AmalgamationSince writing this blog in 2015, I have always intended to try and pull together a more comprehensive history of No.1 RAF Nocton Hall. With recent developments, it just seemed the right time to attempt this. There will be many who still remember these times and will have direct experience of working and/or serving there, so any additional information would be most welcome.
Nocton Hall - no longer in private hands
In the autumn of 1889, Lord Ripon sold Nocton Estate to a George Hodgson, of Thornton Road Mills, Bradford, Yorkshire. He came to Nocton at the age of 70, but being unable to participate in all the sporting fun of the 7,300 acres estate, he allowed his eldest son to take over the running of the estate as a resident landlord. When John Hodgson inherited the Nocton Estate in 1895, he and his wife Ann, set about landscaping the gardens and creating the artificial lake north of the Lime Avenue in the Hall grounds.
Unfortunately, John Hodgson did not live long to enjoy the country surroundings for he died in 1902, leaving his 25-year old son, Norman (who had returned from fighting the Boers in South Africa) to inherit the Estate. After the United States' entry into the War in April 1917, it was Captain Norman Hodgson that decided the family should move into Embsay House in the village, so that Nocton Hall could be turned into a convalescent home for American officers wounded in the War. It came to pass, that his son Douglas Craven-Hodgson, was the last person to be born at Nocton Hall whilst the estate was in private hands.
With the last of the American officers leaving Nocton in 1919, the whole Nocton Estate was sold to Messrs William H Dennis and Sons of Kirton. The Dennis family were commercial farmers and owned 20,000 acres - much of it in Lincolnshire, but some in Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire - some as far away as Sussex. The partnership with his five sons was clearly very successful.
It has been recorded that William H Dennis had little affection for domestic life in the village, although he did take up residence in Nocton Hall, along with his wife and third son, Herbert and his wife. However, shortly thereafter William died (in 1924) and the Nocton Estate was taken over by his third son, Mr James Herbert Dennis in 1925.
Herbert “Taffy” was a dedicated countryman and a keen hunting and shooting man, remaining at Nocton Hall until 1927. He moved his family to The Manor House, but continued to administer the farming estate until 1st May 1936. A different use was found for Nocton Hall.
Following 1927, many thought Nocton Hall was left empty, but there is evidence it was leased as a Preparatory School for Boys aged 6-14 years for Public Schools and Royal Navy in 1937. This was the first time Nocton Hall was separated from the estate, however the arrangement cannot have lasted too long, as Nocton Estate was sold to Smith's Potato Crisps (1929) Ltd in 1936.
Herbert “Taffy” Dennis died on 31 Aug 1938 and there is still a small memorial marking the burial site of Herbert's favourite dog 'Don' in the grounds of Nocton Hall.
|In Memory of my dog "Don"|
Nocton Hall required for war effort?
It is understood the Air Ministry bought Nocton Hall and around 200 acres of land from Smiths Potato Crisps Ltd in 1940, intending to supplement the casualty capacity of the Lincolnshire RAF Hospital at Cranwell. In the event, the much larger Rauceby Mental Hospital site was used instead, but Nocton Hall was still utilised as a basic Army casualty clearing station from 1940 - 1943.
The Americans then developed the site further under a ‘lease-lend’ agreement in 1943 and it was designated the 'United States Army Seventh General Hospital'. The hospital was to be a casualty evacuation unit from their European Theatre of Operations, to repatriate the injured back to the U.S.
There are a few early photographs showing the various Nissen huts and buildings (see U.S. Army Unit 162d website) and you can see it was a typical wartime hospital, spartan in its amenities. That is probably why it was only suitable as an interim hospitalisation centre. Furthermore, the requirement was much less than anticipated.
View of Officers' Quarters, 162d General Hospital
Official address by Lt. Col. Eugene J. McCann, MC
Commanding Officer, 162d General Hospital
Fourth of July 1944 celebration outside Nocton Hall - east side
The end of WW2 saw the site with its nucleus of hospital buildings available for use. Rauceby Mental Hospital had since been returned to the civil authorities for its former purpose. As to Nocton Hall, this had been used as an Officers' Club, right up until the departure of the United States Army at the end of hostilities in 1945.
With the cessation of hostilities and because Rauceby had been returned to civilian use, it became incumbent upon the Royal Air Force to find alternative hospital accommodation.
