Portree Hospital

View of Portree Hospital from across the bay, photographed by John Allan in March 2010

In the early 1960s the NHS built a new hospital at Portree and substantially enlarged and extended the Mackinnon Memorial Hospital at Broadford. There was considerable controversy surrounding these projects at the time. From a cost and efficiency point of view, the Northern Regional Hospital Board wanted just one central hospital and Broadford was their preferred location being nearer to the mainland and therefore easier for visiting consultant specialists. But Skye is a large island community, with its population fairly evenly spread between north a south, making travel on narrow roads in bad weather less than ideal, especially for maternity cases. Even today, the journey by car from the far north of the island to the bridge that links Skye to the mainland in the south can take around two hours, in good weather during the summer. Until the mid-1990s you would have to add in the time for a ferry crossing to the mainland, as the bridge was only opened in 1995.

View of the garden front of Portree Hospital, photographed October 2020, ©  H. Richardson

The two new hospital buildings still resulted in a reduced and rationalised service, as four hospitals had been transferred to the National Health Service in 1948, whereas today just two are in operation. The new hospital at Portree replaced the old fever hospital there and prompted the closure of the John Martin Hospital at Uig (also in the north of the island). The small Gesto Hospital, at Edinbane continued in use until 2007, having staved off successive attempts at closure from the 1990s.

Former Gesto Hospital, Edinbane, Skye, photographed in 2010, © Carol Walker

Replacing the hospitals on Skye with a single new one had been proposed during the Second World War when the existing hospitals had been surveyed in 1942 as part of the groundwork leading up to establishing a national health service after the war. This national survey of hospital buildings was undertaken by pairs of medical professionals who were assigned one of five regions. Questionnaires were sent out to all the hospitals providing basic information about the number of beds available, the type of patients catered for, etc. The Survey was published in 1946, and fairly recently the Wellcome Library has digitised the reports which can be accessed online either via the Wellcome or on the Internet Archive

View of Portree Harbour. The hospital is further round to the right, out of shot. Photographed October 2020, ©  H. Richardson,

The Report for the Northern Region suggested that Portree might be the most suitable location for this single new hospital for the island. But no further progress was made either immediately after the war or in the early years following the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948. When the Northern Regional Hospital Board decided to build a new hospital it favoured Broadford over Portree, as not only was it more convenient for consultants from the mainland, but a hospital located there could also serve parts of the adjacent mainland. The local Board of Management and the local general practitioners were brought on side, and the proposal was supported by the Department of Health. However, when it was announced to the public in 1951 there was a local outcry. The Secretary of State for Scotland, James Stuart, promised the local Inverness MP, Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton, that in view of the strong feeling in Skye, he would see that no final decision on the location of the new hospital would be made without ‘direct consultation with local people’. 

Large-scale OS map surveyed 1965, reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland (CC-BY) NLS

Matters stalled following the economic restrictions imposed after 1951, with the outbreak of the Korean War and Britain’s support of the U.S.A. leading to funds being redirected from welfare to re-armament. The question of a new hospital for Skye was not revived until 1954 when fresh proposals for an addition of 12 beds to the Broadford hospital was put forward to the Department of Health by the Chairman of the Northern Regional Hospital Board. Although the Department was supportive, there remained the issue of the Secretary of State’s promise about local consultation. 

View of the north side of the hospital, with the original out-patients’ wing on the right, photographed October 2020, ©  H. Richardson,

How that consultation might be done was discussed between the Regional Board and the Department’s officers in the Spring of 1956. The limited funding and a general lack of clear understanding between the Department in Edinburgh and the Regional Board in Inverness meant that no further progress was made. In 1958 an internal inquiry was held, the Department being reconciled to the need to go to exceptional lengths to placate local feeling. The compromise reached was to run two hospitals, with a new one at Portree and an extension to the one in Broadford, much to the irritation of the Regional Board who only gave up on their wish for a single, larger hospital, with considerable reluctance. 

Detailed view of the former out-patients’ wing, with its curved end, photographed October 2020, ©  H. Richardson,

The Regional Architect, David Polson Hall, was put in charge of the design and planning of the new buildings.  Polson Hall was originally from Stonehaven and had studied architecture in Aberdeen in the 1920s before becoming chief assistant to the architect R. Leslie Rollo in 1931. In 1954, Polson Hall and colleagues at the Regional Board visited the RIBA Exhibition on the Design of Health Buildings. The two projects on Skye proceeded in tandem. Estimates for the Portree hospital were received in 1961, but were higher than the amount available so revisions to the plans had to be made. Final working drawings were not completed until May 1962, and work finally got under way in March 1963. 

View from the north-west, photographed October 2020, ©  H. Richardson

It is difficult not to see Portree hospital as old-fashioned, in architectural style if not in plan. It is a small L-shaped, single-storey and attic building set into the hillside. A contemporary photograph (see below) taken when the hospital was opened makes it appear over-scaled compared with the neighbouring houses, despite its smallness as a hospital. The construction was traditional, in synthetic stone and brickwork, roughcast with pitched roof finished in green slates. The long, west side of the hospital contained the in-patient accommodation, with wards and a day room on the west side of the long axial corridor commanding a fine view over the bay (see plan below). The east side of the corridor had ancillary rooms: WCs, bath, sterilising room, labour room, stores and Matron’s office. The main entrance was on this side, leading to a waiting area and staff office. There were twelve beds in all, half of which were for maternity cases. The largest ward had four beds, the others were three twin rooms and two singles. 

