Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: February 12, 2018
Webpage updated: April 16, 2021




The Royal Naval Hospital viewed from the air.
Clarence Place, to the south of the Hospital, is on the right of the picture.
From a postcard.

On September 15th 1744, the Navy Board presented a Memorial to His Majesty King George II, proposing the construction of Naval hospitals at Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth.  Agreement was given and work began at Haslar, Portsmouth, in 1746 and the hospital was receiving patients by 1753.

The Royal Naval Hospital, East Stonehouse.
From a Surrey Flying Services postcard

Matters progressed a little slower in Plymouth Dock.  There was a hospital ship, the "Canterbury", but mostly sick and wounded sailors were accommodated in any empty building that could be found.  It seems that it was Navy Board policy to delay the start of work on a hospital in the South West until the lessons had been learnt from the one at Haslar.

The imposing entrance to the Hospital.
From a postcard.

The first step, on March 13th 1756, was the purchase by the Commissioners for the Sick and Wounded Seamen of a piece of land called "No Place Field", on the southern side of Stonehouse Creek.  The owner was a Mr Henry Tolcher.  However, this proved to be inadequate in size and it was left undeveloped for another 68 years.

Two years later, on June 14th 1758, the Commissioners of the Navy purchased five fields between "No Place Field" and the Creek from the Mount Edgcumbe family for 2,239 17s 6d.  It was on this site that the hospital was built.

It is not clear who designed the Hospital.   It is thought that it might have been Mr William Robinson, who was Clerk of Works to the Greenwich Hospital at the time.

From a postcard.

A small part of Stonehouse Hospital was opened for patients in 1760, when sick and wounded seamen who had been housed in a building in George Street, Stonehouse, were transferred into the new building.  Then, on November 20th 1762, the commanding officer of the hospital ship "Canterbury", a Lieutenant Mainwaring, received orders to pay off his ship and move the patients into the new buildings.

The red-brick terrace of Officers' houses on the west side of the main square was erected in 1765, with the stone built ones on the north and south sides of the square following in 1806.  Their design is credited to Mr Daniel Alexander (1768-1846), who was also responsible for Dartmoor Prison and the lighthouse on Lundy Island.  The building on the north side was the residence of the Surgeon Rear-Admiral.  At some later date a part of this building was divided off to make a home for the Staff Surgeon.

A Medical Ward in the Royal Naval Hospital, East Stonehouse.
From a postcard.

To the west of the Rear-Admiral's house was the Chaplain's Residence.  The building on the south side of The Square housed the Fleet Surgeon and the Surgeons' Mess.  It was damaged during the Second World War but renovated in 1966 to become the Medical Officers' Mess.

Seamen who succumbed to their wounds were buried at the Hospital from 1824 onwards.  The vicar of Saint Andrew's Church, Plymouth, held the right to officiate but he usually deputed the Chaplain of the Hospital to act on his behalf.  The last general burial took place on May 4th 1897 but in October 1912 the wife of Staff Captain Moore was allowed to be buried with her husband.  In 1956 the burial ground was acquired by the adjacent St Dunstan's Abbey School for use as a playing field and the gravestones were taken down and arranged around the boundary wall.

Beyond the sundial in the centre of the grounds was the pedimented Trafalgar Block supporting a turret and cupola.  In 1776 Messrs Gregnion & Son of Russell Street, Covent Garden, London, installed a magnificent clock in the turret.  There used to be a huge bronze bell in the cupola but it was taken down for safety during the Blitz and never replaced. 

Back in 1756 a small piece of land known as No Place Field had been purchased and had been unused ever since.  In September 1824 it was finally brought into use as the Royal Naval Hospital Burial Ground, for those who had died in the Hospital.  Although the Bishop of Exeter licensed the land for burials it was never consecrated.  A further part of the land was opened for burials in 1833 and became known as the New Ground.

One of the most historically significant burials to have taken place in No Place Field was that of a 24-years-old native of Terra del Fuego.  He was one of four natives brought to Plymouth by Captain Robert FitzRoy on HMS Beagle in 1830.  Unfortunately they all caught the smallpox and were transferred into the Royal Naval Hospital, where the lad that FitzRoy had named "Boat Memory" died.

Reproduced below is the entry in the burial register of the time.  This was maintained by the vicar of Saint Andrew's Church, Plymouth.

