Tucked away in Halwill Junction, Devon, just a few steps from the tourist route to Bude and the North Cornwall coast is a unique product of the Arts and Crafts movement.
The building was a gift to the parishes of North Devon from Maria Webb-Medley, a generous patron of the arts. C.F.A. Voysey is principally known for his domestic architecture but in 1899, Maria commissioned him to design and build a cottage hospital as a memorial to her recently deceased husband, George. Opened in 1900, it was called the Winsford Cottage Hospital, a reference to the Webb-Medley’s nearby country house, Winsford Tower. Maria died in 1919 leaving the bulk of her estate to her nephew Edward Costin, who assumed responsibility for the hospital.
Winsford Cottage Hospital
As a hospital, the building served the local community for a hundred years. It was used as a military hospital for the duration of both World Wars. For the second half of 20th century it suffered the benign neglect of the National Health Service. Despite (or perhaps because of) that neglect the building survives almost entirely as Voysey conceived it and has been listed as Grade II* for many years.
In 1999 the NHS decided the hospital was redundant to its needs. It was secured by the Winsford Trust for the benefit of the community and is now known as the Winsford Centre. It is probably the only Voysey building in public ownership.
Regrettably, as a result of the NHS’s benign neglect its current status is also recognised by its inclusion on English Heritage’s “At Risk” register. The Trust’s aim, therefore, is to ensure that this unique building is fully restored, remains in public ownership and makes the most of its historic and architectural heritage. The Trust has recently secured funding from English Heritage and the Pilgrim Trust to carry out the detailed condition survey that is essential to planning a full restoration. The goal is to make the building a national focus for the Arts and Crafts movement, whilst keeping it fully accessible to the people of North Devon to whom it was gifted.
CFA Voysey Architecture
The exterior of the building is unmistakably by Voysey and has the comfortable and reassuring look of a large domestic house. A sweeping Delabole slate roof dominates the front elevation. This is broken by a small gable over the asymmetrically placed front door and large front facing gables at each end brought through from the wings behind. Both the walls and the chimney stacks are brick, rendered with cream roughcast. One characteristic Voysey tapering stack marks the position of the original wash-house boiler. Multi-paned metal window frames are set within dressed sandstone surrounds and mullions. At the east end of the frontage the row of windows is broken by a stone arched wooden opening which gives access to the former coal store.
The south face of the building is characterised by the gables at the end of each wing. Open fronted, glass roofed, verandas with cast iron pillars were added to the gables in the 1920s. They are not shown on Voysey’s original drawings and it not known if they are his work but they complement the general scheme well. What is known is that Edward Costin commissioned Voysey in 1924 to build a small extension at the west end of the main building.
In the recess between the wings there was originally an open fronted veranda sheltered by the slate roof. This is now enclosed within a 1960’s extension built by the NHS, known as the Day Room. A high priority of the Trust is the removal of this and decaying “carbuncle” as soon as is practicable and the restoration of the veranda.
CFA Voysey Interior
The interior is also Voysey’s, but is very austere and functional. However, it retains many of the decorative fittings and features that characterise his attention to every detail of domestic architecture. Almost every original door survives, with its ironwork hinges and latches. The windows also carry Voysey’s practical and ingenious latches and stays, the original fittings. The four biggest rooms, which were the hospital’s wards, have large Voysey mantelpieces, though the original tiling and fireplaces have long gone. They appear to be of an identical pattern to fireplaces in the Voysey house at Hollybank, Hertfordshire, built in 1903.
The fireplace in the entrance hall has an impressive but simple oak mantelpiece enclosing a green-tiled fire surround. The oak is carved with two shields, one a monogram of the letters M & G – Maria and George. The other is a heraldic device. Voysey’s expenses book shows that it was made by his supplier and patron A W Simpson of Kendal. Three metal memorial plaques have been added to the mantelpiece. Unfortunately, the original open grate has been replaced by a modern enclosed fire.
Three of the smaller rooms still have characteristic small cast iron fire surrounds with Voysey’s heart motif. If one explores thoroughly, two of his well-known “birds” ventilation grilles can be found. Another example of Voysey’s attention to detail is to be found in what was the Children’s Ward. This has a large westward facing set of windows. When the hospital was built the busy Halwill Junction railway station was only yards away. Voysey is reported to have said that he had planned the Children’s Ward to overlook the railway as it was “the only entertainment near the site”.
Winsford Trust & English Heritage Open Days 2011
The building was specially featured in the literature for the 2011 Heritage Open Days. It was open to the general public on Saturday 10th September but the previous day, 9th September, the trustees held an invitation-only “preview” day to raise its profile both locally and more widely to those with a particular interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement. The programme featured presentations by the well known Voysey scholar, Karen Livingstone formally of the V & A.
The Winsford Trust would be pleased to welcome members of The William Morris Society.