Moorhaven Village, Devon, (formerly Plymouth Borough Asylum)

Moorhaven Hospital by Nick photographed in July 2012, detail of the water tower. Image is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Via twitter, an article caught my eye that appeared in The Telegraph on the former Plymouth Borough Asylum, latterly Moorhaven Hospital and now a housing estate called Moorhaven Village.

Ugborough, Moorhaven Village, photographed in 2010 © Copyright Martin Bodman and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The hospital closed in 1992, ninety-nine years after it had first opened to receive patients. It was sold in 1994 and some four years 120 homes had been created from the old buildings. The project was praised by SAVE Britain’s Heritage as a model of property enterprise and preservation. Jonathan Mathys and Andrea Peacock carried out the development, having already converted a convent and an abbey. They were guided by different principles from most commercial building developers, aiming to save and restore the historic fabric and create desirable homes. The central range of the hospital was turned into terraced housing, and the water tower has become a detached house, with one room per floor, the bedrooms occupying the lower floors and the reception rooms the upper floors, making the most of the views.

The former hospital, Moorhaven, Bittaford, photographed in 2010 © Copyright Ruth Sharville and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The conversion stands out amongst many former asylum site redevelopments where the original buildings have been less respectfully dealt with, if not entirely demolished. Somerset County Asylum, later Tone Vale Hospital, in Taunton, for example, was largely demolished to make way for the housing development there in 1995, while St Lawrence’s in Bodmin was pulled down in 2014.

Moorhaven Village, photographed in 2009 © Copyright Guy Wareham and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

A competition was held for the design in 1886, and it was the local firm of J. Hine and Odgers, placed third in the competition, that was given the commission (their design was the least costly). James Hine was the cousin of George Hine, one of the most prolific asylum designers in England.


Above is the plan of the asylum published in 1890

Plymouth Borough Asylum was built in 1888-91, initially for 200 patients, later expanded to twice that number. It is a good example of a small echelon-plan asylum, where the patients’ accommodation was arranged in an arrow or echelon formation, here in a flattened form. The random rubble walls make it rather more attractive than some of the plain brick versions built around this time.

 In 1901 Hine and Odgers were recalled to design extensions including a new wing on the male side, commenced in 1903, a second storey on each side, an isolation hospital and an extension to the administrative section. The British Architect reported in June 1906 that recent additions and improvements had quite altered the appearance of the institution. This may have been because the additions were of brick rather than stone – constructed with hollow walls, Pinhoe bricks were used for the facings. Two wards were added to either side of the main block providing additional accommodation for 110 females and 90 males. Each ward contained associated dormitories, day rooms, single rooms, attendants rooms, store rooms ward scullery and larder with bathrooms, lavatory and sanitary arrangements separated from the main buildings by cross-ventilated lobbies.

Later alterations on the site included, in 1912, additions to the farm buildings, TB shelters in the early 1920s, a nurses home, designed by J. Wibberley in 1929, and an admission hospital c.1932, also by Wibberley. In 1936 two detached villas for convalescent patients were built and a house for the medical superintendent.

Sources and further reading: Historic England Archives, file NBR No. 100330: Bridget Franklyn ‘Monument to madness the rehabilitation of the Victorian Lunatic Asylum’ in the Journal of architectural Conservation Nov 2002, pp.24-39: