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                                             Health and Disease


Plague is a disease is caused by a bacterium usually found in small animals and their fleas. Untreated, 30%-60% of people who become infected die; it has been responsible for several pandemics throughout history, of which the Black Death in the 14th century was one. Bubonic plague, where the lymph nodes become swollen (forming 'buboes') is the most common form. - Accessed 16-05-2016

The Black Death spread throughout Europe between circa 1346-53.

The average number of vicars 'instituted' in the Exeter diocese because of death or resignation was usually 36 a year - in April 1349 alone there were 53.

John de Undele had been vicar of Ashburton since 1335, but he was succeeded in 1348 by David Penylis, who died just before Christmas. Richard Yurl was instituted on January 1st, but Thomas de Botercombe was instituted only ten days later.

Preface to The Register of John de Grandisson, Bishop of Exeter, the Rev F C Hingeston-Randolph, London 1899, p lxxxvii - Accessed 06-10-2016

'The lands with which this chapel [St Lawrence] were endowed were valued in the reign of Edward VI at 10l 15s 8d per annum. The overplus was appropriated to the maintenance and reparation of leaden pipes "for the conduction of holsome water for the relief of the infected when the plague should be at Ashburton, that they might not infect others."

'Chantry Roll in the Augmentation Office, quoted by Daniel and Samuel Lysons in Magna Britannia, London 1822, p13

'The family of Fabyan was one of some position in Ashburton, and was resident there for a considerable period.
In 1625* Ashburton was visited with an outbreak of plague, and the registers record the deaths of no less than seven members of this family in four months.
February 16th A servant of John Fabyan
March 14th The Master John Fabyan
April 9th Samuel son of Nicholas Fabyan
April 13th Margaret Fabyan
April 16th Mary Fabyan
April 21st Grace Fabyan
May 5th Philip Fabyan.'
Edward Windeatt, Early Nonconformity in Ashburton, Transactions of the Devonshire Association vol. 28,1896, p234ff
*Old calendar - we would say 1626. In the parish registers John appears as Johes, Margaret as Margaretta, Mary as Maria and Grace as Gracia. The surname appears as Fabia/Fabian
Parish registers

July 29th 1626 'Plymouth,  Ashburton and Okehampton very much infected with the plague. Exeter is reasonably clear.'

Calendar of State Papers Domestic, Charles I, 1625-1626, ed John Bruce, vol 32, London 1858, pp 380-392

During Charles I's reign (1625 -1649) 'the plague appears to have pressed very heavily upon the county at frequent intervals.........The regular course seems to have been to shut up in their own houses persons who were either infected, or had been in the company of infected people, and thus to try and isolate the disease. As such persons could not follow their usual avocations, some small weekly pittance was allowed for their support, and a rate for this purpose was levied upon the adjoining hundred.........Totnes, Ashburton, Buckland and North Bovey had £150 between them'.

Quarter Sessions from Queen Elizabeth to Queen Anne, A H A Hamilton,1878, pp105,106

Paul Slack has calculated that between August 1625 and July 1626 there were 388 burials in Ashburton - against an average of 47 at the time*.   The impact of plague in Tudor and Stuart England, Paul Slack, publ Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985, p90 

 *Other figures are given elsewhere, possibly because of the dates chosen for the calculation

Above: 17th century plague doctor.
Image no L0025221 from the Wellcome Library, London. Many thanks to the Wellcome Library, London, which kindly allows images from its Digital Gallery to be used under this Creative Commons License for educational and non-commercial purposes.
The parish records show the number of burials per day building up through March and April 1626 - sometimes five or six a day.

Parish records.


'In England, in 1643 a malignant fever was epidemic and few escaped. In autumn, it put on pestilential symptoms and petechiae...'
Webster, Noah, A Brief History of Epidemic and Pestilential Diseases, with the principal phenomena of the physical World, which Precede and Accompany them, and Observations deduced from the Facts Stated: in two volumes, 1758-1843, p187

Something was certainly going on in Ashburton in 1643.
In May of that year there were 10 burials in the parish; in June only 5. Six people were buried in July, but fourteen in August. There were 40 burials in September, and 35 in October - seven of these were on one day. 17 people were buried in November, and by December numbers were back to a more normal 7.
Large numbers of the dead were children or young people - the parish register entries note 'filius' or 'filia' ('son of' and 'daughter of').
Parish records
Many thanks to Annie Pomeroy for pointing out the above information

In the List of Famines and Pestilences in England, originally compiled by David Wragg, 1643 is noted for 'War - thyphus, spotted fever or "new disease", epidemics of "hot ague" '

1643 was near the beginning of the Civil War (1642 - 1651), and according to the British Civil Wars project, by May 1643 most of the West Country was in Royalist hands. Bristol was captured at the end of July, and Exeter and Dartmouth followed, but Prince Maurice failed to secure Plymouth at the end of the year.