View of Portree Hospital from across the estuary just after it opened. From The Hospital, September 1965

The shorter wing to the north housed a small out-patients’ clinic, with a separate entrance and waiting area. The hospital was to be attended by visiting consultants but would be run by two local practitioners, the first in post were Dr John Morrison of Portree and Dr Calum Og MacRae from Uig. 

Photograph taken in about 1989-90 before the curved end of the out-patients’ wing was filled in and raised a storey. ©  H. Richardson,

At the entrance to the out-patients’ clinic, the chief architectural feature was the semi-circular porch – a faint echo of a pre-war era of an ocean liner moderne aesthetic. Its original perky seaside charm was marred by infilling and the addition of a second storey in 2005-6. Prosaically enough, the porch was intended as a pram shelter. The attic floor had accommodation for ten resident staff. There were fireplaces in the sitting rooms in addition to central heating, the decoration was described in The Hospital as ‘contemporary in light tone colours with wallpaper used in the sitting rooms, main hall, etc. The furnishings are all of contemporary design in vivid bright colours to show up against the light-coloured walls.’

Ground plan of the hospital as originally built, from The Hospital, September 1965

Portree hospital was officially opened on 31 March 1965 by A. A. Hughes, Under-Secretary at the Scottish home and Health Department. I am not quite sure what its future is. A new hospital has been built next to the MacKinnon Memorial at Broadford, so the fate of the older hospital there is perhaps also in doubt.

Further Information and references: J. C. Leslie and S. J. Leslie, History of Highland Hospitals The Hospitals of Skye, 2011, Old Manse Books, Avoch, Scotland. Department of Health files at the National Records of Scotland, Minutes of the Northern Regional Hospital Board are at Highlands Archives in Inverness.

Davidson Hospital, Girvan

Davidson Cottage Hospital, Girvan, photograph October 2022 © H. Richardson

At the end of September my husband, Chris, and I took a trip to the south-west corner of Scotland, to the Rhins of Galloway. On the way there and on the way back we stopped off at various hospitals, including this one at Girvan, on the Ayrshire coast. 

General view of the hospital from The Avenue. Photographed October 2022 © H. Richardson

This small cottage hospital was designed by the Glasgow firm of architects Watson, Salmond and Gray and built in 1921-2. It was officially opened on 15 June 1922. Thomas Davidson founded and endowed the hospital as a memorial to his mother. The Builder described the style as ‘a free treatment of the Scottish domestic’ and noted that the roofs were slated with Tilberthwaite slates (silver grey). The builders were the local masons, Thomas Blair & Son, who fashioned the handsome Auchenheath stone. They worked with J. & D. Meikle, joiners; William Auld & Son, slater, and William Miller, plasterer, all from Ayr. Tile work was carried out by Robert Brown  & Sons of Paisley and the plumbing was done by William Anderson, Ltd, Glasgow. [The Builder, 1 July 1921, p.10.]

The main front of the hospital. It has been boarded up for about eight years. Photograph © H. Richardson

When it was visited in the 1940s as part of the Scottish Hospitals Survey it was praised for its good condition. At that time it had 14 beds in two wards, and two single rooms available for maternity cases. It was mostly used for accident cases and work connected with the local medical practitioners. It had a fairly well-equipped operating theatres and good domestic offices. 

Detail of the main front. The inscription over the door reads ‘The Davidson Hospital’. Photograph © H. Richardson

It is one of my favourite Scottish cottage hospitals, but it has been on the Register of Buildings at Risk since 2014. It has been replaced by a new Community Hospital on the outskirts of Girvan.

This extension was added in 1971. An effort was made to respect the original building, being small, low, set back and with stone cladding.

Plans to turn the building into an Enterprise Centre came to nothing. More recently an application was submitted for the conversion of the building into two dwellings. I do hope that the former hospital will be cherished by its new owners.

Rear of the building. The single storey wing probably contained the kitchens, but I have never seen the original plans of the building
Lovely matching wing to the rear of the main building, although it looks of a date with the original building, it must have been built after 1963 as it does not appear on the OS map of that date.
Large-scale OS map, surveyed 1963. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland (CC-BY) NLS

First World War Auxiliary Hospitals

I recently had the pleasure of talking to Jackie Bird for the Love Scotland podcast, discussing the use of country houses during the First World War as auxiliary hospitals by the Red Cross. Two National Trust for Scotland properties had been used by the Scottish Red Cross: Leith Hall in Aberdeenshire and Pollok House, Glasgow.

Pollok House, photographed in 2008 by <p&p>photo, from flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In the first weeks of the war, the authorities were swamped with offers of private houses and other buildings for use as hospitals. Plans to provide emergency hospitals in the event of a war had been made by the Royal Army Medical Corps as early as 1907, the idea then was that a number of territorial force hospitals would be established in converted buildings, mostly schools, colleges or workhouses. That programme was rolled out at the beginning of the war, but had to expand as the conflict intensified taking over more schools and poor-law buildings. The numbers of wounded arriving in Britain rose dramatically over the winter of 1914 to 15. 

Fourth Scottish General Hospital, nurse with four American soldiers: Lieut. John Martin, Chaplain Thomas E. Swan, Captain H. I. B. Rice and Lieut. W. W. Gillen, 1918, from American National Red Cross photograph collection

At the outbreak of the war the British Red Cross joined forces with the Order of St John of Jerusalem to set up a Joint War Committee. The Red Cross had secured buildings and equipment and were able to set up temporary hospitals as soon as wounded men began to arrive from abroad. They were staffed by Voluntary Aid Detachments.

