Administrative and patient records of the Royal Western Counties Hospital at Starcross are held at Exeter University Library.
For other administrative records, see 4132Z at Devon Record Office.
Printed reference: A.B. Rowland, The Royal Western Counties Hospital, 1864-1986 (1985).
A copy is held in the Westcountry Studies Library, Exeter - ref: sx362.21/KEN/ROW.
|Administrative / biographical background:
Originally known as the Western Counties Idiot Asylum, this institution opened in 1864 in a house and two acres of land at Starcross, rented from W.R. Courtenay, 11th Earl of Devon. A committee appointed to collect donations and subscriptions, and to accept patients into the asylum was chaired by the 11th Earl who was also its first president, positions he held until 1904.
By 1870 the building housed 40 residents, and an appeal for funds to build larger premises was launched. A new building, surrounded by 7 acres of grounds, was opened in June 1877. This was able to house 60 boys and 40 girls. Further additions were built between 1886 and 1909, and by 1913 a total of 1,451 patients had been admitted to the institution. In 1914, the asylum was incoporated under the Companies Act. It then became known as the Western Counties Institution, Starcross, and was certified as 'a residential special school for mental defectives'. Residents were trained in carving, weaving, basketry, lace-making and carpentry, and worked on the institution's agricultural holdings.
In the 1930s, properties at Dix's Field, Exeter and Steepway, Paignton were purchased for use as domestic training hostels for young women. A farm hostel was founded on Langdon Farm at Dawlish and a seaside holiday home was opened. In 1948, the institution was transferred to the National Health Service, and became merged into the Royal Western Counties Institution Hospital Group, which coordinated all the residential mental deficiency services. The institution came under the control of Devon Area Health Authority from 1974, and of Exeter Health Authority from 1982.
In 1986, in keeping with a national policy of transferring the majority of mentally handicapped people back into the community, the Royal Western Counties Hospital was marked for closure.