Adamson Hospital, Cupar, Fife

The Adamson Hospital, photographed in December 2017 © H. Richardson

The Adamson Hospital in Fife’s County Town of Cupar is a modest, quietly attractive Edwardian building with a bold modern wing added in 2012. It first opened in 1904, but this was not the beginning of its history. Like so many historic hospitals it had a shaky start, but unusually it began in a fine purpose built hospital erected in the 1870s. Its only fault was location – it was built on the outskirts of the picturesque village of Ceres, about 3 miles to the south of Cupar. Its isolated position and inadequate support from local doctors proved its downfall, it operated for just six years as a hospital and then lay empty until it was acquired by the Leith Fortnightly Holiday Scheme.

The original hospital, named the Adamson Institute (sometimes also called the Adamson Institution), photographed in December 2017 © H. Richardson

Alexander Adamson, after whom the hospital was named, was a manufacturer in Ceres, ‘in the halcyon days of handloom weaving’ (according to the St Andrews Citizen). [1] He died in 1866 a wealthy man, bequeathing the residue of his estate for the purpose of founding either a school or a hospital in or near Cupar. His seven trustees were personal friends and were mostly from Ceres, and when they decided upon building a hospital, they chose Ceres as its location. Thus the Adamson Institute  or Institution as it was variously known was built in 1872-3 to designs by the Cupar architect David Milne. A portrait of the founder, painted by Charles Lees, was to be hung on its walls.  

Detail of the centre gable and flanking dormer heads – the latter carved with the date 1872, photographed in December 2017 © H. Richardson

Surviving today, though now converted into private flats, the former Adamson Institution is a handsome building, not obviously a hospital in its outward appearance. This was common enough for cottage hospitals, particularly the earlier ones, which deliberately aimed to present a more domestic appearance than the often dour poor law infirmaries designed with Nightingale-style ward blocks. Cottage hospitals treated a broader spectrum of society, were generally operated by the local general practitioners and sometimes charged a small fee to in-patients. The Ceres building fits neatly into this pattern. Its architect was local, as were the builders and craftsmen who worked on it: the builder was from Ceres, Robert Nicholson, as was the joiner, William Younger; the plumber was Mrs Steele from Cupar; William Bryson of Cupar was the plasterer; Francis Batchelor, the slater, was also from Cupar; the lather, John Burns was from St Andrews as was the bell hanger, James Foulis. [2]

The map is not very clearly labelled. The ‘Adamson’s Institute’ is the large building to the right of the lettering, marked with a small circle. Detail from the 2nd Edition 25-inch OS map, revised in 1893. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Just fifteen patients could be accommodated in eight bedrooms, three on the ground floor and five on the first floor, and there was a sitting room on each floor for the use of ambulant patients. The board room was to double as an operating room and there was the usual accommodation for staff and services. Although the building was completed in 1873 and Dr Blair of Strathkinness appointed as its medical officer, it is unclear whether it received any patients in the early years. Dr Blair left the district in 1876, and in 1877 the Trustees were advertising for a nurse, who would also act as a Housekeeper and Cook, for the hospital which was ‘about to be opened’. [3]

This 1912 map marks the Leith Holiday Home (it is the large building some distance to the right of the label). Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

In 1883 the trustees were forced to close the hospital. Various efforts were made by the local authorities to acquire the building as an infectious diseases hospital, but these were rejected by the Adamson Trustees. In 1895 it was leased to the committee of the Leith Fortnightly Holiday Scheme, providing under-privileged town children with a ‘fresh-air-fortnight’. The first fifty children were sent here in July 1896. The building was finally purchased by the Scheme in 1901. (Later it became known as Alwyn House, an employment rehabilitation centre run by the RNIB.) 

Postcard of the Adamson Cottage Hospital

Meanwhile the need for a cottage hospital in Cupar was becoming increasingly pressing, in particular for cases of severe injury due to accidents. This became critical in 1899 when the place to which accidents or special cases of illness were taken was taken over by the burgh and made into an infectious diseases hospital, closing its doors to all other cases. Other patients had to suffer the long journey to Edinburgh for admission to the Royal Infirmary. Members of Cupar’s Sick Poor Nursing Association were instrumental in finally getting a cottage hospital in the town. In April 1899 they opened a small hospital-come-nursing home at Moat Hill. Pressure was also put on the Adamson Trustees to fulfil their original requirements. The decision to sell the Ceres building to the Leith Holiday Home Committee and buy or rent a building to be called the Adamson Hospital ‘in a more suitable place’ was narrowly voted through at a meeting of the Trustees in February 1901. [4]

The original part of the Adamson Cottage Hospital, photographed in December 2017 © H. Richardson

After obtaining plans from three local men: Henry BruceDavid Storrar and Henry Allan Newman, Newman was appointed and work progressed quickly. The contractors for the work were mostly from Cupar or Cupar Muir: J. Stark, mason; Thomas Donaldson, joiner; A. Stewart, plumber; Messsrs M’Intosh & Son, plasterers and slaters; John Randall, painter; C. Edmond, glazer; R. Dott Thomson supplied the grates and A. Douglas of Dundee electric bells. The furnishing was carried out by W & J. Muckersie, the window blinds by Hood & Robertson, both of Cupar. [5]

Extract from the 2nd edition OS map, revised in 1912, reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The hospital opened in December 1904. There was no formal opening ceremony, but the local press published a sketch of the new hospital after a drawing by the architect, and carried a full description of the building. On the ground floor, to the left of the main entrance, was the female ward and a bedroom and sitting room for the matron, while in the equivalent position to the right was the male ward, the Yeomanry Ward, and an operating room. Kitchens etc were to the rear, nurses’ and staff accommodation in the attic. The Yeomanry Ward was a memorial to members of the 20th Company of the Imperial Yeomanry who served in the Boer War and was paid for by funds raised by Sir John Gilmour. [5]

The new wing of the Adamson Cottage Hospital. Photographed in December 2017 © H. Richardson

Since its opening in 1904 several extensions and additions were made on the site. Most recently in 2011-12 a new health centre was added to the west of the original building and the original hospital reconfigured by JMArchitects for Glenrothes and North East Fife Community Health Partnership (GNEF CHP) with Ogilvie Construction Ltd. This work entailed clearing away some of the later extensions to the hospital.

  1. St Andrews Citizen, 2 March 1901, p.6
  2. Fife Herald, 2 Oct 1873, p.2
  3. Fife Herald, 27 Sept 1877, p.1
  4. Dundee Courier, 27 Feb 1901, p.7
  5. St Andrews Citizen, 12 Nov 1904, p.6

Sources: Fife Health Board: Minute Books: The Courier, 26 Nov 2012: a booklet has been produced by Cupar Heritage on the history of the hospital (which I haven’t yet seen).

 

About Harriet Richardson

I am an architectural historian. I worked on the Survey of London from 1991-2018, and am an honorary senior research associate at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. I have worked on surveys of hospital architecture in Scotland and England.
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