Exe Vale Hospital, Exminster


Hospital Name: Exe Vale Hospital (Exminster Branch)
Previous Names: Devonshire County Asylum, Exminster Hospital
Location: Main Road, Exminster, Devon
Principal Architect: Charles Fowler, later H.W. Farley and Edward Hall Harbottle
Layout: Radial plan
Status: Mostly converted to residential
Opened: 22 July 1845
Closed: July 1986


Construction of a pauper lunatic asylum for the county of Devon commenced in 1842 to the specifications of Charles Fowler, a local architect best known for his work at Covent Garden market, London.

Fowler’s design at Exminster acknowledged the faults observed at preceding asylums, most reputedly those of Cornwall and Middlesex county asylums which were both based upon plans which focused upon one or more observational hubs. By combining the principles of observational convenience of the radial plan with the greater flexibility of a corridor asylum plan, the resultant layout comprised of six blocks radiating from a semi circular linking section. Within the centre of this area stood a central kitchen and the administrative block known as ‘centre house’. At each end of the corridor stood service areas relative to the gender of the population on that side of the asylum.

The design enabled improved accessibility by comparison with the sprawling complex at Hanwell, Middlesex whilst avoiding some of the congestion of buildings at the central hub at Bodmin. Areas between each of the wings formed airing courts for the exercise of the inmates and shelters were provided, of which one survives.

For all its size and improvements over its predecessors the asylum outgrew its available space and additions became necessary. These proved difficult to incorporate conveniently into the existing plan and took the form of additional storeys over the projecting sections of the semi circular block and adjacent service buildings.

Further extensions resulted in ad-hoc extensions to the radial blocks which gradually disfigured the original plan.

During 1877 a new Chapel by architect Joseph Neale was erected adjacent to the main driveway enabling re-utilisation of the space in the main building.

By 1889 construction of an annexe on higher ground adjacent to the hospital farm had proved necessary. Between 1893-1906, this was substantially extended and linked to the rear of the main building and became known as the West wing. These developments under successive county surveyors, H.W. Farley and Edward Hall Harbottle also incorporated improvements to the main building including a new laundry and engine house. Bay windows were added to four of the six radiating blocks in 1892 and the superintendents residence was relocated from Centre house to the main drive in 1900. A residence for the Clerk of works, Glenlyn, was constructed opposite in 1925.

In 1932 a substantial new nurses’ home was constructed behind the burial ground and a further staff residence, Merthyr, built on the main driveway, both to the designs of county architect, Percy Morris.

After World War II, Exminster mental hospital, along with other mental hospitals around Exeter, were incorporated into the National Health Service.

Developments to integrate services between mental illness services in the Exeter area led to the merger of Exminster, Digby and Wonford house sites as Exe Vale hospital. Long stay and elderly facilities were concentrated at Exminster and Digby whilst Wonford house, whose grounds provided the site for the new Royal Devon and Exeter hospital took on acute services.

In July 1986, the Exminster site was the first of the former county mental hospitals to close in England under the National Health Service. The Digby site remained open for another year after which time the surviving contingent of Exe Vale hospital, Wonford house, was absorbed as the psychiatric unit of the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital.

After closure, the hospital remained empty and derelict for many years resulting in the demolition of most of the later additions and the west wing. The main building, farm house, lodges and nurses’ home were eventually sympathetically restored as residential accomodation. The staff residences on the main driveway, Glenlyn and Merthyr, had been utilised for the resettlement of former patients but were disposed of between 2010-12.

External Photos

Internal Photos

We have no internal photos of this hospital.



Records for the hospital are currently held with the Devon Archives: https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/a/A13531184

Additional useful links:

Admissions Registers 1845-1916


Patients were buried in three different sites during the period of the hospitals lifespan.

Earlier burials (up to 1946) were at St Martin’s Church Graveyard

The Hospitals own onsite cemetery then was used for the vast majority of burials between 1846 and 1962

Post 1962 burials were at Exminster Parish Cemetery

A list of burials can be found here: Burial Registers 1845-1982


'Exe Vale Hospital 1948-1974' by E.D. Irvine
‘Exe Vale Hospital 1948-1974’ by E.D. Irvine


Ground Floor Plan – With Thanks to J. Ellis

Plan of site
Plan of site
Aerial view of site prior to closure
Aerial view of site prior to closure


2 responses to “Exminster”

  1. hi my name is Kerry spacey was stent ,I wonder if you can help please I’m doing my family tree and came across a uncle, whom was buried at Devon county asylum .
    his name is William j William J Bamsey navy/coach guard
    BIRTH ABT 1840 • Woodbury, Devon, England

    DEATH ABT NOV 1913 • Exminster, Devon County Asylum Cemetery, Devon, England
    I just wanted to know if you have anything on him please as I live in Bedfordshire and cant get to Devon

    • Hi Kerry, if you look at the ‘records’ section of this website https://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/DEV/AsylumBurials you will see a link to burial records. From there, search on the A-Z index for the asylum cemetery and you will see William Bamsey listed. He was buried on 24 December 1913. The admission records are also there. These show that William was admitted on 5 April 1913, and his previous abode was Milton House, North St, Withycombe.

      I visited Exminster a few years back because I wanted to see where my great-grandmother had lived towards the end of her life. She, too, died there and is buried in the asylum cemetery. It’s just an open plot – there are almost no headstones to mark all the hundreds of patients buried there. I think the handful that are there are probably for staff and not patients.

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