So there were troop movements and fighting in the south west throughout the year. Civilian towns and villages would have been expected to supply men to join both armies, and to give food and accommodation to soldiers who were already weakened by the rigours of a cramped and unhygienic camp life. Any disease that these men brought with them was introduced into communities stressed by the war and its demands.

'Camp fever' is synonymous with typhus. It was in Oxford in 1643, where Edward Greaves wrote a pamphlet, Morbus Epidemius Anni 1643 on 'the new disease most contagious'.
There was an outbreak in Tiverton in 1644.
George Childs Kohn, Ed., Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence, New York, 2008, p404

'Ague - an intermitting fever, with cold fits suceeded by hot'
John Walker, A Critical Pronouncing Dictionary and Expositor of the English Language, London, 1818

'Spring agues are, in general, less severe and obstinate, and less liable to be followed by dangerous consequences than the autumnal...'
Thomas John Graham MD, Modern Domestic Medicine, London 1827, p193ff


There was an influenza outbreak in England in 1775. Dr Thomas Glass, of Exeter, wrote: '...from the 8th of November the number of people [in Exeter] who were continually coughing increased so fast that it was soon evident the epidemical colds, which began in London, as we were informed by the public papers, more than a week before, had reached us....On the 11th or 12th of November it made its appearance in the Devon and Exeter Hospital, and within a week seized 173 persons, being all the servants and patients then in the house, except two children; 162 of them were coughing together...two or three days after the hospital had been attacked, the city workhouse was visited by them; of near 200 poor people, who are in this house, but few escaped; all the others were complaining at the same time.
From Exeter the disease travelled towards Cornwall; about the 13th of November it arrived at Okehampton and Ashburton, and about the 15th at Plymouth.'
Theophilus Thompson, ed., Annals of Influenza in Great Britain from 1510-1837, London, 1852, p96ff


1799 Sarah Clarke, one ticket to have a child inoculated.
John Trott, 2 children inoculated.
Overseers Application Books, quoted on - accessed 24-06-2023

It looks as though tickets were issued by the overseers, guaranteeing payment to a medical practitioner.
One of the duties of a District Medical Officer was 'on the exhibition of a ticket, according to Art. 76 and on application made on behalf of the party to whom such ticket was given, to afford such medical attendance and medicines as he would be bound to supply if he had received in each case an order from the guardians to afford such attendance and medicines.'
John Frederick Archbold, The Parish Officer Comprising the Whole of the Present Law Relating to the Parish and Union Officers, London 1858, p366

                                      Researches into longevity
In the early 1800s Sir John Sinclair wrote on health and longevity, and in one essay used tables that a Dr Robertson had constructed using information on Chelsea pensioners. The pensioners, aged 80 and over, were asked a series of questions about their background, general health and habits.
One of these pensioners was Frederick Hussey, 87, who had been born in Ashburton and had been in the king's service for twenty years. Frederick's family had not been particularly long lived; Frederick himself, married for forty years, had mostly lived in a warm climate. He drank and chewed tobacco freely; he was very dim sighted, had a bad memory, and bad teeth.
Sir John Sinclair, An Essay on Longevity, 1802, p32
Sir John Sinclair, The Code of Health and Longevity, vol 2, Edinburgh, 1807, p167



'Cholera - A very fatal epidemic disease, characterised by excessive vomiting and purging, with cramps and great prostration. '

From: Hadden's pocket vocabulary of medical terms, for the use of Registrars, Poor Law officials, etc

Henry Payne M.D., Hadden, Best and Co., London 2nd edition 1892


Cholera, a water-borne disease, did not appear in England until 1831, but worldwide there were 8 pandemics between 1817 and 1902.

John Snow, a major force in identifying the cause and spread of the disease,  reported on 'the mixture of cholera evacuations with the water used for drinking and culinary purposes, either by permeating the ground and getting into wells,or by running along channels and sewers into the rivers from which entire towns are sometimes supplied with water'.

Disease and history, Frederick F Cartwright and Michael D Biddiss, Dorset Press, New York, 1972  pp 158,160                            

Left: Washing cholera clothes in Exeter

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Many thanks to the Wellcome Library, London, which kindly allows images from its Digital Gallery to be used under this Creative Commons License for educational and non-commercial purposes.

From: The history of cholera in Exeter in 1832, Thomas Shapter, publ J Churchill, London, 1849


Ashburton, September 1st 1832 John Elliott, a baker aged 67, died of cholera.

In 1832 46 persons were 'taken off' in the space of a month: this was followed by Board of Health regulations, apparently effectively enforced.