Oaklands Red Cross Hospital, Clevedon, Somerset, England, photograph taken following the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918 and made into a postcard

The auxiliary hospitals were attached to central military hospitals – receiving patients from those hospitals after they had been treated. The men needed time to rest and recuperate before returning to the Front. By sending them out to these country house hospitals, beds were freed up for more serious cases in the central hospitals, while the domestic surroundings and access to gardens, were ideal to aid recovery.

Leith Hall in Aberdeenshire is another of the country houses used by the Scottish Red Cross during the First World War. The gardens are in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

In Scotland there were between 160 and 180 auxiliary hospitals and just over a hundred of those were houses. Most were similar in size to Pollok house, although a few were larger – such as Hopetoun House, Glamis and Thirlestane Castle. Of course it was not necessarily the whole house that was used as a hospital. At Pollok house two of the main reception rooms were used: the dining room and the music room.

Glamis Castle, photographed in 2008 by Rev Stan on Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Other buildings used as auxiliary hospitals were mostly community halls, but there were also some schools, and in Glasgow the headquarters building of the North British Locomotive Company at Springburn was one of the larger Red Cross hospitals with 400 beds. 

Hyde Park Ward, Springburn Red Cross Hospital, from Scottish Archives for Schools. (National Records of Scotland reference: BR/LIB(S) 5/63) 

Below is a list of auxiliary hospitals in use in Scotland during the First World War. They are divided into the three Red Cross districts covering the West of Scotland, East of Scotland and Northern Scotland. The list is adapted from the list on the Red Cross website, with information added from Gordon Barclay’s report on the built heritage of the First World War in Scotland.

St Ann’s Hospital, Tottenham

St Ann’s Hospital occupies a large site in South Tottenham in the London Borough of Haringey. About half the site is being redeveloped by the NHS, the rest – the western side of the hospital – was sold for development. As far as I can gather, it is the last remaining extant fever hospital built by the Metropolitan Asylums Board, one of nine that were built to serve the capital. St Ann’s was originally known as the North Eastern Fever Hospital. The original temporary buildings were replaced in 1900-2 by sturdy permanent brick buildings, mostly of two storeys, to designs by the architects A & C Harston. Despite the historic significance of the site, Historic England turned down an application for designating the hospital as a listed building.

Here I have put together a sequence of photographs that were sent to me by one of the campaigners and activists who have been fighting to preserve both the buildings and the fine landscape around them. The importance of hospital gardens as therapeutic spaces is much talked about these days, but has long been recognised. These valuable spaces only really began to disappear as car ownership grew in the 1960s, and landscapes were covered over by concrete or tarmac to provide much-needed carpark space. Rarely, there is still much valuable green space at St Ann’s, along with many mature trees. There is a petition to save the trees, so if you would like to sign, follow this link or search on change.org for Save St Ann’s Hospital trees.

I think these images speak for themselves of the quality of the buildings, and the interest that there is on the site. You can find more pictures and an account of the hospital’s history on Peter Higginbotham’s workhouses.org website, and on Lost Hospitals of London. For now I am going to post this piece as it is, later I will add in more information and write a supplementary post with an overview of the history of the buildings. All the images here were very kindly provided by Vivienne Youell, copyright and permission to reproduce rest with her.

Administration Block, main front
Admin block from the rear
Evening light on the shaped gables of the admin block
Tall chimney stacks and shaped gables give character to the buildings
On the left, blind boxes on the windows are a rare and unusual survival on a hospital building, used to house sun shades.
Covered ways linked the detached blocks, these are details that seldom remain once the developers have moved in.
Brickwork and Biffa bins, all basking in the sunshine
Laundry Building to right
Narrow passage way between the buildings at the working end of the hospital, for stores, kitchens, workshops and laundry

Nature taking over
Inside former workshop
An attic store, all those books!
The covered way, and the workshop block on the right
Matron’s House and Staff Block
The garden area in front of the staff block
Topiary! Clipped yew perhaps?
A ward pavilion through the trees
Stock brick with red-brick bands glow in low sunlight
Ward block for diphtheria/enteric fever, with original ironwork covered way, and 20th-century escape bridge linking to adjacent ward block.
This tall oversailing arch between the sanitary block projections is a striking and unusual feature
Lovely cherry blossom at the gate lodge. And NHS blue iron bollards
Lush summer grass, looking towards the lodge
Isolation block in foreground

Midhurst Sanatorium revisited

It was back in June 1992 that Colin Thom and I visited King Edward VII Hospital, as it then was, as part of the RCHME Hospitals Project. The project involved site visits to as many pre-1948 hospitals throughout England as we could identify and manage within the three years allotted for the project. For the most interesting of these sites we requested professional photography from the Commission’s pool of excellent photographers, and those are now a part of the Historic England archives. We also took colour slides and black-and-white snaps for ourselves. I have been scanning some of these and have posted some of the slides already, but thought I would share the black-and-white snaps here. They are only snaps, and of mixed quality, but I think they provide an interesting record of how the hospital looked 30 years ago.

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Central range, south front of King Edward VII Hospital, June 1992

You can just spot someone sitting in the alcove on the far left. The gardens around the sanatorium were designed by the architects Adams & Holden and the planting plans were drawn up by Gertrude Jekyll. Jekyll produced some forty plans in about 1905, which detail the planting for the formal gardens, the areas just behind the main south block and between it and the chapel, and also the Medical Superintendent’s garden. The light and sandy soil lent itself to Mediterranean plants, and ‘in the case of the Sanatorium walls, the planting was carefully considered for colour effect, masses of plants of related or harmonious colouring being kept near together’.¹

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West wing of the hospital, looking westwards towards the chapel garden.

