Leanchoil Hospital, Forres

Recently I have been thinking about the topic of ‘Beauty and the Hospital’ – the subject of a conference being held in Malta next month by the International Network for the History of Hospitals. Specifically, I have been considering hospital architecture, and even more specifically Scottish hospital architecture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I could nominate quite a few candidates for a top ten of beautiful hospital buildings – they  might not be to everyone’s liking of course.

Leanchoil Hospital, photographed in 2012© Copyright Anne Burgess and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Leanchoil Hospital on the outskirts of Forres was one of the first that sprang to mind. For me it is the archetypal cottage hospital, possesses great architectural charm, and resembles a miniature version of the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh – not the present building but the magnificent Victorian building in Lauriston Place designed by David Bryce.

Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, from an old postcard

Leanchoil Hospital was designed by the Inverness architect John Rhind. The postcard below hopefully shows something of the similarity to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. The central range with its twin shaped gables contained the main entrance and administrative offices and makes a handsome preface to the square tower rising behind.

Postcard of Leanchoil Hospital from around 1900. Reproduced by permission of H. Martin.

On either side the ward pavilions have round Baronial style towers which, as at the ERI and most Victorian pavilion-plan hospitals, contained the WCs. (On the plan below these are labelled ‘offices’ – as in necessary offices.) Originally the terminating turrets of the sanitary annexes neatly rounded off the design, but extensions were added at both ends. The two-storey centre block contained matron’s and surgeon’s rooms either side of the main entrance, with an operation room, kitchen, scullery, larder and stores behind. The upper floor was occupied by bedrooms for the matron, nurses and servants.

Plan of Leanchoil Hospital published by H. C. Burdett in Cottage Hospitals, general, fever and convalescent… 3rd edition, 1896, p.262

Before the cottage hospital was built on the outskirts of Forres, the only available inpatient accommodation in the town was in a small building on Burnside. A public meeting held in 1888 first mooted the possibility of building a cottage hospital in Forres and in the following year John Rhind was asked to provide plans. These were sent to H. Saxon Snell & Son, the pre‑eminent London‑based hospital architects in England at that date, for their comments. However, before they could reply, Rhind had died and H. Saxon Snell took over as architect to the project.

Extract from the 2nd edition OS map surveyed in 1904. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The site chosen for the hospital was to the south-east of Forres, on Chapelton Muir, and extended to 9 ½ acres. It was described as ‘most picturesque and secluded, the trees in rear of the building sheltering them from East winds and forming an excellent background to a noble pile of buildings’. This ‘noble pile’  blends Baronial and Jacobean details to produce a lively façade, dominated by the central square tower. The general features of the building and overall design are probably the work of Rhind rather than Snell, but Snell would undoubtedly have ensured that the small wards were provided with sanitary annexes separated from the wards by properly cross‑ventilated lobbies and other similar details.

Donald Alexander Smith, later Lord Strathcona, photgraphed c.1890. National Archives of Canada. Public Domain image.

Funds for the hospital were donated by Sir Donald Alexander Smith (later Lord Strathcona), who was born in Forres but settled and made his fortune in Canada. In 1888 he offered £5,000 for the erection of the hospital and in 1891 he promised to grant a further £3,000 once the buildings were completed. At that point the estimate for building work stood at just short of £7,000, which the governors considered ‘more than it was advisable to spend’. It was decided to take tenders for just the main building – these came in at £4,900. Building work was superintended by H. M. S. Mackay of Elgin, with Mr Dorrell, as the Clerk of Works.

The hospital was unofficially opened at the end of April 1892, when the matron, Miss Gertrude Seagrave, who had previously served at Ashford Cottage Hospital, in Kent, moved in (quite a move, from Kent to Moray), and the first patients were admitted.

Leanchoil Hospital, photographed c.1989, ©Harriet Richardson

The broad corridors on either side of the central block each had a bay half way along creating a small day-room for convalescent patients. The wings contained two wards each, one with four the other with two beds, with a nurse’s room and bath-room between them. The wards were heated by ventilating stoves, especially designed for this building, and the floors were laid with hard Canadian maple, wax-polished. The detached building to the rear of the hospital contained a wash-house and laundry, ambulance house and mortuary.

Leanchoil Hospital, photographed in 2010. It then had 23 beds, outpatients department and minor injuries casualty department. © Copyright John Allan and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

At the Annual General Meeting of the Governors held in January 1898, the chairman of the governors, Sir George Campbell Macpherson Grant commented on the largest expenditure of the previous year – some £500 on the site and railings. Perhaps anticipating criticism, he endorsed the expenditure, as money well spent: ‘…as that had brought the grounds into keeping with the hospital, and nothing tended to promote recovery more than beautiful scenery.’