In October of that year the Cheltenham Gazette reported that the progress of the disease had been virtually stopped in Ashburton by scattering lime in the streets and burning tar barrels

Data extracted from Ashburton burials 1813-1837, Devon Family History Society 1997

North Devon Journal 13 Sept 1832 p3 col3

Cheltenham Gazette 18 Sept 1832, quoted in

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 6 October 1832 p4 col3

At a public meeting in Exeter in 1846, the subject of water and sewerage was on the agenda. The question of what to do with sewerage after it had passed through any pipes seemed to have been solved by places as diverse as Edinburgh, Crediton and Ashburton, where waste was distributed over a large section of land, and made valuable manure.

Western Times 5 December 1846 p6 col1

In 1849 it was reported that Ashburton, with a population of 4000, was still free from the cholera, 'through the goodness of the Almighty'. 
And in 1853 it was announced that during the last epidemic, not a single case was reported in Ashburton

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 6 October 1849 p5 col5
Western Times10 November 1849 p7 col6
Western Times 24 September 1853 p7 col4

However in 1854 Mr. Hele, the medical officer, reported to the Board of Guardians that many people in Ashburton had diarrhoea. As there was cholera in London he suggested that the Board looked at the cleanliness in tenements and back premises, where there was poor drainage and little water.
Western Times 19 August 1854 p6 col2

A month later a correspondent to the same newspaper claimed that it was a 'monstrous absurdity' that sewers were being cut in the town, without sufficient water to flush them through, especially as cholera was advancing through the country.

Western Times 2 September 1854 p7 col6

In 1866 a travelling woman attending Ashburton fair was diagnosed with cholera by Dr MacGill.
Western Times 17 August 1866 p8 col1




December 1867 The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette reported that smallpox was still active in Ashburton, but patients were recovering.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 27 December 1867 p7 col2


 In 1843 a Mr Coles, 'Surgeon-dentist' based at Plymouth, could be consulted at Ashburton on the first Tuesday of every month from 11 until 4.

By 1870 Mr D M Ching, also a surgeon dentist, was offering a similar service. Also based at Plymouth, he could be consulted on the third Saturday in each month, at Mr Giles, East Street. Artificial teeth cost from 5s each - a complete set was £3 3s.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 3 June 1843 p2 col6

Totnes Weekly Times, 30 July 1870, p1col1



1863. George Yolland, the only son of George Wills Yolland, died from lockjaw after an accident on his uncle's farm. He had accompanied his uncle, James Hext, of Hallsworthy Farm, Staverton, whilst hedge trimming -   he got too close to the hook and one finger was severed, and others lacerated. Dr W S Gervis attended to him at Ashburton, but some time later the child developed the symptoms of tetanus. He died the following day.
Exeter Flying Post 12 August 1863, p7 col6

The 1861 census shows George, aged 5, living in North St with his father, chemist and druggist George Wills Yolland

Dr Armstrong, the Medical Officer for the Newton Rural Sanitary Authority, gave his quarterly report at the October meeting in 1875. Mortality had increased in Ashburton, but that was due solely to an outbreak of scarlet fever, which had probably spread from Buckfastleigh. It arrived in a mild form in September, but there were 9 deaths before the end of the month - recently there had been two more. Hand-bills had been distributed to all public schools in the district, warning parents of this highly contagious disease.
East and South Devon Advertiser, 30 October 1875, p5 col5


In 1877 Charles Joint, aged 16, died of hydrophobia. He had been bitten on the hand by a dog, but experienced no symptoms at first. Then his hand and arm became numb, and soon he was in 'paroxysms of pain' before his death. It was the second case in the county.
Western Morning News 14 September 1877 p3 col2


1898. Kate Bowers, aged 40, was a cook for Miss F Tozer at Priestaford House. In December 1898 she took a message to William Henry Morish, the coachman, who noticed that she had mud on her dress; she said that she had fallen coming up the steps to the yard, and had knocked her head. Returning to the house she told fellow servant Annie Murch that she had had a bad fall, and she went to lie down on her bed. Annie said that Kate was giddy and sick when she checked on her, and two and a half hours after the accident she found her on the floor unconscious. Miss Tozer was no longer at home, so the servant called for help, and Dr Wilcox arrived in half an hour. Kate died about 10 minutes later, and in the doctor's opinion death was caused by the blow on the head compressing the brain.
The inquest took place at Priestaford House, and the Coroner praised the actions of Annie Murch, saying that she had behaved well 'under very trying circumstances for a young girl.'
Totnes Weekly Times 17 December 1898, p8 col2


Mary Jane Salter, wife of Francis, died in August 1903, aged 66. She had been district nurse for 11 years.
Western Times 5 August 1903, p1 col1