Air Ministry develops Nocton Hall
The Air Ministry ever conscious of the requirement for a general hospital to serve an increasing local and large Service population, took over the Hall and grounds in 1946 and so began the building programme of what was to become No.1 RAF Nocton Hall.
It was by all accounts a formidable task, since the grounds were a wilderness after years of unavoidable neglect. The lawns around the hall, were transformed from something like a hay field to a velvety appearance, and the drives overgrown to narrow tracks. Not least of the problems, our departing allies had left all the door keys in an enormous three-foot high pile, awaiting the patient sorting by the Clerk of Works. Unfortunately, one of the casualties of the rebuilding process was the ornamental lake, formerly a resting place for wild fowl, and built in the 1920's by the then owner; it became a tip for rubble, and a refuse dump, until it was later filled in and grassed over.
The hospital was formally opened by the Commanding Officer, Group Captain Palmer-Jones on 1 November 1947, with the admission of the first patient. At that time there were just four operational wards.
Nocton Hall was initially used to billet female RAF medical staff, with married quarters built nearby. Female nursing officers were accommodated in the Hall until at least the 1960s and the hospital became a great source of employment for the local population.
Over the years 1947 to 1954, a gradual increase in bed establishment followed, so that by 1954 the hospital offered fully staffed Medical, Surgical, ENT, Ophthalmic and Dental facilities, the Medical Division having four mechanical respirators for the Polio' sufferers. However, no maternity facility was available, neither was there a children's ward.
During these years an early example of integration occurred, for the York Military Hospital closed, and until 1951 Nocton Hall accepted full commitment for Northern Command Army patients. The Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corp (QUARANC) provided four Sisters to the Medical Ward, and the Royal Army Medical Corp (RAMC) sundry NCOs and Privates who ran Reception, Admissions and Discharges and the Linen Store. This arrangement ended, amicably in 1951.
An extensive Works Service programme was commenced in 1955 to enclose all wards, corridors, and departments, and the central heating was extended; later reorganisation allowed the establishment of a Maternity Unit, in Wards 8 and 11, which was completed in 1957, its birth being attended on 7 May by HRH Princess Mary as Commandant of the Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing Service (PMRAFNS).
Improvements continued every year with the completion of day rooms to Wards 3, 4, 5, 6 and 12, together with anti-static ceilings to all wards. Seven years later the Princess again visited, on 9 June 1964, and by now twin operating theatre suites and a Central Sterile Supply Department had been added, but still work continued. A Neuropsychiatric Centre was then established in 1966.
In November 1968, a 37-bed self-contained Maternity Division was completed and officially opened by HRH Princess Alexandra on 9 July 1969. The hospital was now equipped to offer all the routine facilities of a General Hospital, serving a good portion of the Royal Air Force.
The hospital was accepted as a training school for State Enrolled Nurses under the aegis of the General Nursing Council and training started in August 1967. Facilities and accommodation was available for the reception of 108 trainees during the first two years of training. Apart from their practical and theoretical training at this hospital, trainees attended St George's Hospital, Lincoln for geriatric training.
Nocton Hall was used as the Nursing Officers' Mess, but became the Officers' Mess after RAF and WRAF Officers were moved into a newly built sectional annexe. There was another visit by HRH Princess Alexandra in 1982.
|Visit by Princess Alexandra - Commandant of PMRAFNS|
RAF Hospital Nocton Hall was a 740-bed RAF hospital serving the predominantly RAF personnel based at the large number of RAF Stations in the area. It was used by forces personnel, their families and local civilians until it closed on 31 March 1983, leaving just four buildings operational as a forward outpatient’s department.
|Plan of RAF Nocton Hall|
What was to become of the site?
The remainder of the RAF hospital site was leased back to the United States for use as a wartime contingency hospital during 1984. It was re-designated the 310th USAF Contingency Hospital and activated on 15 October 1984.
The hospital comprised of approximately 80 buildings and retained a capacity of 750 beds. Medical personnel from David Grant Medical Center, Travis AFB, California, and other military bases were sent over to staff the hospital. So many U.S. medics were involved (reports are of circa 1,300), that some had to be billeted at RAF Scampton.
The Defence Estates put Nocton Hall up for auction on 23 July 1985 (presumably deemed surplus to requirements), but the old RAF hospital site remained in MoD ownership. English Heritage also awarded Nocton Hall a Grade II Listing, identifying the building as suitable for inclusion in the 'List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest'.
