Earlier this year I read a local history about Brixham and the surrounding area. Brixham: Its History and Its Place in History is written by John Scotney, and it makes a wonderful addition to the understanding of the locality and its past. Whilst reading it I came across the naval hospital position at Goodrington, a location that is 10 minutes from me. I hadn’t realised that this place – now a chain pub called ‘Inn On The Quay’ – was once a significant part of local history.
So, obviously, this begged a walk to the location with the dog.
I’ve been to the building several times before: for beer and for food. I regularly walk by this when visiting the beaches at Goodrington. However, on this particular walk I went out armed with information of the building’s past, which allowed me to see it – and appreciate it – in a brand new light.
The naval hospital was initially built in 1800 in order to help the sick and those wounded in battle with the British navy. The year is interesting: Britain was at war with France, and had been at war – on and off – for the past century. However, the renewed outbreak of war in the 1790s took on an added dimension: one of revolution. In 1789 the French Revolution had begun, which led to the revolutionary government taking more and more drastic actions. Britain was concerned about the spread of what was seen as dangerous, radical, revolutionary ideas (such as democracy and people power), and so were keen to preserve the established order.
By 1800 the revolution in France had evolved and rapidly changed: the once unknown Corsican general Napoleon Bonaparte had risen in stature and fame to become the First Consul of France (effectively the ruler). His own star continued to shine and he was eventually proclaimed as Emperor of the French in 1804. He was able to smash through successive armies from countries and empires on the continent, but the British remained stubborn and resisted the French rise.
Goodrington was deemed a suitable site because of its location. It was close to the nearby vital Dartmouth, and Torbay itself had regularly been utilised as a place for the navy to drop anchor (particularly in their blockade of Brest). Over the next two decades it appears that a vast number was treated there, with around 300 war dead buried nearby.
Today, the most famous grave is the only one left standing in Young’s Park: that of Major Thomas Hill. Hill was born in Helston, Cornwall, and served in the 47 Regiment; he ‘departed this life’ in July 1815. The year suggests a question of speculation: did Hill die of wounds whilst fighting in the final battle of the Napoleonic War at Waterloo (which happened in June of that year)?
After its use as a naval hospital, the building was converted into a private dwelling, and eventually into a public house. Now every-time I’ll pass it in the future I will think of its original use more than two hundred years ago.