On Friday the Dundee Courier announced that there are plans afoot to demolish the former Netherlea Hospital in Newport, Fife, and replace it with a development of luxury houses and flats, with eye-wateringly high price tags. The Law Property Group, on behalf of the developers, suggested that the development would be attractive to locals wishing to downsize. But with the upper price of £650,000 this seems disingenuous. A local councillor was quoted as being ‘surprised’ by the proposed price range. On a development promising between 35 and 45 homes, the cheapest property, a two-bed flat, would cost £275,000. A bargain for a flat overlooking the Thames, but somewhat on the high side for a flat in Newport overlooking the Tay, now matter how silvery.
Netherlea was built as a domestic villa, for the local shipowner, Andrew Leitch, in about 1893 to designs by the Dundee architect Thomas Martin Cappon. It is a large red sandstone building in simple Tudor style, of two storeys and attics, with stick on half-timbering in the gables.
Extract from the 25-inch OS map surveyed in 1893. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland
Andrew Leitch was a prominent figure in Dundee, and was particularly associated with the development of the harbour. Born in Fife, he started out as a colliery clerk, later moving to Dundee as the agent for Halbeath Colliery. From there he progressed to being a coal merchant, then exporter, also establishing the Dundee Loch Line Steam Shipping Company. He married in 1859 Isabella Thomson, with whom he had eleven children. She died, at Struan Inn, Banks of Garry, following a carriage accident in July 1897. Andrew Leitch remarried when he was sixty years old in 1902. His second wife, Janet Elizabeth née Smith, became a notable local figure, a supporter of women’s rights, the National Union of Women Workers and many philanthropic causes. She was also the first woman to be elected to the local School Board in Newport. She died in 1913, and her husband outlived her by just three years.
In 1917 the contents of the house were auctioned, at that time the house comprised: drawing-room, parlour, dining room, billiard room and hall, 10 bed and dressing-rooms, as well as laundry and kitchen apartments. By 1931, Netherlea was the home of Mr G. L. Wilson, a member of the Cupar Liberal Club, but by 1936 was the home of David Hamilton Brackenridge, who, like Leitch, was a member of the Dundee Harbour Trust. Brackenridge was born in Cupar in 1871, and was educated at Madras College, St Andrews, and Dundee High School. He spent 21 years in Calcutta as representative of the Dundee jute merchants, J. C. Duffus & Company. On his return from India he became the local agent for Duffus. He died at Netherlea in January 1939 and a month later his widow had put the house up for sale. The accommodation was listed as comprising: on the ground floor, four public rooms, billiard room, cloakroom and lavatory, kitchen and usual offices; on the first floor, five bedrooms, two bathrooms and maids’ sitting-room and bathroom; on the second floor, three maids’ bedrooms and box room. It also had a modern garage, greenhouse and outhouses, was in excellent condition, electrically fitted throughout, and the grounds tastefully laid out.
Presumably the house failed to find a buyer, the contents were sold about a year later, but in 1945 Netherlea was offered to Fife County Council, and its future as a hospital discussed by the Public Health Committee. Before then, during the Second World War, it had been occupied by officers of the Norwegian Air Force. It became a maternity hospital under the NHS with 17 beds, an isolation room and nursery, plus 13 staff bedrooms, the conversion to a hospital was carried out by the architect Frank Pride, of Walker and Pride to plans drawn up in 1946.
Although officially opened on 21 July 1948, by the end of September it had yet to admit any expectant mothers. Lieutenant Colonel Noel Baxter of New Gilston, the county convenor for the East Fife Hospital Group Board of Management, visited the hospital expecting it to be up and running and was shocked to find this was not the case. Although Netherlea had a doctor, matron and nursing staff, it could not open to patients because there was no cook. Until one could be appointed, patients were being sent to Dundee, Perthshire or even Edinburgh – ‘all over the shop’ according to the County Medical Officer of Health. It opened not very long afterwards, presumably once a suitable cook had been found.
In 1974 Netherlea became a long-stay hospital for the elderly. Designated a community hospital in 1997, it closed in 2011. I’m afraid I can’t post a photographs yet of Netherlea, as I can’t find one that is in the public domain – but if you follow the link to the Courier article, there is a photograph there, which also turns up searching on Google images.
Dundee Advertiser, 3 Feb 1893, p.5: St Andrew’s Citizen, 17 July 1897, p.8: Dundee Evening Telegraph, 10 May 1916, p.2; 4 June 1936, p.5; 30 Jan 1939, p.5, 4 Sept 1945, p.8: Dundee People’s Journal, 13 May 1916 p.8, has a photograph of Andrew Leitch: Dundee Courier, 5 Dec 1913, p. 6; 17 April 1917, p.1: 30 Dec 1931, p.8; 24 March 1939, p.16; 28 Sept 1948, p.2: The Courier, 31 March 2017