Nocton Hall (with its surrounding wood, woodland, grassland and cottages) was purchased by Torrie and Kathleen Richardson for £200,000. Around a dozen people turned up for the auction, run by Escritt and Barrell, but Mrs Richardson thought there were few serious bidders.
The purchase included Nocton Hall, the pre-fabricated buildings of the annex and 33 acres of parkland. There were also other properties included in the sale (a Garden House; a Gate Lodge and a Coachman's House), profits from which would leave sufficient capital to develop Nocton Hall as a residential home (the couple previously owned The Limes Residential Home in Scopwick). The stable block was also included and was converted by the Richardson’s into ‘The Cottage Nursing Home’.
With the outbreak of the first Gulf War in 1990, the 310th USAF Contingency Hospital was used for a real-world contingency during January and March 1991 (Operation Desert Shield/Storm). On 24 February 1991 twenty nine American Marines were MEDEVAC by C-141 to Nocton Hall, but in total, remarkably there were only 35 casualties that required treatment.
It was re-designated the 603rd Contingency Hospital on 1 July 1994 and in its latter days, only 13 U.S. Air Force personnel and 2 MoD employees remained to keep the hospital serviceable and in a constant state of readiness. There was a short period in 1992/93, where it served as an RAF forward outpatient department, but this formally closed in 1994, with only one contributor to the site, Steve Pickett, PMRAFNS, being present at that closing ceremony.
By 1995, the U.S. had no further need of the hospital site and it was stripped ready for closure. Everything was removed in large container lorries three or four at a time and on 5 May 1995 a deactivation ceremony took place. A more formal closing ceremony was held on 23 June 1995, with Air Commodore James Greig leading the ceremonies. It was a sad moment as the flag was finally lowered at RAF Nocton Hall, to stand empty once more. All personnel had left by 30 June 1995.
Things were also to change for Nocton Hall, as the Residential Home now being operated by the son and daughter-in-law of Torrie Richardson (Gary and Carol Richardson), was forced to close after getting into financial difficulties. Nocton Hall and its surrounds was then sold by the receivers to Oxfordshire-based Leda Properties Ltd in 1998.
Leda Properties also acquired the RAF Hospital site from the MoD for £300,000, after it was put up for auction by the Defence Estates in 2000.
Now sad and neglected
Nocton Hall and the old RAF Hospital site have remained undeveloped for years, with predictable random looting and targeted removal of items like bannisters, fireplaces, decorative stonework and panelling. Anything of worth has been taken from the hospital, including scrap metal, wiring and metal roofing panels.
On Saturday 24 October 2004, Nocton Hall was set ablaze by arsonists. After several hours it was brought under control, but the roof collapsed, causing severe damage to the building. Only a shell remains. A second fire in 2005 caused further damage to the pre-fabricated annexe and the whole site continues to decay.
The Victorian Society listed Nocton Hall in October 2009 in its top 10 endangered buildings list for England and Wales. Due to continued inactivity by the developers, English Heritage have also placed it on the UK 'Buildings at Risk' register and are seeking with North Kesteven District Council to secure and preserve what is left of Nocton Hall and to restore its gardens.
Nocton Hall and the remains of the hospital site is now fenced off and inaccessible with only glimpses of the derelict building visible through the trees. There is no 'memorial' to the former RAF hospital despite the large numbers of personnel and patients involved there.
It is a sad end to an historic site and impressive Lincolnshire country house.
|RAF Nocton Hall courtesy of Flickr [ricklus]|
Sources of Information:
- Nocton – The Last Years of an Estate Village – Vol 1 (ISBN 978-1-873257-80-7)
- Nocton – The Last Years of an Estate Village – Vol 2 (ISBN 978-1-907516-13-9)
- RAF Hospital Nocton Hall (Wikipedia)
- RAF Hospital Nocton Hall (Facebook)
- RAF Nocton Hall 25th Anniversary (Leaflet - 1972)
- RAF Nocton Hall / No 1 RAF Hospital Nocton Hall (RAF-Lincolnshire.info)
- Sheila Redshaw Collection
- The Revelations of an Imp (Author: Douglas Craven-Hodgson)
- U.S. Army Unit 162d Nocton Hall (Webpage)
- U.S.A.F. 310th Contingency Hospital Public Affairs (Fact Sheet)
- U.S.A.F. 310th Contingency Hospital (Site Map)