A raised basement provided a terrace in front of the ground-floor rooms, while the balcony in front of the first-floor rooms created a degree of shelter, as do the deep eaves for the upper-floor rooms. Shutters allowed the inward-opening doors to be left open over-night, to ensure that there was still plentiful fresh air entering the rooms.

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The chapel from the north, showing the eastern nave and the tower.

The sanatorium was largely surrounded by woodland, in particular pine woods. Pines, and the ‘terebinthine’ vapours they exuded were considered particularly beneficial to those suffering from tuberculosis.

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View along the western nave of the chapel

The chapel was most unusual, being V-shaped in plan with twin naves, one for male the other for female patients, each focussed on the central chancel.

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The plan of the chapel above marks the entrances (no.54); open cloisters (57); altar (58); vestry (59); organ space (60); pulpit (61); lectern (62), nave for men (63); nave for women (64); courtyard (65); store room (66) and the mortuary chapel (67). It was produced for the Tuberculosis Year Book, and reproduced in F. R. Walters, Sanatoria for the Tuberculous, 1913. The south side of the chapel was originally open, the arcade was only glazed during the 1950s.

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Above is a view of the western nave of the chapel showing the south wall with its glazed arcade. Although the glazing was added in the 1950s, its elegant design is very pleasing, and adds rather than detracts from the architectural effect of the building. It is also an indication of the changes in the way that tuberculosis was treated, following the discovery and widespread use of antibiotics, and the rather slower uptake of the BCG vaccine, which finally lead to the decline in TB and the redundancy of the sanatoria.

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Detail of the clerestory windows and, just visible, the plaster frieze above.

Above the clerestory windows in the chapel a deep frieze is just-about visible on the photograph above, featuring vine leaves and bunches of grapes. It is an Arts & Crafts detail, inspired by later seventeenth century plasterwork.

Western nave, looking north-east

Midhurst Sanatorium was one of the most architecturally ambitious, and expensively fitted out anywhere in Britain. It was designed to represent best-practice at the time, and provide a model for future sanatoria in this country, also encouraging the establishment of sanatoria in Britain to bring open-air treatment within the reach of a wider section of society.

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The main corridor at the centre of the hospital lead directly from the main entrance on the north side to the gardens on the south. 
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One of the patients’ sitting-rooms.
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The same room looking the other way
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Staff dining room
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Entrance Hall
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North elevation, Administration block
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Rainwater head.


  1. Country Life, 1909

Stevenage Outpatients’ Centre

Photographed in 2022 © K. A. Morrison

In the centre of Stevenage, just next to the central library with its adjoining Health Centre, stands this gem of an early NHS building. However, the building is now under threat of demolition as part of the current Stevenage Development Board’s plans to make ‘Stevenage Even Better’. (Surely a potential sequel to W1A?) There has been an outpouring of dismay at this decision on Twitter. Is it too late to hope that this building might be preserved? So many of the early NHS hospital buildings have been demolished, this is becoming an increasingly rare survivor.

Former Outpatients’ Centre, photographed in 2022 © K. A. Morrison

It was built in advance of the new District General Hospital, the new Lister Hospital. Well in advance as it turned out, as the outpatients clinic was built in 1959-61 while the residents of the New Town had to wait another ten years or so for the opening of the Lister Hospital.

The Lister Hospital. Photographed by Peter O’Connor in 2011, CC BY-SA 2.0

Stevenage Development Corporation reached an agreement with the North-West Metropolitan Regional Hospitals Board in about 1957 for them to build a casualty and outpatients’ clinic on a site to the south of the main shopping core of the New Town. The site formed part of the area reserved for Hertfordshire County Council, offering the opportunity of forming a close link between the clinic and the local authority’s health centre. The County Council agreed to give up part of the land to the Hospital Board in recognition of the need for hospital services in the town, which were provided by the hospitals at Hitchin. These were the former workhouse (renamed the Lister Hospital during the Second World War) and the North Hertfordshire and South Bedfordshire Hospital, the town’s long-established former voluntary hospital. Both of these hospitals had been acquired by the State on the appointed day in June 1948 when the National Health Service was inaugurated.

Stevenage Outpatient Centre when new, reproduced from The Hospital, March 1962. General view showing the gymnasium on the left.

Plans were approved for the clinic in about 1958 at which time it was anticipated that work would begin on site the following summer. The commission was put out to Peter Dunham, Widdup and Harrison, architects based in Luton, a firm that had some experience with hospital design in Northern Ireland, but also designed some elegant private houses, laboratories and factories. It was not unusual for the NHS to place design work with private firms, especially for larger schemes. Most of the Regional Boards had architects departments, but some were small, and initially under-staffed for the large amount and range of work with which they were faced.

Peter Dunham was born in Luton and had trained at the Bartlett School of Architecture. He had started in private practice in 1933, and served in the Royal Engineers during the war, where he met MacFarlane Widdup. Widdup, a Yorkshireman who had trained in Leeds, was two years older than Dunham. According to the Architectural Review of 1953 he spent his spare time ‘cutting down trees too near his new house, admiring other people’s vintage cars and making amateur films of the kind no-one else understands’. As for the third partner of the team, Michael Harrison was a fellow Lutonian and Bartlett student, who had spent three years in local government before joining Dunham and Widdup in 1949.