The burial resgister entry for Boat Memory, a native of Terra Del Fuego.

The third entry down reads 'Boat Memory, A native of Terra del Fuego brought to Britain in His Majesty's Ship Beagle'.  He was buried on 12th November 1830.

Several developments have taken place within the Hospital grounds over the years.

About 1850 the Royal Marines' Guard at the entrance was replace by an Admiralty police force of three sergeants and fifteen constables, after which the Guard House became known as the Police Barracks.

A Mortuary Chapel was built in 1868 alongside the octagonal water tower.

The Chapel of the Good Shepherd was built in 1883 on the eastern side of the grounds.

In 1898 the last burial, with one important exception, described later, took place at the Royal Naval Hospital Burial Ground in No Place.  Mr Thomas Dalton, pensioner, formerly a Private in the Royal Marine Light Infantry, was laid to rest on December 22nd 1898.

In order to provide very necessary accommodation for those with infectious diseases, four small blocks were built in 1900 at the north-eastern en of the grounds.  This was known as the Zymotic Hospital.

Between 1900 and 1906 the ten, three-storey, ward blocks surrounding the central lawn were reconstructed to include steel   emergency stairs and additional washroom facilities.

Two brick residences were built outside the Main Gate in 1902 for the Superintending Pharmacist and the Senior Wardmaster Officer.

One extra block of buildings was added in 1905 to house lunatics and alcoholics.

In 1911 the Main Gate, which formerly stood between the two small buildings that up until about 1850 housed the Officers of the Royal Marines'  Subalterns' Guard, were moved towards Clarence Place and thus included the two brick residences built in 1902.  These were destroyed in 1942.

Electric lifts were installed within the ward blocks in 1912-13.

On October 6th 1912 Mrs Moore, the wife of the former Hospital Chaplain, was buried in the Royal Naval Hospital Burial Ground.

Shortly after the end of the Great War the Hospital stopped using the old landing jetty in Stonehouse Creek.

The red-brick residences on the western side of The Square were found to be absorbing moisture so in 1921 the fronts were stuccoed.   In them lived the Consultant in Medicine, the Consultant in Anaesthetics, the Principal Matron and the Nursing Sisters.  There were originally stables at the rear with three small houses behind that for the assistant dispensers and cooks.

Surgeon Rear-Admiral Gaskell replaced the ward block numbers with letters and names in 1924.  Within each block the wards were then numbered 1, 2 or 3.  The names allocated were: A, Dominica; B, Ushant; C, Algiers; D, La Hogue; E, Johnannesburg; F, Nile; G, St Vincent; H, Gibraltar; I, Basque Roads; and J, San Domingo.  The central block took the doubtless highly popular name, Trafalgar.   Curiously, the block for housing the lunatics and alcoholics was apparently just known as K block.  The granite colonnades linking the blocks were provided with glazing at that time.

Staff Quarters were built in front of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd in 1926.  These housed the male ratings at the west end and the naval nurses at the eastern end.  The building also contained a social club.

The hospital was connected to the broadcasting system in August 1928.  The funds were raised by subscription and the wireless set and headphones cost 277.  The top ward of each block was connected to it by a loudspeaker system, as were the TB huts, while all the wards were connected by headphones.  Microphones were fitted by the Royal Dockyard in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd so that Sunday services could be relayed.  Reception was stated to be very good and the new innovation was much appreciated by the officers and men.

During the Second World War E block was totally destroyed and I and J blocks were severely damaged and were never rebuilt.   Apparently 24 bombs landed on the Hospital in 1941 and 1942.

A Theatre Block was built between 1954 and 1956.

In 1961 the Admiralty Police were withdrawn from the Main Gate.

On June 29th 1962 the First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Carrington, unveiled a plaque on the west wall to commemorate the Hospital's bi-centenary.

An item of particularly historic note is the old Octagonal Posting Box outside what was in the early days, the Agent's Office and Porters' Lodge.  It is said to have been made circa 1853 by a contractor to the Post Office.  It does not carry a Royal cipher or the words "Post Office" or "Letter Box".

The Royal Naval Hospital was closed on March 31st 1995 and the Surgeons and Nurses have been amalgamated with the City's main hospital at Derriford, where they treat civilians as well as naval and military personnel.