districts; Newton Abbot Union [Poor Law] doctor; and Certifying Factory Surgeon for Bovey Tracey and Chudleigh.39 It is recorded that In 1856 Dr Haydon and in 1883 Dr Henry Hodson were both fulfilling duties in liaison with the Newton Abbott Board of Guardians.40

In 1888 William East, head gardener to Mr. W. R. Hole of Parke, fell dead in a hay field, and in 1889 Mrs Dymond died suddenly in church – two incidents attended to by Dr Goodwyn.41

Concealment of illegitimate births was not uncommon. In 1866 Dr Haydon attended Miss Frost of Luscombe Farm in this connection and in 1889 Dr Goodwyn was involved when a newborn baby drowned in the River Bovey and her mother, a domestic servant, was accused of its deliberate death.42

Victorian transport certainly had its dangers. It is hard for us to imagine that a vehicle going at six miles an hour could be a danger but in 1882 Dr Hodson was involved in a minor legal dispute. He had been driving a horse and carriage on the Bovey Tracey to Haytor road and a traction engine owned by the Haytor Mining Company travelling at six miles per hour would not stop.43 In 1901 George Martin Dodd of East Street, coachman for John Beer of the Railway Hotel, was sent to fetch Mr Hussey and his party from Southcott Farm. He was driving a pair of horses and a large wagonette. George was instructed to return to Bovey via Deal farm instead of the main road, but en route, the horses bolted, the driver fell off, the wagonette overturned and Mr Hussey of Torquay later died from pneumonia following the accident.44



This has been a snapshot of some of the health provision in Victorian Bovey Tracey. It was the time when the borough was developing and wishing to provide medical support to those who needed it. Concerns were developing about healthy air and sanitary conditions but it was not until more centralised government was developed that major improvements could be achieved. Nonetheless the vision of local residents, doctors and clergy helped their neighbours towards improved standards of living.


  1. Closure of Bovey Tracey Hospital 14 April 2007 www. accessed 18 May 2017.
  2. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 2 April 1931, p.16, Bovey Tracey and District Cottage Hospital annual committee report secretary Mr. Wreford, noted that Mrs Trelawney had donated the land for a new hospital to be built, and funds included £1,000 donation from Miss Wills of Haytor, Mrs Croker’s legacy of war bonds, together with subscriptions and gifts.
  3. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 2 December 1919, p.13.
  4. The Western Morning News, 15 April 1871, p.2.
  5. The National Archives 1871 Census accessed 5 May 2017.
  6. The Western Times 12 May 1876, p.7.
  7. The Medical Directory 1870426. accessed 19 May 2107.
  8. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 3 February 1871, p.3, Dawlish; Exeter Flying Post 22 March 1871, p.7, Chumleigh; Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 26 September 1873, p.8, Sidmouth are some examples of the establishment of cottage hospitals in Devon.
  9. The Globe 6 June 1849, p3.
  10. Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette 13 November 1851, p.2; The Western Courier 22 June 1853, p.8.
  11. The Western Times 21 June 1862, p.9.
  12. Valerie Bonham,1992. A place In Life: The Clewer House of Mercy 1849-83. (Reading, Herts., Valerie Bonham) p.201.
  13. Barry Jervis, 2004. Schools, in Kennedy, Victoria, The Bovey Book (Bovey Tracey, Cottage Publishing), p.93.
  14. The Western Times 29 September 1871, p.7.
  15. April Marjoram, 2016. Edward Divett M.P. and the Bystock Estate, in Rep. Trans. Devon. Assoc. Advmt Sci.,148, 165-190, pp. 177, 180.
  16. The National Archives 1871 Census accessed 19 May 2017
  17. Veronica Kennedy, undated, circa 2004. St Mary’s Bovey Tracey. Pamphlet, Bovey Tracey Heritage Trust.
  18. The Western Morning News 30 June 1875, p3.
  19. The Western Times 5 April 1872, p. 8.
  20. The Western Times 17 April 1874, p.8; Frances Billinge, 2014. The Management of Water in the Historic Borough of Bovey Tracey in Rep.Trans. Devon.Assoc. Admt Sci., 146, 83-102,p. 98.
  21. The Western Times 29 January 1875, p.7.
  22. The Western Times 21 January 1876, p.5.
  23. William White, 1878-9. History Gazeteer and Directory of the County of Devon, 1878-9. (William White, London) p.167.
  24. The National Archives 1881 Census accessed 21 may 2107.
  25. The National Archives 1891 Census accessed 21 May 2107.
  26. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 8 November 1935, p.14.
  27. The Western Times 15 March 1907, p.11;
  28. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 1 December 1910, p.2.
  29. The National Archives 1911 Census accessed 21 may 2107.
  30. The Western Times 1 September 1912, p.14 carnival collection for the hospital and Bovey Tracey Nursing Association.
  31. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 9 May 1913, p.6.
  32. The Western Times 20 March 1914, p. 14.
  33. The Western Times 2 July 1853, p.1; Exeter Flying Post 17 May 1855, p.1.
  34. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 15 January 1864, p.6.
  35. Exeter Flying Post 11 April 1877, p.7.
  36. The Western Times 5 March 1902, p.2 ; East & South Devon Advertiser 8 March 1902, p.4, Newton Abbot Petty Sessions.
  37. East & South Devon Advertiser 20 February 1909, p.5.
  38. Various references in The Western Times and the East and South Devon Advertiser accessed 19 May 2017.
  39. Kelly’s Directory of Devonshire and Cornwall (London, High Holborn, Kelly and Co.),1993. Part I Devon and Localities, p.71.
  40. South Devon Gazette 13 September 1856, p.6; East and South Devon Advertiser 11 August 1883, p.83
  41. The Western Times 29 June 1888, p.8; The Western Times 15 March 1889, p.6.
  42. The Western Times 10 August 1866, p.8.; Exeter Flying Post 16 March 1889, p.6.
  43. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 15 November 1882, p.2.
  44. East and South Devon Advertiser 7 September 1901, p.5.

Frances and Malcolm Billinge 20 May 2017