The dogs' trough in the Bullring was causing concern in 1941, because children were getting onto their hands and knees and drinking from it. The Medical Officer, Dr R G Hall, said that there were 'grave objections' to using a metal cup, and the Public Health Committee was asked to consider providing drinking water via a jet.
Western Morning News 10 December 1941, p3 col5


                                             A Cure for Everything

In the early 1800s a James Morison, 'Hygiest', created a vegetable universal pill to cure all ills: consumption, nervous complaints, ossification of the heart, hooping cough, vomiting etc. etc. The 'British College of Health' which features in the title of his book was Morison's own creation: 'One of the cleverest things he ever did' according to John Malcolm Bulloch.
Mr John Lopus was the Ashburton agent.
Morisoniana, or Family Advisor for the British College of Health, London 1831, p589

John Malcolm Bulloch, the Centenary of James Morison the 'Hygiest', 1925, quoted in - Accessed 8-05-2016
Above: Part of the title page of Morisoniana
At the end of the 19th century Sequoia, a medicine man, visited Ashburton in a low open carriage, which he parked at the Bull Ring. He sold liniments for complaints such as rheumatism, and would pull out teeth. 'I have seen Sequoia extract teeth from a man's mouth by the pull of his fingers alone and fling the offending tooth right over the heads of the crowd in delight'.
Prof John Satterley, Ashburton in Late Victorian Days, Transactions of the Devonshire Association, vol 84, Torquay 1952, p46

*                                              The Mortuary                                                *
At the Urban District Council meeting in July 1900 Mr Foot presented an estimate of £11 for fitting up a mortuary at the end of the gas works stores in Ladwell Orchard. The Council ordered the work to be carried out.
Totnes Times and Devon News 14 July 1900, p7 col5

In August the Gas Committee of the Urban District Council stated that £2 per annum was to be paid to the Gas Revenue Account as rent for the mortuary erected on part of the Gas Works freehold.
Totnes Times and Devon News 11 August 1900, p6 col3

Plans for a mortuary at the Cottage Hospital were approved by the Urban District Council in 1913.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 6 Jan 1913, p3 col5

In 1930 Ashburton Urban District Council discussed making other local authorities pay to use the Ashburton mortuary. Mr J H Pomroy said that he did not see why Ashburton should provide a mortuary for other districts. It was agreed that the Public Health Committee should look into the question and draw up a scale of charges.
Western Times 12 September 1930, p6 col 1
Above: The old mortuary, at the bottom of St Lawrence Lane/Chuley Road.
My own photograph 2024


                             Ashburton and Buckfastleigh Cottage Hospital

In Victorian times if you were ill and wealthy you paid for a doctor to see you in your own home. If you were ill and poor you treated yourself - or attended a charitable hospital or a workhouse infirmary if you were seriously ill.


Below and below right: doctors' invoices for 'attendance and medicine' for Mr George Yolland and Mrs Yolland.

In 1872 the doctor is W S Gervis; in 1881 the doctors are Gervis and Fraser.

In August 1875 a meeting in the Town Hall recognized that the better off in the community 'were all bound to do what good they could to their poorer neighbours', and resolved to build a Cottage Hospital in the town.

Western Times 31 August 1875 p8 col6

At the initial meeting were, amongst others:

B J P Bastard

D R Scratton

T H Firth

Rev J Gill (Holne)

Rev P Jackson (Leusdon)

Rev J W Lay

Dr Adams


Dr Johnson

Sir R Torrens

Major Tucker

Capt Lloyd

Capt Brooman

Capt. Stone

P F S Amery

P S Amery

Western Times 31 August 1875 p8 col6

By February 1876 a hospital was opened at Greenaway Lodge in Church Lane, near the Railway Station. Owned by Mr Mann jnr., the house was turned into a hospital with two beds in a ward on the first floor for male patients, with a similar ward for female patients above that. 'Each ward is very neatly and comfortably furnished' - and that included counterpanes on the beds with passages of scripture worked on them.
Right: Greenaway Lodge - the original hospital.
My own photograph 2013

Rural Sanitary Authority 1877

'Ashburton exhibits the remarkably low mortality of less than 8 per 1000.....'

Western Times 24 April 1877 p7 col1


The medical officers were:

Mr Ubsdell

The 1881 census shows Henry Ubsdell, a 42 year old General Practitioner, living in Market Street, Buckfastleigh. Unmarried, he was born in Middlesex.

1881 census RG11, Piece 2177, Folio 62, p21

Dr Johnson

Dr Adams

Probably the James Adams of the 1881 census, 31 at that time and living in East Street

1881 census RG11 Piece 2161, Folio 23, p2

As to the nurses required, several local advertisements at this time seek 'a middle aged woman' for the post.

