A Face in the Crowd
Woodend Hospital in Aberdeen was constructed as a Poor Law Institution, designed by the local firm of Brown & Watt, it opened on 15 May 1907 and was one of the last poorhouses to be built in Scotland. During the First World War the institution was taken over as a Military Hospital (from 24th May 1915 to 1st June 1919). The postcard above shows a concert underway, there is no message written on the back to give a clue as to when exactly the concert took place. It may have been the one described in the Aberdeen Evening Express in September 1915 when the band and pipers of the Scots Guards visited Aberdeen. From 11am to 12 noon they entertained the wounded soldiers and a small party of ladies and gentlemen, there being about 500 persons present. The band arrived at the hospital in motor buses supplied by the Suburban Tramways Company, and on arrival set up near the front entrance in the quadrangle. Band and pipers played alternately, and there was a cornet solo of ‘The Rosary’ and from ‘Il Trovatore’ played from the veranda.
One member of the audience was apparently more interested in the photographer than the concert. The local Aberdeen newspapers published during the First World War carry many mentions of Oldmill, most concern the numbers of wounded arriving by train in the city and thence out to the hospital. There were also appeals for wheeled chairs and books, and numerous accounts of entertainments and concerts laid on for the wounded men.
Zooming in on the centre of the postcard shows the band arranged in front of the main entrance, with patients and nurses looking on from open windows and the balconies. I don’t know whether the uniforms here are plausible as Scots Guards, they are perhaps too indistinct to be able to tell. The Gordon Highlanders also gave an open air concert, in September 1916.
Most of the concerts took place in the evening inside the large dining hall, some were small affairs with local folks performing a medley of songs, some were given by theatre companies. There were lectures (two on mountaineering), and in October 1915 a ‘talking machine entertainment’ comprising selections given on the Edison phonograph ‘greatly appreciated by all’. The Aberdeen Sailors’ Mission Choir gave the very first concert at Oldmill in July 1915, only weeks after the first patients arrived on 25 June. An ambulance train had arrived at Aberdeen Joint Station shortly after 4am with 100 wounded soldiers from the battlefields of France and Flanders, 83 of whom were transferred to Oldmill.
This is another postcard produced during the war – copies of it often surface on eBay. The institution was still relatively new when war was declared, and it was with reluctance that the parish council relinquished it to the military, but when the need for more hospital accommodation for the wounded became urgent the council yielded. Many of the poorhouse inmates were evacuated to Rosemount and Westfield schools, which had also been commandeered to take the war wounded, others were boarded out.
The notice on the right gives the weight limit that the bridge could withstand at just over 3 tons. The map below shows the hospital complex in the 1920s, after it had been returned to the parochial authorities. The bridge pictured above crossed a roadway that provided access to two detached buildings in the grounds. I think these may have been the nurses’ home and the Governor’s house, but more research is needed to establish whether that is so or not. Although I am fairly confident that the left-hand building was the nurses’ home, a later map marks a tennis court next to it.
The hospital continues in use by NHS Grampian though now its main entrance is on the North side from Eday Road. It is a handsome building, certainly a fine example of its type despite the parsimony of the parochial board. When the plans for the poorhouse were reported by the Aberdeen Daily Journal readers were assured that,
‘As the general view of the poorhouse to most people will be from the Skene Road, a few hundred yards away, it is not intended that any expense should be put upon fine masonry details, and the effect of a satisfactory composition will, therefore, be obtained by means of grouping of the various buildings and arranging them in such a fashion as to give a suitable yet dignified appearance to the whole.’ [Aberdeen Daily Journal, 22 Nov 1901, p.5]
Sources: Aberdeen Evening Express, 17 May 1915, p.5: Aberdeen Journal, 25 May 1915, p.4, 26 May 1915, p.4, 26 June 1915, p.2, 16 July 1915 p.6: Aberdeen Evening Express, 13 Sept 1915, 11 Oct 1915: Aberdeen Weekly Journal, 22 Sept 1916: site visited as part of the Scottish Hospitals Survey 1988-90