Detail of the corner of the outpatients’ centre showing the different decorative treatment on the north (left) and west (right) sides of the gymnasium. Photographed in 2022 © K. A. Morrison

Stevenage Development Corporation welcomed the development of the clinic but lamented that instead of building even the first stage of a new general hospital all that the Regional Hospitals Board were able to do were some improvements to the existing Lister and North Herts Hospitals at Hitchin. In their Annual Report published in 1959, the Corporation noted their hopes that the Stevenage Hospital would be given high priority when the country’s economic circumstances permitted new hospital building. The growing population of the area was making it more difficult for the Hitchin hospitals to meet the demands made on them. When the new clinic opened it functioned as an annexe of the old Lister Hospital at Hitchin and provided a full range of consultative and specialist clinics staffed from both the Lister and the North Herts. Since that time it has continued to have an outpatient function within the NHS, and latterly was known as the Danestrete Centre.

Detail of the decorative wall treatment on the clinic. Photographed in 2022 © K. A. Morrison

The most distinctive feature of the building is the gymnasium with its decorative quilted finish to the external walls. On the north side the lozenges of aggregate chips are pinned together by blue tiles bearing the coat of arms of Joseph Lister. This alluded to the Lister Hospital, which had been so-named as Lister had attended the Quaker school at Hitchin as a child.

Detail of the coat of arms on the exterior of the Outpatients’ Centre. Photographed in 2022 © K. A. Morrison

This part of the building was specially designed as an independent reinforced concrete frame structure, to isolate it from the rooms beneath, in order to ‘avoid interference by the activities of this department’.

The gymnasium in the physiotherapy department of the clinic. From The Hospital, March 1962, p.151

The remainder of the construction is of brickwork with concrete floors and timber roofs. The ceilings of the corridors and the public spaces, such as the waiting room, were lined with sound absorbent boarding for quietness. Particular efforts were made to provide a ‘homely building’ offering a ‘friendly welcome to the patients’. Accordingly materials and decorations in the waiting areas were carefully chosen to create the desired atmosphere, and a modern touch was provided by a large abstract mural at the entrance, giving a ‘strong and gay splash of colour’.

Interior view published in 1962, showing the waiting area, with natural wood finishes, patterned lino tiles. From The Hospital, March 1962.

The clinic was centrally heated, and apart from its gymnasium, provided a series of consultant and examination rooms, treatment rooms, dental and E.N.T. departments, and small pathological department, x-ray, and pharmacy. The original proposal to include a casualty section was not carried out, and emergency services continued to be dealt with at the old Lister Hospital in Hitchin. The total cost of the building was £95,610.

Ground Floor Plan of the Outpatients Clinic, from The Hospital, March 1962.
Upper Floor Plans of the Outpatients Clinic, from The Hospital, March 1962

References: Stevenage Development Corporation, 11th Annual Report, 1 April 1957 to 31 March 1958 and 12th Annual Report, 1 April 1958 to 31 March 1959: Architectural Review, 1 Nov. 1953, p.282: The Hospital, March 1962, pp.147-51.

There is a fuller account of this building in Historic England’s research report on Stevenage Town Centre, which I highly recommend. It can be freely accessed online here https://historic-hospitals.com/2022/04/01/stevenage-outpatients-centre/

Convalescing in Colwyn Bay

Queen’s Lodge and the Mary Bamber Convalescent Centre

With so many suffering from Long Covid, the idea of a period of convalescence after an illness has become relevant again. We had become used to a quick recovery, to being sent home from hospital as soon as we can manage the stairs, and all is functioning as it should. But in the not-so-distant past a period of convalescence was to be expected.

Postcard of Queen’s Lodge Convalescent Home, Colwyn Bay, Wales, from about 1980

Convalescent homes were once numerous in Britain, particularly in coastal resorts. A period of convalescence by the sea or in the countryside was an important part of the recovery process. In the nineteenth century, charitable voluntary hospitals found that patients discharged after surgery or an illness often had to be re-admitted soon afterwards, having relapsed through not being able to convalesce at home. Wage-earners returned to work too soon, while wives and mothers went back to the heavy work in the home and taking care of their children. Sometimes neither the home nor the family’s income were adequate for someone in need of rest, nourishing food and fresh air. From the mid-nineteenth century increasing numbers of voluntary hospitals started to establish convalescent homes, where their patients could be moved, thus freeing up beds in the main hospital. Early convalescent homes tended to look very much like the parent hospital. The former Atkinson Morley Hospital in South London is a prime example.

Atkinson Morley Hospital, London Borough of Merton, photographed in November 1992 © H. Richardson
Floor plan of the Atkinson Morley Convalescent Home, published in 1898, showing the nightingale-style large wards.

In the later nineteenth century, convalescent homes developed to provide more home-like settings, with rooms where the patients could sit or dine, and gardens in which to sit out. Private homes were also set up for those who could afford to pay. Some were little more than boarding houses, with next-to-no medical attendance. Others, like the Rustington Convalescent Home in West Sussex were purpose built and offered a high degree of home comfort. The Rustington was built in 1897 to designs by Frederick Wheeler. It was founded and endowed by Sir Henry Harben, Chairman of the Prudential Assurance Society. It was particularly luxurious, charging a ‘moderate’ fee for accommodation, mostly in single rooms but with some twin and a few with four beds. After Sir Henry’s death the home was entrusted to the Worshipful Company of Carpenters of London.

The Rustington Convalescent Home, West Sussex. Photographed in June 1992 © H. Richardson

Alongside these individual bequests, some homes were established through contributory schemes, where workers contributed a part of their wages towards health care – effectively a form of health insurance. These schemes were important for more than funding a patient’s convalescence. Penny-in-the-pound schemes typically levied a portion of the workers’ wages: one penny per pound, or two to three pence weekly. After the First World war such schemes expanded, becoming vital as a reliable source of income for voluntary hospitals that were facing rising costs. The contributions to the hospitals were exchanged for the right of members to treatment, without recourse to means testing. Some schemes were linked to just one hospital, others to multiple hospitals in a given area. The latter type were more common in large cities, and were operated as independent organisations to which local businesses paid their workers’ contributions. The Merseyside Hospitals Council was one of these, formed in Liverpool in the late 1920s.

