Brooksby House, Largs. From Yachting Residence to Seaside Convalescent Home.

For many decades, Brooksby House was the convalescent home for Glasgow’s Victoria Infirmary. The Governors of the Infirmary purchased this substantial villa by the sea-front at Largs in 1896 and it opened the following year with accommodation for 24 patients.

Postcard of Brooksby House, postmarked 1910. Reproduced by permission of H. Martin

Convalescent Homes were a common aspect of health care for about a century. They first emerged in the mid-nineteenth century in an attempt to solve the problem of patients discharged from hospital who did not fully recuperate, either from having to return to work too soon, poor sanitary conditions in the home, or inadequate nourishment. In the late-eighteenth century some general hospitals began to provide convalescent wards and a few of the more enlightened workhouse infirmaries had convalescent wards around the mid-nineteenth century.

The former Metropolitan Convalescent Institution, later Ellesmere Hospital, Walton-on-Thames. Photographed in 1993 © H. Richardson. The hospital closed in 1989, and some time after 1998 was converted into private flats.

The first convalescent home in England seems to have been the Metropolitan Convalescent Institution. It grew from an ad hoc  arrangement between Theodore Monro, a medical student at Barts Hospital in the City of London and his brother, a vicar in Harrow Weald, whereby patients discharged from the hospital were lodged with families in the Harrow Weald to recuperate. Monro wanted to provide an asylum in the country, where pure air, rest and nutritious diet would speed recovery. In 1842  a vacant workhouse in Carshalton provided a more formal home for the nascent institution, but a purpose-built home was erected in 1852-4 near Walton-on-Thames, designed by Joseph Clarke in a handsome Italianate style (later renamed Ellesmere Hospital).

Despite its success, and increasing awareness of the usefulness of convalescent homes, there was a lapse of some years before any more homes were built. This changed during the 1860s, with homes built in Bournemouth (the Herbert Memorial), Wimbledon (the Atkinson Morley), Whitley Bay (Prudhoe Memorial), and various other locations. The first in Scotland was established at Dunoon in 1869 (the Dunoon Homes).

The Prudhoe Memorial Convalescent Home, Whitley Bay, reproduced from the Wellcome Collection, CC BY

The earliest purpose-built homes were designed on hospital-like lines with large nightingale-style wards. Florence Nightingale herself commended a more domestic scale and appearance, and published an ideal plan in 1863 for a convalescent hospital arranged as three cottages, linked by covered ways.

Florence Nightingale’s ideal convalescent home, plan and elevation, from Notes on Hospitals, London, 1863

Like Brooksby House, many convalescent homes were established in converted houses. Brooksby was originally built around 1837-40 as a yachting residence for a Glasgow merchant, Matthew Perston. It is attributed to the architect David Hamilton, or his son James, under the partnership they formed of D & J Hamilton. Designed in a fashionable though restrained Italian Renaissance style, the main elevation faces west, towards the sea, with a verandah, now missing its canopy, in front of the central projecting three bays. The main entrance was on the south side, with a grand porch sheltering the doorway. The house had particularly fine interiors, with plaster ceilings, chimney-pieces and a painted armorial ceiling in the rooms on the ground floor.

Brooksby House, photographed in June 2018 by Ian Rainey. © Copyright Ian Rainey and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Perston already had a house in Largs by 1836, when he was the owner of the Yacht ‘Wave’, though his address is not give as Brooksby in the newspapers until 1845. In 1839 he had won a challenge cup with Wave and he had been elected a steward of the Royal Northern Yacht Club by 1844. The Club’s Regatta was held in Largs in that year. In 1846 he was listed as a shareholder of the Glasgow, Largs and Milport Steam-boat Company, but his main business was the Bothwell Street Spinning Company, Glasgow. Perston was bankrupted in 1847, and had to put Brooksby House up for sale or to let. A buyer proved hard to find, and a sale of his wines, port, madeira, sherry etc along with much of his household furniture was held in June 1848. The following year, in October 1849, the house was advertised for sale again, at the reduced price of £3,700, despite having cost £10,000 to build. It was described as a splendid marine residence. It had three reception rooms, seven bedrooms, as well as a bathroom and hot and cold water. It seems that Perston and his family emigrated to Australia.

Extract from the 1st edition OS map, surveyed in 1855. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

By the 1850s Brooksby had become the home of Robert Graham, a Justice of the Peace for Ayrshire. Graham senior had died by the mid-1860s, but his daughter, Gertrude Schuyler Ramsay, wife of George Gilbert Ramsay, Professor of Humanity at the University of Glasgow, and his son, R. C. Graham and his wife, retained the house. In 1897 Brooksby  was acquired by the Victoria Infirmary, Glasgow. The Grahams offered to sell for £4,000, but the Infirmary Governors did not wish to pay more than £3,500. After some haggling, they agreed to meet half way. The acquisition of a convalescent home fulfilled the wishes of the Infirmary’s benefactor, Robert Couper, who had left £40,000 in his will to establish both the infirmary and an associated convalescent home.  It was hoped that the home would allow patients to be discharged earlier, and thus help to lessen the waiting list.

Ceiling in one of the ground-floor rooms, photographed by RHCME in 2012

Brooksby House was attractive because of its seaside location, easy distance from Glasgow, and because the service buildings to the rear, including coach-house and stables, could easily be rented out and provide an income without interfering with the amenity of the home. After a swift refurbishment, the home was formally opened on 26 June 1897 by Lady Watson, wife of the Chairman of the Board of Governors, Sir Henry Watson. Accommodation was provided for 24 patients, later raised to 30.

Painted ceiling in ground-floor room of Brooksby House, photographed in 2012 by RCHME

Under the National Health Service Brooksby initially remained under the same Board of Management as the Victoria Infirmary. Latterly it was mostly used to provide a fortnight’s holiday for long-stay psychiatric patients from Leverndale Hospital, Glasgow. In 1983 it was transferred to Ayrshire and Arran Health Board. It provided continuing care beds until around 2006 and since 2009, has been used as the North West Ayrshire Resource Centre by the NHS.

Sources: 

The Scotsman, 8 Sept 1847, p.4: Glasgow Herald, 18 April 1845, p.2; 6 March 1846, p.4; 25 Feb 1848 p.3; 29 May 1848, p.3: Greenock Advertiser, 14 December 1852 p.2: Morning Advertiser, 11 Aug 1865, p.8: Largs & Millport Weekly, 3 July 1897: NHS, Greater Glasgow & Clyde Archives, Victoria Infirmary Annual Reports: S. D. Slater & D. A. Dow, The Victoria Infirmary of Glasgow 1890 -1990, 1990, pp.245-7.

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, and an honorary fellow of the University of Edinburgh. I have worked on surveys of hospital architecture in Scotland and England.
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