Leanchoil Hospital gate lodge, photographed in 2009. © Copyright Stanley Howe and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Stanley Howe, who took the lovely photograph above and posted it on Geograph, noted the  stone plaque over the window, inscribed ‘The gift of Campbell MacPherson Grant of Drumduam, 1890’. ‘Mais pourquoi?’, he asked. As noted above, Campbell MacPherson Grant was the chairman of the governors, and was one of many who gave generously to fund the building and endowment of the hospital.

Former Maternity Wing, photographed in 2009. © Copyright Stanley Howe and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Leanchoil Hospital, maternity wing, photographed c.1989, © Harriet Richardson

Of later additions to the site, the maternity wing blends its modern style sympathetically with the old, by using the same tone of materials and keeping the wing to a single storey. It was built after a gift of £17,000 was made by Lady Grant of Logie in January 1939, though plans for the wing had been discussed since at least 1935 along with the general modernisation of the building and the addition of a nurses’ home. In November 1938 work had been completed to extend the wards and add sun rooms. The maternity wing was completed in 1940.

Extract from the 1:25,000 OS map, published in 1957, showing Leanchoil Hospital with the 1930s wing to the SE of the original buildings, and ancillary buildings added to the north. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

[Sources: H. C. Burdett in Cottage Hospitals, general, fever and convalescent… 3rd edition, 1896, p.262: Dundee Advertiser, 2 June 1892, p.3: Aberdeen Press and Journal, 22 Jan 1891, p.6; 2 Feb 1892, p.6; 28 Jan 1898, p.7; 27 May 1935, p.5: Inverness Courier, 29 April 1892, p.5: Aberdeen Weekly Journal, 14 Dec 1939, p.3.]

22 thoughts on “Leanchoil Hospital, Forres

  1. Hello Harriet.
    I have enjoyed reading your feature on the Leanchoil Hospital in Forres – the more so because I was born there 72 years ago in 1945! My father was in the RAF based at RAF Lossiemouth and he and my mother were living in Elgin.
    My wife and I have made a visit to the hospital and its environs from the Leicestershire area because I had never visited the area since leaving as a baby with my parents to return to the East Midlands at the end of the Second World War in late 1945.
    It dismayed me to find that the hospital maternity and other services have now closed, and the former maternity unit as well as the magnificent nurses’ home at the rear of the hospital lie empty. All that the hospital is now able to offer is respite care for some 9 elderly patients. How different from what it must have been like in its heyday, and what a shame.
    It struck me that the hospital’s days are now numbered and it looks destined to perhaps be converted into luxury apartments or made into a hotel. What a shame!

    • Thank you Peter, and I completely agree, it is such a shame that we have lost nearly all our local maternity units. Travelling a long distance is the last thing any woman needs in the last stages of pregnancy, and it is no easier for the their partners. I do hope that the hospital’s days are not numbered. Leanchoil is a real treasure for the local community. I must try to get up there soon for a revisit, after not quite so many years as you!

  2. I was born in Leanchoil Hospital in 1950 and also when my Father was in the R.A.F. stationed at Kinloss. We left 2 years later when he was posted to Germany. My husband and I are planning my first return to the area next year and I will be sure to seek the hospital out.
    Judith Hopton (nee Flynn)

  3. I had a surgical operation at this hospital in 1956? as a boy of about 11 years old. My father was stationed at R.A.F. Kinloss at this time. Was back in the area for a holiday in 2018, when driving past now aged 72 years old, saw the old hospital. Had not given it a thought in all that time but instantly recognised the hospital. I remember ” swimming towards the light” coming out of the effect of the gas anaesthetic and the men talking about me in the ward. The operation was a success I am glad to say. So a very belated thank you to all there at that time.

  4. I was born in Leanchoil hospital on 10th. may 1941. My father was with the RAF at Lossiemouth and my mother joined him from Kinross shire shortly before my birth. I was sad to learn that the hospital was now closed. It was such a beautiful building and has served the community well over the years.

  5. I was born in Leanchoil in 1949 My dad was in the RN at Milltown (Elgin) my mam was an Elgin Lass. Hope to god the Buildings remain, ideally as a Hospital but in whatever incarnation as long as they survive.

  6. Good evening I have always had this hospital close to my heart as I was born here on the 8th day of September 1976 at o9:32am. Midwife at my birth was nurse macloud.

  7. I was born in this hospital in December 1966. I also did my Duke of Edinburgh Community Service there. Then in 1993 when living in Tel Aviv, I returned to Forres to have my twin sons. Unfortunately there was no longer a maternity ward in the hospital, so I was transported to Raigmore in Inverness. I didn’t make it and my twins were born in Nairn hospital which also had no maternity wing. Several years later I relocated from Athens back to Forres with my four young sons and had to make two separate trips to the hospital with my two youngest sons. I now live in the USA and my sons are all young men. Although I have lived and worked all over the world, this small and charming hospital played a variety of roles in my life. It is disappointing to think it is no longer active because it was integral to the Forres community and the surrounding area.