Liverpool Royal Infirmary, administration block, photographed in 2017 (Rodhullandemu, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The Merseyside Hospitals Council secured the agreement of 23 voluntary medical institutions in the area to co-operate with their penny-in-the-pound contributory scheme that secured free vouchers for workers and their dependents that would be recognised by the participating hospitals. By November 1928 the scheme had 134,000 contributors, and though only founded in 1927-8 its income already stood at £52,000. The vast majority of that was distributed to the local hospitals (88.7%), the remainder paid for the administration of the scheme (7.8%) and ancillary services. These last included ambulances. In July 1929 Liverpool’s Guild of Undergraduates gifted a cream and red ambulance to the Merseyside Hospitals’ Council for the use of the contributors’ fund. Local companies that participated in the scheme included the Birkenhead shipyard, Cammell Laird, with 6,000 workers contributing. The local newspaper, the Liverpool Echo reported that for the first time in their history many of the Merseyside voluntary hospitals were working free from the anxiety of financial embarrassment due to the success of the penny in the pound fund. It assured an annual income, helping with their working expenses and, the Echo hoped, would in time enable them to ‘enlarge their accommodation, purchase new equipment and replenish their stocks generally.’ [Liverpool Echo, 6 Nov. 1928; 13 Feb 1929, p.7; 11 July 1929.]

Liverpool Southern Hospital, tinted lithograph, 1867, after Culshaw and Sumners.Wellcome Collection.

In 1929 the Royal Infirmary of Liverpool received the largest sum from the fund (£3,540), with the Royal Southern Hospital, the David Lewis Northern Hospital and Birkenhead General Hospital each also receiving over £2,000. Smaller institutions received comparably smaller sums: £25 each for the Heart Hospital and the Netherfield Road Dispensaries, and just £1 to the Neston Cottage Hospital. [Liverpool Echo, 13 Feb 1929, p.7.]

Extract from the OS map, from the National Library of Scotland

The Fund also established its own convalescent homes. In 1946 Queens Lodge, a large house on the edge of Colwyn Bay, was purchased at auction for £15,200. This late-nineteenth century house was built for a Warrington wire manufacturer and was subsequently the home of Lord Colwyn. The architect of Queen’s Lodge is not know for certain, but it has been attributed to William Owen. RCAHMW gives some information on the site.[Edward Hubbard, The Buildings of Wales: Clwyd, p. 140.] The Merseyside Hospitals Council converted the house into a convalescent home for men, and it was officially opened in May 1947 by the Chairman of the Council, W. Sutclliffe Rhodes. The previous year the Council had opened its first home at Windermere, which was for women, and were planning to establish a third home at Ulverston for boys.[Liverpool Echo, 17 May 1947, p..3]

Merseyside Hospitals Council continued to provide for convalescents after the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948. In 1949 the Council purchased another large house near Queen’s Lodge: Plas Euryn, on Tan-y-Bryn Road, Rhos-on-Sea. This was the former home of the late Sir Harold and Lady Elverston, and stood in about three and a half acres laid out as lawns, shrubbery, flower and vegetable gardens. It had latterly been in use as a private hotel. After conversion, it was opened in May 1950 by the managing director of Littlewoods, John Moores, and was named the Mary Bamber Home, in memory of a former chairman of the Council’s convalescent and after-care committee from 1934 until her death in 1938. Mrs Bamber had been one of the first to urge the council to establish its own comprehensive convalescent service. Mary Bamber’s daughter, Elizabeth M. Braddock, had followed her example, becoming an MP and later also became chairman of the Council’s convalescent committee. Elizabeth Braddock also attended the opening ceremony of the new home, which provided accommodation for 38 women. This was the fifth home owned and run by the Council, two for women, one for men, one for boys and one for the elderly (this last at Southport). [North Wales Weekly News, 11 May 1950.]

Postcard of the Mary Bamber Centre, opened 1968. Convalescent home for women, built in the grounds of Queen’s Lodge to replace an earlier home of the same name.

In 1964 Queen’s Lodge was renamed after John Braddock, a former chairman of the Hospital Council, who had died the previous year. Then in 1965 the Council decided to close their two homes for women at Brock Hall, Windermere and the Mary Bamber Home at Rhos-on-Sea, and consolidate their operations at the Queen’s Lodge site by building a new home for women there. The new home took the name ‘Mary Bamber Home’ and was designed to provide 60 beds in one or two-bedroomed units. It was to be ‘the last word in comfort and elegance’. The Council’s officers planned to show the plans of the new home to the Health Minister, Kenneth Robinson, when he visited Liverpool for the annual conference of the Association of Voluntary Hospital Contributors, being held at Southport. [Liverpool Echo and Evening Express, 23 Oct. 1965.]

Detail of the postcard, showing the semi-circular lounge

Although the home was not owned by the National Health Service it was officially opened by Kenneth Robinson, in May 1968. The home had cost around £130,000. Building work had been completed in December 1967 and the first patients admitted the following February. The home provided 12 single and 24 double bedrooms, with built-in wardrobes, dressing tables and wash-hand basins. The patients’ bedrooms were on the ground, first and second floors, each floor having an ironing and drying room. On the lower ground floor were staff bedrooms, a staff rest room, and the patients’ recreation room. The most striking feature of the home was the semi-circular lounge, looking out on to the lawns. It was furnished with easy chairs and window seats, ‘sumptuously’ carpeted. There was also a dining room, a writing room, and a roof terrace from which views of the sea and the grounds could be enjoyed.

