Poltimore House, Exeter, England

West Front, Poltimore House

West Front, Poltimore House, by Derek Harper. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. Part of the west front of the house, with the badly-damaged early C20 ballroom on the right.

Poltimore House, near Exeter, is one of the most fascinating historic estates in the South West of England and is of particular interest for visitors keen to learn more about medical history. The site on which Poltimore House stands has been populated since the 1000s. The original Tudor mansion – elements of which are still visible in Poltimore House today – was first erected in the 1550s and belonged to the Bampfylde family for five centuries. In 1921, after the house had been extended and modernised repeatedly, the private residence was turned into a girl’s school, Poltimore College. During the Second World War, it housed the boys of Dover College, Kent, who had been evacuated to Devon.

Even though Jocelyne Hemmings describes this period in one of the chapters of her book A Devon House: The Story of Poltimore House (2005), a lot is still unknown about Poltimore House’s history as a hospital. Visitors with an interest in the history of medicine will therefore be keen to know that the Poltimore House Trust is hoping to start a research initiative to understand better this aspect of the estate’s past. According to the Secretary of the Poltimore House Trust, Dr Claire Donovan, the project will include a substantial oral history element.

The Saloon, Poltimore House

The Saloon, Poltimore House, by Derek Harper. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. Early C18 Rococo plasterwork, with the ceiling reflected in a smashed mirror. The cherub might be modelled on Queen Anne's son, the Duke of Gloucester - but might not.

Researching Poltimore House’s medical history is part of a much larger series of projects, events and initiatives run by the Trust. The primary goal is to raise sufficient funds to restore Poltimore House, as the building had been neglected since the NHS sold it in the 1970s. By the time the Trust acquired the estate in 2000, the mansion had become derelict and was in dire need of repair. With the support of the East Devon District Council, English Heritage and a number of dedicated volunteers, the Trust has started to restore Poltimore House and hopes to establish it as a new landmark in Devon.

Poltimore House is located in Poltimore, Exeter, Devon, EX4 0AU. It is open to visits by the public. For more information on the history of Poltimore House and the different activities offered by the Poltimore House Trust, please visit their website at http://www.poltimore.org/. To find out more about any aspect of the Trust’s work, please get in touch with [email protected].


Hemmings, Jocelyne. A Devon House: The Story of Poltimore House. Bristol: University of Plymouth Press, 2005.

Poltimore House Website. http://www.poltimore.org/. (May 2011)

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About Jana Funke

Dr Jana Funke is Associate Research Fellow at the University of Exeter. She holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Edinburgh and is currently working on the interdisciplinary Sexual History/Sexual Knowledge project at the Centre for Medical History in Exeter. Her primary research interests are late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literature, culture and sexual science.