    • Thank you for getting in touch, it is fascinating to hear about your long association with Forres and with Leanchoil Hospital. I agree, it is always very sad when local hospitals close. It is such a pity that they could not be retained as health centres, clinics or some other community resource. The value of these buildings to the local community is enormous, and in Leanchoil’s case, the building also has considerable aesthetic value.

  8. I was born here in 1951. My parents families, the Cameron’s and MacGregor’s lived next door to each other at 28 and 29 Roysvale Place, Forres. My mum Annie and my dad Kenneth went off to war and married when they returned. I visited the hospital a couple of years ago. Of course I don’t remember it. I was zero when i arrived there last time 😉

  9. I too was born here: 1965. Father in the Fleet Air Arm at Lossiemouth – one of my first words was “Buccaneer”! It seems that there were many sons and daughters of service men and women who spent their first moments in the safety of this hospital. Shame to hear about its closure: I wish the trust all the best in fighting to keep the building alive.

  10. I too was born here: 1965. Father was in the Fleet Air Arm stationed at Lossiemouth. One of my first ever words was “buccaneer”! It seems that many sons and daughters of servicemen and women spent their first moments in the shelter of this hospital. It is shame to hear of its closure. I wish the trustees all the best with their dedicated work in saving the building.

  11. I’m writing a book on british angleres who visited the northern part of Norway (Helgeland) during the period 1850-1950. Suprisingly many of the people I’m researching came from the area Forres-Rothes-Craigellachie and Ballindalloch in Scotland, including Campbell MacPherson Grant (1844-1895, also known as Campbell Macpherson Campbell) mentioned in the article. Others are his nephew 4th baronet John MacPherson Grant of Ballindalloch (1863-1914), major Robert Chadwick (d.1907), his wife Caroline Matilda, their son James M. Chadwick (1864-1944) and three daughters, all living at Findhorn House and Moy House in Forres, major James Grant (1847-1913, owner of the destillery Glen Grant in Rothes) and William George Steuard Menzies (1858-1941) and his son Ronald Steuard Menzies of Craigellachie (1884-1961). I would be very pleased to receive any information about them or advice on people (decendants) or institutions to contact.

    • Dear Helen, research is obviously rather tricky at the moment, and so you may have to wait a while before more archives have re-opened. I expect you have already found all you can from either Ancestry or Find My Past by way of Census Records.
      Have you tried the website Scotland’s People? Also the catalogue for the National Records of Scotland is online, if you haven’t already searched there, and the National Register of Archives for Scotland is probably the best place to search for family papers. Otherwise you can try a text search through the Internet Archive, or try using the subscription service British Newspaper Archive. Finally, local libraries are usually the best sources and also the Highland Archives: https://www.highlifehighland.com/highland-archive-centre/
      Apologies if everything I’ve suggested is already familiar to you, and good luck with your research.

      • Dear Harriet, Thank you so much for your reply and I’m really sorry for the delayed response (I didn’t see your reply until today). Your advice on where to research further is certainly very useful, so we hope to be able to visit Scotland and the relevant institutions in September. Meanwhile, we’ll do all the online research.
        Thanks again!

      • I was born in Leanchoil Hospital in November 1949 and I’m currently visiting Forres but will take a look at the Hospital tomorrow before we start our journey back to Oxfordshire.
        Like. Many others my Father was stationed at Kinloss

  12. I was transferred here two days after my first son was born in Raigmore in 1980: what a contrast! In Raigmore (the old one) smoking was allowed in the maternity ward and the access to the toilets was through the ward. My newborn son was in the ward with me, and when another new mother returned to the ward, she asked if she could smoke: I was hopping mad and stormed off with my baby to the nursery. In Leanchoil I was the only one in the ward and I remember how pleasant the wooden floor felt under my feet. There were duvets on the beds. It was delightful. My husband was at RAF Lossiemouth but we had bought a house in Forres so Leanchoil was just round the corner.

    • Hi Heather, many thanks for getting in touch. I was horrified that smoking was allowed so late in hospital. It seems unimaginable now. But what lovely recollections of Leanchoil – particulalry the wooden floor beneath your feet. I

  13. I was born there on June 10 1952. My father who I believe was called Harry Brechin was stationed at RAF Kinross Search and Rescue. I am still searching for him. My mother, Gertie Krien worked as a ward maid at Leanchoil and gave me up for adoption shortly after I was born. She was a refugee from Germany. I have since found her and in 2020 met with my German cousins in Cologne. I believe Harry emigrated to Rhodesia after I was born and I would dearly love to know what happened to him and whether I may have half siblings. Gertie has just turned 91 and still going strong!

    • How wonderful to have been reunited with your mother. I think the RAF station may more likely be Kinloss rather than Kinross. Kinloss is still an RAF base and is close to Forres.

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