Inverness District Asylum, otherwise known as the Northern Counties Asylum, opened in 1864. Latterly it was renamed Craig Dunain Hospital and treated patients suffering from mental illness until 2000. Since then parts of the building have been converted to housing, while the rest awaits restoration.
The imposing main building, mostly of three storeys, is enlivened by gabled bays and, at the centre, bold twin square towers. It was designed by James Matthews of Aberdeen, who had also established an office in Inverness some ten years earlier. The Inverness office was run by Willliam Lawrie, and Lawrie assisted Mathews in the asylum commission. Mathews had experience in designing poorhouses, and was also architect to the Royal Northern Infirmary in Inverness.
As early as 1836 attempts were made to set up a lunatic asylum in Inverness. In that year the management Committee of the Royal Northern Infirmary recommended a separate establishment for the mentally ill, recognising the unsuitability of housing such patients in the infirmary. In 1843 a committee was established to promote the erection of a lunatic asylum at Inverness for the Northern Counties and in 1845 the movement gained Royal favour and would have produced the eighth Royal Asylum in Scotland. £4,500 was raised but this was not sufficient to build and endow such a hospital.
After the Lunacy (Scotland) Act of 1857 the scheme was proposed once more, this time by the District Lunacy Board. In 1859 the Board purchased the site, 180 acres on the hillside above Inverness, and a restricted competition was held for the architectural plans. Designs were invited from James Matthews, who secured the commission, Peddie and Kinnear of Edinburgh and the York architect George Fowler Jones.
Construction took several years, beginning in 1859. The contractors were Greig & Co. of Aberdeen, masons; A. Duff, Inverness, carpenter; J Gordon of Elgin, plumber; John Russell of Inverness, slater; Mr Hogg of Montrose, plasterer; and Smith & MacKay of Inverness, ironwork. The stone used was rubble whinstone and dressed stone from Tarradale on the Black Isle. The building was opened in May 1864 and was the third District Asylum in Scotland, being preceded by the District Asylums of Argyll and Bute at Lochgilphead, and Perth at Murthly. The first medical superintendent was Dr Aitken, who was accommodated in a ‘commodious and pleasantly-situated house near the Asylum’. This was to the south of institution, screened from view by a belt of trees.
George Anderson, solicitor, was Clerk to the Board of Lunacy, the Matron was Mrs Probyn. Mr C. W. Laing was the house-steward, Mr Macrae the head male attendant, Mr Logan the engineer, Mr Finlay the grieve, or steward. 
The asylum was a palatial building, standing on a magnificent raised site. It was built to the standard scale and plan at this date, being a development of the corridor plan. There was the usual central kitchen and dining‑hall and the whole complex was symmetrical with a basic division of females to one side and males to the other. There was an extensive view taking in the Moray Firth, the light-houses of Lossiemouth and Tarbetness. All round the asylum the hillside was ‘gorgeously covered with gorse or whin’ – but was destined to be turned into farmland to serve the institution.
The central section separated the female (east side) and male (west side) divisions. Nearest to the centre were convalescent wards, then at right angles to these were single rooms for the severest cases. Beyond these was an infirmary ward, with a degree of separation from the rest of the building to contain the spread of infectious diseases
At the back of the building ran the main staff corridor, which meant that visitors and staff didn’t have to pass through the patients’ day rooms to get from one part of the asylum to another. This was one of the many attempts around this time to design asylums that would provide a more home-like appearance, while still keeping the patients supervised. ‘Everything tending to indicate seclusion or imprisonment is carefully avoided. The windows resemble those of an ordinary dwelling house; there are no cross-bars, and no enclosure walls, beyond those which surround the airing-yards for the worst of cases’. 
The gas-brackets were designed in such a way that if they were broken the gas supply could be isolated, thus keeping the rest of the system in operation. (The gas was manufactured on the premises.) Other safety precautions included blunt table-knives, which could thus be ‘harmlessly seized by the blade, and wrested from the grasp of nay excited patient’.