The convalescent home closed in 2008, and was purchased for redevelopment in about 2018.

former Royal Alexandra Infirmary, Paisley revisited

The other day I was searching through boxes of old photographs and came across a bundle of colour negatives which turned out to be photographs that I had taken of the Royal Alexandra back in 1988. It would have been great to have had them when I wrote the blog post on the former Royal Alexandra Infirmary, Paisley back in December 2016, but better late than never! I would be the first to admit that the photos are for the most part pretty terrible, and scanning the negatives may not have improved them. However, I thought it would be worth sharing them in a new post.

Paisley, Royal Alexandra Infirmary. Photographed in 1988 © H. Richardson

The Royal Alexandra Infirmary was built between about 1894 and 1902, to designs by the architect T. G. Abercrombie. Above is a detail of the ends of two of the ward blocks with their semi-circular sun balconies. The square tower to the right housed the WCs and wash-hand basins. These ‘sanitary towers’ were typical adjuncts to the ends of Victorian hospital ward pavilions. Often there were a pair of towers with a simple balcony strung between them – as at St Thomas’s Hospital in London or the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh’s Lauriston Place buildings (now the Quartermile development).

Paisley, Royal Alexandra Infirmary. Photographed in 1988 © H. Richardson

The photographs above and below show the main east front the infirmary. You can just glimpse the balconies of two more ward pavilions behind on the top photograph, and on the right the circular ward tower. This main range has been converted into private flats, and re-named Alexandra Gate. Back in 1988 the hospital had not long closed. It was replaced by the new Royal Alexandra Hospital, off Craw Road to the south west. That was built roughly on the sites of the former Riccartsbar Hospital and the Craw Road Annexe.

Paisley, Royal Alexandra Infirmary. Photographed in 1988 © H. Richardson

Circular wards are very rare in Britain. There was a brief fashion for them around the turn of the 19th to the 20th centuries. I think the only other one built in Scotland was in Kirkcaldy at the old cottage hospital there – long since demolished. I have an old postcard that shows the hospital which you can find on the Fife page of this site. At the apex of the roof of the ward tower is a lantern or cupola that was part of the ventilation system. They feature along the ridge of the ward pavilions and atop the sanitary towers. It is not uncommon to find this kind of decorative treatment of a functional element, such as the ventilation system, in hospital architecture of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Paisley, Royal Alexandra Infirmary. Photographed in 1988 © H. Richardson

I barely remember visiting the site – let alone having managed to get access to the interior, but here are two snaps of the interior of the circular ward. Rather gloomy I’m afraid, but hopefully you get an impression of what it was like.

Paisley, Royal Alexandra Infirmary. Photographed in 1988 © H. Richardson

You can see the rails from which the bed curtains would have been hung. That will have been a post-war addition. Originally the beds would not have had individual curtains. The idea of providing patients with privacy became much more important after the foundation of the National Health Service, when free hospital treatment became available to everyone. Previously charitable hospitals, or voluntary hospitals, such as the Royal Alexandra were designed to provide free treatment for the poor. Wealthy patients were either treated at home, in a private nursing home or a paying patients wing of a voluntary hospital. By the 1920s and 1930s different standards of hospital accommodation for the poor and the well off were common, sometimes even in the same institution.

OS Map from 1967 showing the layout of the infirmary, with the nurses’ home to the north (marked N) and the Lodge on the east (L). National Library of Scotland Maps  CC-BY (NLS)
Paisley, Royal Alexandra Infirmary, former Nurses’ Home. Photographed in 1988 © H. Richardson
The nurses’ home after conversion to flats photographed in 2013. © Copyright Thomas Nugent and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The Nurses’ Home was as grand as the hospital itself, with a rich array of decorative elements. It is Scottish Baronial in style, with turrets and crowstepped gables, although the tall chimneys, dormer windows and this broad arched entrance have some of the sinuous elegance that is typical of Glasgow’s late 19th and early 20th century buildings. This is particularly evident in the sculptural elements, such as the female head on the keystone over the entrance.

Entrance to the Nurses’ Home, photographed in 1988

The Nurses’ Home is one of the survivors on the site, having been converted into flats. It is named after Peter Coats, who had paid for its construction. Coats was one of the brothers that owned the great thread manufacturing company in Paisley; Peter managed the company’s finances. The nurses’ home was built before the hospital itself, and was opened 1896. There is an inscription round the archway which reads ‘They brought unto him sick people and he healed them’, and the two shields are carved with the thistle and the rose. The hospital replaced an earlier infirmary in the town, located near Bridge Street by the river, which had originated with a dispensary for the poor in the late 18th century.

A view of the former nurses’ home from the south east, taken in 1988 © H. Richardson
The nurses’ home after conversion, photographed in 2010 © Norrie Porter

The two images above of nurses’ home show the transformation from abandoned and boarded up building to well-cared for flats. It is particularly good to see that the original small-paned glazing has been either kept or reproduced, and the tall chimneys preserved. .

The entrance lodge to the hospital, photographed in 1988.  © H. Richardson
The Lodge photographed in 2010 © Norrie Porter

The former entrance range to the infirmary has been converted for use as a nursery. It originally housed a dispensary and opened in 1902. The gate piers are very striking, the banded stonework picks up on the chunky banded pilasters flanking the gabled bays of the lodge. There is another fine stone gateway that used to lead in to the south of the infirmary site further down Neilston Road, that now gives pedestrian access to the flats that have been built there.

