June 3, 2009
The History of RAF Nocton Hall Hospital
For many who have lived in this area throughout their lives, they will know all there is to know about the general history of RAF Hospital, Nocton Hall. For others it will only be the knowledge that it used to be a military hospital but closed down when it was felt, by the military, to be no longer viable. Since then everyone knows of its demise over recent time.
Nocton Hall's first days of being a hospital came in the First World War, surprisingly under the control of the Americans. The owners of Nocton Estates at this time were the Hodgsons with the third generation of the family, Norman, the lord of the manor. Norman had taken over at the helm in 1902 on the death of his father John. He was 25 years old and had already seen action in conflict, risen to the rank of captain during the Boer War in South Africa. His passion was game shooting and during his time on the estate it is reported that an average of 10,000 game birds a year were bagged on his "shoots".
With the outbreak of the war in 1914 the many tenant farmers showed great resilience in the increase of farm produce but as the conflict progressed many of these local men went off to war, some never to return. Norman, heavily involved in his responsibilities as estate manager, set to and replaced these men with prisoners of war. Having seen action as an officer in the Boer War he became respected as a person by the POWs and it soon became apparent that the appreciated their lives here sooner than on the western front.
On the United States' entry into the war in 1917 Norman allowed the Hall to be utilised as a convalescent home for American Officers wounded in action. Norman and his family moved from their home to live in Embsay House on the edge of the village, never to return to the Hall. The tranquil setting of the Hall grounds proved a great tonic for the many young men who came and went for the next few months up to the end of action.
As stated the Hodgsons never returned to the Hall and in 1919 the estate was sold to W.H. Dennis. He had little affection for village life and he was responsible for the demise of many, if not all the tenant farmers, as one by one they were asked to vacate their properties as he set out to farm the estate himself. The Americans had also vacated the Hall in this year and for the next few years Nocton lost its homely feeling.
Come 1936 the Estate again changed hands, this time becoming the property of Smith's Potato Crisps with John Ireson becoming their land agent. It would be he and his wife who returned Nocton to a village of fun and affection.
Approaching WW2 the only Royal Air Force Hospital in the county was to be found at RAF Cranwell, having opened there in 1920. With the increase in RAF bases in the county during this conflict it was quickly established that the facility at Cranwell was not sufficient and sites were being looked at throughout the county, including Nocton Hall which had not been occupied as a private home since the Americans had left in 1919. This resulted in the Air Ministry acquiring the Hall and around 200 acres from Smith's Potato Crisps in 1940, thus severing the union of the estate from the hall for the first time in almost nineteen hundred years.
Once acquired, Nocton was turned into an RAF Hospital, but before opening it was deemed to be inadequate for the role needed. Instead the Air Ministry took possession of Rauceby Hospital near Sleaford, which had, since 1902, been used as a Victorian-style Lunatic Asylum. The inmates housed here were transferred out to other similar establishments and for the remainder of the war, until 1947 when the National Health Service came into being, these premises became known as No 4 RAF Hospital Rauceby run by medical staff, transferred from RAF Cranwell. The main role of this, 1,000 bed hospital, was as a Crash and Burns Unit with the full back up of operating theatres and plastics units for the many pilots injured.
The similarly, newly formed RAF Hospital Nocton Hall, did not stand empty and was leased out to the Americans for a second occasion in history and used as an army clearing station. Their Army Medical Branch built a complex to the east of the Hall, which became so well known to all in the locality, and was called the US Army 7th General Hospital. The Hall in all its splendour was used as an Officers' Club.
At the end of the War the Americans again left Nocton as the Royal Air Force chose it as their permanent military hospital for Lincolnshire. The existing accommodation was not felt suitable for a General Hospital and a building programme commenced in 1946 with the first stage, which saw four new wards, opened a year later and the first patient admitted on 1 November 1947. The Hall was used as the living quarters for the female officers of the RAF Medical staff while married quarters were built on adjacent land (now private homes as part of the present Nocton Park).
The "programme" continued as the years passed and by 1954 the hospital provided fully staffed medical, surgical, ear, nose, throat, opthalmic and dental facilities. This "new" local amenity, not only became a facility for the service personnel and their families from Lincolnshire, but also for local residents in the area. In addition it also became a great source of employment for local people, men and women alike.
Come May 1957 the Hospital opened its Maternity Wing and for the next 25 years there was to be a steady flow of babies born at Nocton Hall. In 1966 the expansion work continued with the opening of new twin operating theatres, a central sterile supply department and a neuro-psychiatric centre.
In July 1969 Nocton Hall saw the last royal to enter its grounds as Princess Alexandra visited the hospital's newly opened self contained Maternity Division. It had been 468 years since the first royal visited these grounds as Katherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII, visited in October 1541, planting a famous chestnut tree in the grounds which stands to the present day.
Through the endeavours of all, Nocton had risen in status, with its 740 beds, as the No 1 Royal Air Force Hospital in the country but then after 35 years, on the 31 March 1983, a heart wrenching decision was made to close it as a military hospital and domestic life of the area was lost for ever.
In 1984 Nocton Hall was leased to the US Armed Forces for a third time, this time as a United States Air Force wartime contingency hospital. During the Gulf War in 1991/92 some 1300 US medical staff were sent there, many billeted at RAF Scampton, north of Lincoln. Fortunately only 35 casualties received treatment here during this conflict. In its latter days just 13 American personnel remained here to keep the hospital serviceable until they too departed.
There then followed a short period when the hospital served as an RAF forward outpatient department from 1992 until 1993 but in September 1995 RAF Nocton Hall and grounds was finally handed back to the British Government. It was then bought by a private owner who turned the hall into a residential home until its eventual demise - the rest is a sad memory