Exeter & Plymouth Gazette 17 February 1876 p 4 col1

and Exeter & Plymouth Gazette 20 May 1876 p 2 col1

Thanks to Hazel Bray for information on the name of the hospital

1878 Mrs Christiana Daw is matron of the Ashburton and Buckfastleigh Cottage Hospital, Church Lane

(Mrs Christian Daw in another entry on the same page).

White's History, Gazetteer and Directory of Devon, 1878-79, p108


 In 1880 a new entrance to the hospital from the Station was made, giving patients a better view, and also allowing passengers on the train to see the hospital - presumably beneficial for fund-raising. It also allowed vehicles to stop near the door.

Western Times 1 June 1880 p5 col5


The 1881 census shows Clara Walters as the hospital nurse and matron at the Church Lane premises (, assisted by a servant, Mary Bickford.

There are 4 patients:

Edward Willis

James Townsend

John Halse

Eliza Coutier


In 1886 the hospital committee decided to erect a new hospital - it seemed a fitting commemoration of Queen Victoria's forthcoming [golden] jubilee. Mr R G Abraham offered to give half an acre of land near Leny Water in Eastern Road for the purpose, and by February 1887 over £1043 had been raised towards the building costs. 
Western Times 1 February 1887 p7 col5
Western Times 11 April 1887 p4 col3 
The Builder described the premises as having a frontage of 100ft, with a depth of 50ft in the centre, but less depth in the wings, which were only one storey high. Ventilation and sanitary matters were to have special attention.
There were to be 4 wards, all on the ground floor, two being large, and two small. The larger wards were to be 13ft 6in high, and would contain 4 beds. The smaller wards were to be 10ft high. The matron's apartments were to be either side of the entrance. Next to these rooms were to be small wards for special cases. The operating room was to be at the rear, with a bathroom nearby. The kitchen and laundry room was to be at the very back.
The second floor was for committee rooms and servants' apartments.
The contract for building the hospital had been awarded to Hurrell and Roberts, of Plymouth, for the sum of £1240. The architect was Mr P E Masey, of Old Bond Street, London.
The Builder, 1887, vol 53, p443

Hazel Bray remembers her father telling her of the procession that made its way from the old hospital to the new, which was opened by Lord Clinton in August 1889. The situation was, reported The Exeter Flying Post  ' in every way suited for a cottage hospital, alike by its aspect, approach,  elevation and healthy soil'
Exeter Flying Post 17 August 1889 p6 col5

                                 Some patients at the Cottage Hospital

Thomas Smerdon, an 'elderly labourer', employed at Horsehill Farm.

One rib and shoulder bone broken, plus a scalp wound, after being dragged by a horse. 

Western Times 16 June1884 p2 col1


John Michelmore of Brixham, employed at the paint works near Gulwell Bridge.

Right leg amputated after he became entangled in machinery

Western Times 8 September 1885 p3 col5


The son of Mr G Pitts (butcher) broke both bones in his right leg whilst playing football, and was taken to the Hospital

Western Times 28 March 1894 p4 col3

In 1901  two sons of R B Joint, mason, died in the Cottage Hospital. They had contracted scarlet fever 5 weeks earlier, but had appeared to recover. Dr Rawson attended them both when they became ill again, and had them moved to the hospital, where they died the same day. They were aged 8 and 9.

Western Morning News 9 October 1901, p6 col5                 

A son of Mr W. Yeo of the Engineer Arms Inn.

Following boys on the Terrace Walk, hit in the back with a large stone which rendered him senseless.

Attended to at the hospital by Dr Fitzpatrick.

Western Times 14 April 1906 p3 col7


William Furze, employed by Mr J Smerdon at Gaye's Farm.

Severely cut his arm whilst pruning a hedge.

Western Times 25 May 1906 p3 col7


Henry F Prout, employed by Mr G Allen of Wickeridge House, Woodland.

Seriously injured his back when a barrel of oil fell on him at the goods shed of the Railway Station.

Exeter & Plymouth Gazette14 August 1908 p3 col6


Peter Foot of Widecombe in the Moor.

Thrown from a horse at Great Bridge. In a critical condition at the time of the newspaper report.

Exeter & Plymouth Gazette1 June 1912 p3 col4


Sadly the hospital could not help everyone:

George Henry Hamlyn, son of William Henry Hamlyn, of Hannaford's Court, Ashburton.

Hit by a motor car and taken to the Cottage Hospital, but he was dead on arrival.

Western Times 31 March 1923 p3 col5


In 1891 Margaret Mary Ayres is the 'Matron nurse' of the new premises.(                

Left: The Cottage Hospital
From my own collection

The servant is Sarah Ann Petherbridge, and there are 6 patients:

Samuel Lear
Samuel Waldron
Walter Alma Butland
Ernest Furse
Elizabeth Jane White
Fanny Henrietta Hannaford

The 10 bed hospital was described by Kelly's Directory as 'Well supplied by subscriptions'. It was also endowed by bequests from Mrs Larpent and Miss Michelmore

Kelly's Directory of Devonshire 1902, p30

Medical Offiers at the Hospital in 1902, from Kelly's Directory of Devonshire  1902 p32:

Henry Ubsdell

Wilson Ranson

In 1901 30 year old Wilson Ranson was living in East Street. Born in Norwich(?), Norfolk the entry appears to read 'surgeon'.

