Monday, 15 July 2013

The Demise of RAF Nocton Hall in Lincolnshire, England

Nocton Hall as it is in 2013...

and as it was circa 1950's - Unknown photographer

In 1995 RAF Nocton hospital closed its doors for the very last time and fell into a state of disrepair, plagued by looters and vandals.  Considered by English Heritage to be a grade two listed property, how has this happened, and what is the history behind this once thriving hospital and its community?

Down in the basement

To the bunker

The peaceful view

The origins of the hospital can be traced back to the early 20th century.  In 1917, Nocton estate, owned by Mr Hodgson, allowed the hall to be utilised as a convalescent home for American Officers wounded in action during the First World War. In 1919 the estate, along with the hall, was sold and the Hall ceased to be used to treat servicemen. It wasn't until 1940 and a further change of hands, that the estate became a hospital once again. With the advent of the Second World War and only one military hospital in Lincolnshire, it was deemed necessary to find a suitable site for a second such building as Lincolnshire’s bomber bases expanded. The Air Ministry acquired the Hall and 200 acres of the estate at this time, but up until 1947 it was leased to the Americans and used as an army clearing station. Their army medical branch built a complex to the East of the hall, whilst the hall itself, became an officers’ club. After the Second World War, the Americans left once again, and it was decided that this was to be the RAF’s permanent military hospital in Lincolnshire. The hospital was expanded and the hall used as female living quarters. By 1954 the hospital provided fully staffed medical facilities, not only for servicemen and women, but also the local community. It was also a major source of employment for local people.

This way

Between 1957 and 1966 a maternity ward and two operating theatres had been built alongside a central sterile supply department and a neuro-psychiatric centre.  The last Royal to visit the grounds was Princess Alexandra in 1969, some 468 years after the first royal visit to the estate, when Katherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII, visited in October 1541.  It was on this visit that she planted a Chestnut tree, which can be seen to this day.

The Chestnut tree that was supposedly planted by Katherine Howard in 1541

Over the years, with the endeavours of the local people and servicemen, RAF Nocton had become one of England’s foremost military hospitals.  It was with great sadness to all that in 1983 a decision was taken to close the Hospital and its facilities. This had a major impact on the small local community, many of whom had been employed there.  That wasn’t the end of the story though, as in 1984 the Hospital was once again leased to the Americans, this time as a USAF wartime contingency hospital.  During the first Gulf War in 1991, over 1300 American medical servicemen and women were based at Nocton to treat potential casualties, but fortunately only 35 personnel were sent there for treatment during this time.

Window to the past

The Gym

The long corridor to the surgery

After the Gulf War, a skeleton staff of 13 was kept on to look after the hospital and grounds until they too departed.  For a brief period after this, the hospital returned to the RAF who used it as a forward outpatient department between 1992 and 1993.

Final resting place

It was finally handed back to the British Government in 1995 and subsequently bought by a private owner who turned some of the buildings and grounds into a residential care home until its eventual demise.  The remains of the Hospital and Hall that can be seen today are a sad reminder of what once was a thriving state of the art medical facility and a source of employment to a bustling local community.  Many people remember the Hospital fondly, either as a patient, or as someone who worked there.  In the last few years looting and vandalism have taken their toll.  In October 2004, the Hall was set on fire, some 70 fire fighters attended, bringing the fire under control, but unfortunately the roof collapsed, and only the shell remains.  There has been recent interest from certain conservation bodies concerning possible restoration projects.

One of the many outbuildings

Corridor to nowhere

Doctor's consultation room 

English Heritage has placed it on the UK 'Buildings At Risk' register and are seeking help to secure and preserve what is left of the old Hall and restore the gardens to their former glory. Whatever the final outcome for this magnificent Hall and grounds, there is a certain sadness when exploring the old Hospital corridors. A place once full of life and day to day dramas has now gone, replaced with decaying empty rooms and wards, a place devoid of life; a once busy little village, now just a sleepy little hamlet. Perhaps the buildings should be left as they are.  There is a certain beauty in seeing nature reclaim what is rightfully its own.

The shoe

As the playwright Henry Miller said ‘I have always looked upon decay as being just as wonderful and rich an expression of life as growth’.

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