Life and Death of Hawkmoor

Today it survives only as a name on a map, but in its time Hawkmoor Hospital at Bovey Tracey housed hundreds of patients.

It had two distinct lives, firstly as a chest hospital founded in 1913 to treat people with TB and then, as this awful disease became less common, as a hospital for those with mental disability.

Remote locations were often chosen as sanatoriums, the country air was cleaner than in smokey towns but there was probably also an element of not-in-my-backyard, such was the fear of infectious diseases like TB.

The buildings at Hawkmoor were extended in 1949 but with the advent of the NHS cases of TB declined.

In the 1970s its function switched to mental health and a very different congregation gathered each Sunday in the hospital chapel. In 1984 it accommodated over 100 patients many of whom had been living in instituition all their lives.

But a wind of change was blowing through the old-fashioned asylums. It was called “care in the community” and across the country the old residential mental hospitals began closing in their droves. Hawkmoor and its sister hospital at Starcross were among the first to be targeted.

By 1986, patient number were declining steeply and a closure date of December 1987 was set. When the last residents left for other instituitions or set out to begin life in the community, many for the first time, hundreds of jobs went with them.

Property prices were booming and the attractive hilltop site, within the Dartmoor National Park, was put on the market. Initial plans to convert part of the hospital for flats were dropped and instead the health authority went for wholesale demolition, with the exception of the wood-beamed 1913 chapel.

Before the bull-dozers moved in however, there was to be one last group of residents in the old hospital. New Age travellers found it and declaring themselves conservation protesters (they said there was important wildlife on the site) occupied a wing with their children. Only after a protracted legal battle did they leave.

Today Hawkmoor is gone and instead expensive detached homes occupy the site which was once a sanctuary for many thousands of patients. But at least the name survives in Hawkmoor Park, the name of the new development.

(c) 2008 Herald Express (Torquay UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.