1901 census RG13, Piece 2053, Folio 39, p9

John William Wyncoll

In 1901 38 year old John W. Wyncoll was living in Plymouth Road, Buckfastleigh. Born in Halifax, Yorkshire, he was a physician and surgeon.
1901 census RG13, Piece 2074, Folio 46, p4

Ernest Wilcox
In 1901 44 year old Ernest Wilcox was living in West Street, near to Sparnham. Born in St. Neots, Huntingdonshire, he was a surgeon and general practitioner.
1901 census RG13, Piece 2053, Folio 21, p8

Miss M G Somers-James, Matron nurse

In 1901 Mary G. S.James is shown at the Cottage Hospital, a 29 year old matron. She was born in Egg Buckland, Devon.
1901 census RG13, Piece 2053, Folio 45, p21

In 1917 The British Journal of Nursing reported that Miss Amy F M Horne had been appointed as Matron. She had held posts in Kent, but had also been sister at Brixham hospital and matron of Bovey Tracey and District Hospital. 

British Journal of Nursing September 15th 1917

In 1919  Miss Jessie M. Taylor was appointed

British Journal of Nursing January 11th 1919

Miss Mary Maria Oliver died at her house in West Street in 1925, aged 82. A nurse trained at the Nightingale Home, St Thomas, London, she had been matron of the Ashburton and Buckfastleigh Cottage Hospital for 5 years. 
Western Times 24 December 1925 p5 col6

Clarice MacGregor was registered as a nurse 21st June 1929, by examination at the London Homeopathic Hospital. Her address was the Ashburton and Buckfastleigh Hospital, Ashburton.
Register of Nurses 1946, p2612. Available online through UK and Ireland, Nursing Registers 1898-1968, via

Medical Offiers at the Hospital in 1935:

D C Clark

E A Ellis

S R Williams

Miss E O Ironside

Miss B Gower, Matron

Kelly's Directory of Devonshire  1935 p33

In the early 1940s the dustbin lorry doubled as an ambulance - a section could be removed and another section inserted. When Jack Bligh, the manager of the quarry, was hit on the head by a stone, he was transported to the Cottage Hospital in this vehicle.
Remembered by Wendy Major, Jack's daughter.

In 1947 the Secretary's report stated that the trustees had purchased a quarter of an acre of land to the west of the hospital. The plan was to have enough space to build a nurses' home: 'It was felt that if there were not space for a suitable building when the Government took over it might endanger the future of the hospital'.
Western Times 28 February 1947 p8 col5

Gladys Marie Turner, whose permanent address was the Ashburton and Buckfastleigh Hospital, Ashburton, was enrolled as an assistant nurse in London on 22nd April 1949.
Assistant Nurses Enrolled 1943-49, p246. Available online through UK and Ireland, Nursing Registers 1898-1968, via

Right: 1950s. Ellen Bligh (second from right) with, I believe, Sister Elizabeth Matthews, Sylvia Allen and Eva Rowe (extreme right)
From my own collection.

One story that Ellen told was of an elderly male who died. His grieving widow insisted on retrieving his false teeth, explaining 'We share them'.

The poet Stevie Smith (Florence Margaret Smith) died of a brain tumour in Ashburton Hospital in March 1971. She had been born in Hull in 1902, later moving to London, but towards the end of her life she spent a lot of time with her sister, who lived in the area. Her best known poem is 'Not Waving but Drowning.'


                                               Visiting the doctor 

'(In the 1920s) there were two doctors in the town, one at the top of East Street, and the other better known in West Street, opposite the parish church. Dr Ellis, who was our doctor, was a tall, thin, austere looking man who presided in the surgery in West Street. I learnt from him at a very early age not to judge by appearances. I was taken to visit him one evening by my mother for some minor complaint. We entered by the double doors and walked over the paved courtyard to the entrance. Emerging was a young woman with a baby in a pram and two young children holding her skirts. When we saw the doctor my mother asked him how such an overburdened patient would be able to pay him. "Florence", said Dr. Ellis, "come to my desk". One ledger was open and he showed her a list of names to which he added ours. "You and all the patients here will be receiving a bill from me which you will pay promptly." Bringing over another tome he said, "the patient who has just gone out will find her name here. Those people will not be receiving an account. In the fullness of time, God will repay me." A salutary lesson for a small girl to learn, but one I have never forgotten. After this encounter I watched Dr. Ellis with his elegant wife and young son at church each Sunday and felt that he must have had some special relationship with God. I even wondered if some sign would appear to acknowledge his goodness.