As part of the important measures to guard against the hazards of fire, the asylum was constructed with a series of barriers, 80 to 90 feet apart, consisting of a thick, stone party wall with iron sliding doors to allow access from one section to another, but which could be drawn closed in the event of fire.
The day rooms were supplied with books and newspapers, and there was a piano from the outset, though the one in the photograph above may have been a later instrument. Patients slept in a mix of wards or dormitories and single rooms. The latter were for the sick, aged or refractory. Dormitories had from ten to ‘upwards of thirty’ beds in each and occupied the full width of the building, making them light and airy. The attendants were accommodated in the same rooms.
The laundry, farm-offices and gas works were situated away from the main building. The whole of the work was intended to be done by the patients. The laundry was fitted up with ‘the most approved mechanical contrivances for washing, drying, and mangling’. 
The original kitchen was positioned in the central part of the building and communicated with the dining hall ‘by two large windows’, copying the arrangement in English asylums. ‘The patients assemble in the dining-hall and their food having been arranged and placed in vessels for the purpose, is handed through the windows or apertures to the warders, whose duty it is to see that each inmates is duly supplied.’ Dirty plates were passed through another window into the scullery. 
The hospital claimed to be one of the first to remove its airing courts in 1874. This progressive act was somewhat belittled by the constant complaints of the Commissioners in Lunacy, when they inspected the hospital, of the lack of warmth in the buildings and the poor diet of the patients.
Overcrowding had soon become a problem and additions were eventually made in 1881, with Matthews again acting as the architect. Extensions were erected in 1898 to the designs of Ross and Macbeth for male and female hospital wards which were constructed at each end of the building. Ross & Macbeth had earlier added a byre to the site (1891), stables and a gas house (1895). Later they added piggeries and a slaughterhouse (1901); dining-rooms (1902), and a mortuary (1907). In the 1920s and 30s the hospital expanded further.
In 1927 a large new recreation hall was provided, designed to blend in with the original building but constructed from pre‑cast concrete as well as red sandstone rubble, instead of the dressed stone used on the original buildings. The hall was large enough to take 400 patients and staff, and could be used as a theatre, cinema or dance hall as well as for less formal gatherings. The projecting bay on the photograph below contained a small kitchen.
In 1936 a new nurses’ home was built in a chunky manner with Baronial traces. It was deliberately constructed from materials which would blend in with the principal block. It provided accommodation for 100 nursing and domestic staff. Two isolation blocks were built around the same time for TB and Typhoid.
The last major building scheme was the construction of a chapel which was dedicated in 1963. It was designed by W. W. Mitchell of Alexander Ross & Son to accommodate 300 people. It is very simple in style, owing its origin to plain seventeenth‑ and eighteenth‑century kirks. Indeed, its birdcage bellcote could have come from such a building, though this church was interdenominational.
Craig Dunain Hospital was earmarked for closure in 1989. This took some years to accomplish, and the hospital only finally closed in 2000. Listed-building consent was applied for soon afterwards to redevelop the site for mixed use, including the demolition of several buildings on the site – including the 1960s chapel. The site was acquired by the developers, Robertson Residential and work began in 2006 to convert the original range into apartments.
But in 2007 an arson attack caused serious damage. Development shifted to less badly damaged parts of the old hospital, but many of the buildings had deteriorated and had for some time been on the register of historic Buildings at Risk. By 2013 only one part of the old building had been converted and occupied, although new housing had been built in the grounds, and works ground to a halt on the redevelopment of the historic core. To the north, New Craigs Psychiatric Hospital was built to replace both Craig Dunain and Craig Phadraig Hospital.
1. Inverness Courier, 16 June 1864, p.3
Records of the former Inverness District Asylum can be seen at the Highland Archive Centre in Inverness
The Builder, 6 Aug. 1859, p.527: Architect & Building News, 8 April 1932, p.56: Highland Health Board Archives, Booklet on hospital.