As well as the childhood infections of measles, mumps, whooping cough and scarlet fever, impetigo and scabies was common. Ear infections were often treated at home with old wives' remedies, and warts were charmed away.

In this period, a group of well meaning men, including my father, founded “The Hospital Scheme”. On a Friday night (the men would have been paid that day) they would go out with a notebook and a drawstring bag to collect the dues. One penny per week for a single person, two pence for a married couple and three pence for a family, irrespective of the number of children. When accidents or illness befell and the doctor pronounced “Hospital” the scheme would pay the bill – twenty five shillings a week whether it was the local hospital or the new one at Torquay, so far away. Patients who were unfortunate enough to be suffering from tuberculosis would be sent to Hawkmoor between Bovey Tracy and Morton Hampstead. Patients were conveyed to the local hospital in what I can only describe as an elongated perambulator. It had a brown canvas hood and cover and was pushed by two St John Ambulance men. It can still be seen in the St John Ambulance Hall today.


A relative being sent to Hawkmoor caused great hardship to the family as it was a difficult journey to make to visit the patients. It meant getting a bus to Bovey Tracy and then another bus to take them on the final part of the journey. Fares were not often easy to find and the lonely waits for connections to and from the hospital made a sad journey almost unbearable. Few survived tuberculosis, caused by poor housing and bad nutrition. No doubt the victim, if the breadwinner, would worry about his wife and family and how they would survive without him, but as always neighbours and friends, poor as they were, helped those more unfortunate than themselves. Adults whispered the words “tuberculosis” or” cancer” knowing they meant a death sentence to the patient.

People rallied to help each other when misfortune struck a family. Neighbours supported unfortunates who had fallen on bad times. Straw would be laid in the street outside the sick person’s home to deaden the sound of horses and carts passing up and down. Beef tea was made by those who could afford to spare meat. Shin of beef was cut up, placed in a stone jar and covered with water; the jar had a cloth tied firmly on the top. This was steeped for many hours on the top of a range. After a day and night the concoction was strained and the liquid was ready for the invalid to drink. Sadly, in most cases it proved ineffective. 

Many thanks to Hazel Bray for the above item.

Note. The National Health Service was not launched until 5 July 1948. For general archive material on its early years, see 


                                Nurses from the 1920s to the 1950s

Nellie Roselia Read was registered as a nurse in April 1924, having trained at the Norwood Cottage Hospital, London between 1914 and 1917. Her address in 1946 was 4, Dolbeare Road, Ashburton.
Register of Nurses 1946, p3403. Available online through UK and Ireland, Nursing Registers 1898-1968, via

Ethel Charlotte Barnes, of Lurgecombe, Ashburton, was registered as a nurse in November 1931. She had qualified at the West London Hospital.
Register of Nurses 1946, p193. Available online through UK and Ireland, Nursing Registers 1898-1968, via

Phyllis Baker, of Greylands, Ashburton, was registered as a nurse in June 1935. She qualified at the Middlesex Hospital, London.
Register of Nurses 1943, p132. Available online through UK and Ireland, Nursing Registers 1898-1968, via

Laura Myra Nickols, of Hebron, was registered as a nurse on 27th November 1936, by examination at the General Hospital, Weston-Super-Mare.
Register of Nurses 1946, p3013. Available online through UK and Ireland, Nursing Registers 1898-1968, via

Mary Elizabeth Whitley registered as a nurse in June 1938, having trained at St Thomas's Hospital, London. She was from Welstor, Ashburton.
Register of Nurses 1943, p3741. Available online through UK and Ireland, Nursing Registers 1898-1968, via

Elizabeth Elsie Nazer was registered as a nurse on 27th June 1941, by examination at the Bristol Royal Infirmary. She was from the Royal Oak Inn, Ashburton.
Register of Nurses 1943, p2533. Available online through UK and Ireland, Nursing Registers 1898-1968, via

Mary Kathleen Conroy was registered as a nurse in June 1943, having qualified at the Bristol Royal Hospital. Her address was 62, East Street, Ashburton.
Register of Nurses 1946. Available online through UK and Ireland, Nursing Registers 1898-1968, via

Marjorie Ash, of Belma, East Street, Ashburton, was registered as a nurse on 7th June 1945. She had qualified at the Newton Abbot Hospital and Dispensary, affiliated to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.
Register of Nurses 1946, p100. Available online through UK and Ireland, Nursing Registers 1898-1968, via

Alice Elizabeth Grubb, née Eeles, was enrolled as an assistant nurse 28th September 1945. Her address was Western Myth, Ashburton.
Assistant Nurses Enrolled 1947-48, p331. Available online through UK and Ireland, Nursing Registers 1898-1968, via

Joyce Gladys Turvey, née Fowler, of St Benet's Bowden Hill, Ashburton, was enrolled as an assistant nurse 26th April 1946.
Assistant Nurses Enrolled 1947-48, p825. Available online through UK and Ireland, Nursing Registers 1898-1968, via

Irene Isabel Sage, née Summons, was enrolled as an assistant nurse in April 1946. Her address was The Bungalow, Eastern Road, Ashburton. 
Assistant Nurses Enrolled 1947-48, p717. Available online through UK and Ireland, Nursing Registers 1898-1968, via
She was already a practising midwife - see below.

Doreen Helen Eeles, of Western Myth, Ashburton, was registered as a nurse in March 1947. She had been at the City Isolation Hospital, Plymouth, in 1946-47.
Register of Nurses 1948, p411. Available online through UK and Ireland, Nursing Registers 1898-1968, via

Annie Ryder Wilson, of the Western Infirmary, Glasgow, was registered as a nurse on 28th November 1947.
Her address was 51, East Street, Ashburton.
Register of Nurses, Royal College of Nursing, London, 1955. Available online through UK and Ireland, Nursing Registers 1898-1968, via

The UK Physiotherapy and Masseuse Registers have two entries for Ashburton in 1946.
Mrs Ruth Margaret Harris M MG ME LET was at 87 East Street.
Nancy Gray Eizatt Izat M MG ME LET was at Brookland.
CSMMG and CSP 1946


                                                        The Abbotsbury Nursing Home

The Abbotsbury Nursing Home was located at 68 East Street, and operated between at least 1941 and 1949. It seems to have been primarily (if not solely) a Home for mothers to give birth in. The location has been identified by an Ashburton resident who was born there, and the date range comes from birth announcements in the local newspapers of the time.

Left: 68 East Street.
My own photograph 2016

The story goes...
'The delivery room was on the top floor. Nurses would carry the babies down the stairs, but if the mothers needed carrying they fetched the butcher in from next door.'
Told to lady who was born at the nursing home, presumably by her mother.
William J Eales was living across the road in 1939, at no. 79. Although he described himself as a boarding house keeper, he was probably the same William J Eales who had been a butcher at no. 42 in the 1930s. See Butchers, under Banks and Businesses.
1939 register

1943. Rose Annie Westall, whose address was Abbotsbury Maternity Home, Ashburton, at 68 East Street, had enrolled in November 1920, having qualified by the CMB examination*.
The Roll of Practising Midwives 1943-44, p 480
*Central Midwives Board, set up by the Midwives Act of 1902 - accessed 23-04-2021

Bessie Evans was on the roll of practising midwives 1950-51 at 68 East Street. She had been enrolled in June 1924, passing the CMB examination.
The Roll of Practising Midwives 1950-51, p 146

Other midwives from Ashburton were: 
Mary Florence Drew enrolled as a midwife in August 1925, having passed the CMB examination. In 1950-51 she lived at 39, Westabrook Avenue, Ashburton.
The Roll of Practising Midwives 1950-51, p 132

Ellen May Cameron enrolled as a midwife in November 1928, having passed the CMB examination. She lived at 32, Station Road.
The Roll of Practising Midwives 1937-38, p 64

Edith Atkins enrolled as a midwife in May 1929, having passed the CMB examination. Her address in 1937-38 was Landour, Dolbeare Road.
The Roll of Practising Midwives 1937-38, p 12

Irene Isabel Sage enrolled as a midwife in August 1930, having passed the CMB examination. Her address was The Bungalow, East Street, Ashburton.
The Roll of Practising Midwives 1943-44

Annie Amelia Hamlyn enrolled as a midwife in November 1932, having passed the CMB examination. She lived at Sunny Gardens, Ashburton.
The Roll of Practising Midwives 1950-51, p 199

Elsie Miles enrolled as a midwife in May 1936, having passed the CMB examination. Her address was 36 East Street Ashburton.
The Roll of Practising Midwives 1937-38, p 296

Bessie Alice Brazil enrolled as a midwife in March 1943, having passed the CMB examination. Her address was 7, West Street, Ashburton. 
The Roll of Practising Midwives 1943-44, p 51

Pamela Mary Lodder was enrolled as a midwife in June 1952, having passed the CMB examination. Her address was 20, Cook's Close.
The Roll of Practising Midwives 1958-59 p 253


                                                 Animal Diseases

In 1887 Swine fever was in Widecombe and one place in Ashburton. Pigs belonging to Mr William Daw, miller, died or were culled by order of the magistrates. He lost animals worth in total about £70.
Totnes Weekly Times 8 January 1887, p2 col2