Western ward pavilion of the infirmary, viewed from the east, photographed in 1988. © H. Richardson

If you explore Google maps on street view for the old infirmary you can tour round most of the buildings, and really get a sense of how those that have not been converted into flats decayed between about 2011 and 2019, and obviously how much more ruinous it has become since the late 1980s.

Entrance to the administration block on the north side of the infirmary, photographed in 1988.© H. Richardson

Ugie Hospital

Valentine’s postcard of Ugie Hospital, probably dating from soon after the hospital was built.

Ugie Hospital was formerly the infectious diseases hospital for Peterhead. The foundation stone was laid by Provost Leash in June 1905 and the hospital opened in 1907. It was built on the standard plan with, at the centre, the two‑storey administration building of a very domestic character.

Ugie Hospital, photographed in October 2020 © H. Blakeman

Most of the original buildings survive, though now linked together by later infill. The old hospital building is of pink Peterhead granite enlivened by bull‑faced quoins and dressings, in a simple Tudor-Gothic style with mullioned windows and steep gables. It was designed by the Burgh Surveyor, T. H. Scott. The construction cost £4,000 and was helped along with a bequest of £1,500. In 1920 Peterhead Town Council built a small TB annexe and further additions in 1922.

Extract from the 2nd edition OS map, revised in 1924. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

Before the Ugie Hospital was provided, a small hospital had been built in 1880. Prior to that, c.1865, a house at Roanheads had been used for a fever hospital, although it only provided two beds. (It may be that this was attached to the poorhouse, see the page for Aberdeenshire, Peterhead Parish Home.)

Ugie Hospital, photographed in October 2020 © H. Blakeman

When I visited the site in October 2020, the hospital was closed and empty. Its future was being discussed in 2018-19, and it was subsequently declared surplus to requirements. In-patients were moved to Peterhead Community Hospital in November 2019. All remaining staff had been relocated out of the hospital by the end of last year.

[Sources: Aberdeen Evening Express

Ugie Hospital, part of west ward block. Photographed in October 2020 © H. Blakeman
View from south-west, with the original ward wing to left and 1920s additions in foreground.
Photographed in October 2020 © H. Blakeman
Service block on the north side of the hospital. Photographed in October 2020 © H. Blakeman
The hospital viewed from the north west. Photographed in October 2020 © H. Blakeman
Detail of one of the original ward blocks, showing the distinctive sanitary annexe. Photographed in October 2020 © H. Blakeman
Detail of the western ward block, with ornamental iron rainwater heads, and ventilation grills. Photographed in October 2020 © H. Blakeman
View of the hospital from the west, trees bent by the prevailing winds.
Photographed in October 2020 © H. Blakeman
The rear wall of the hospital, showing its exposed site on the coast.
Photographed in October 2020 © H. Blakeman.
To the rear of the hospital, mobile dental unit. Photographed in October 2020 © H. Blakeman

Inverurie Hospital, Aberdeenshire

Administration Block, Inverurie Hospital. Photographed October 2020 © H. Blakeman

Inverurie lies to the north-west of Aberdeen. A small hospital for infectious diseases was built in the town in the 1890s to serve the Garioch district. The site and plans were approved by the Local Government Board for Scotland in 1894-5, and the hospital opened in January 1897 (see map below). It had cost about £2,000.

Extract from the 2nd-edition OS map, revised in 1899. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The hospital was designed by Jenkins and Marr of Aberdeen, and comprised two separate sections in a single-storey and attic building. The smaller section contained two wards, which could be combined into one, with three beds each, and a small kitchen and lavatories. The larger section to the west had a large and a small ward, separated by folding doors, with seven and three beds respectively. The main kitchen, matron’s room, bathroom and staff bedrooms were also in this section of the building. 

This hospital was replaced in the 1930s by a new and much larger hospital, for a time the old building was use as council offices. The Medical Officer of Health’s Report for 1936 noted that the original hospital had been recognised as structurally unsuitable for infectious cases for a long time, and that the County Council had decided to erect a new hospital near by with between 60 and 70 beds. A serious epidemic of scarlet fever and diphtheria had highlighted the shortage of beds in the county, and the need for an up-to-date hospital able to cope with diseases of epidemic proportions. 

Entrance to the hospital photographed in 2000, © Ian Shepherd,  from RCAHMS

The site had been acquired and plans prepared in by the architect R. Leslie Rollo in consultation with the Medical Officer for Health.  The plans were approved early in 1937. An article in The Scotsman headed ‘£50,000 Aberdeenshire Scheme’,  records that the construction of the hospital was to be of cement blocks, which had been recommended to the architect as both brick and granite would be very much more expensive. However, when the tenders were submitted the cost came in at around £60,000, with another £13,000 needed for the land, furnishings, equipment and architects’ fees. A number of councillors objected to the high cost, arguing that it was a waste of public money. Various suggestions for economies were made, but the original plans seem to have been adhered to. 

OS Map 1:1,250/1:2,500, surveyed/revised 1964 Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

Hailed as the most ambitious hospital scheme that Aberdeenshire had ever financed, the hospital was finally completed in December 1940.  It was intended primarily to serve the suburban districts of Aberdeen, Garioch, Turriff, Ellon and Huntly. Provision was made for 60 beds, 20 in a cubicle block of two storeys and 40 in two single‑storey pavilions. These ward blocks were arranged around a square with the nurses’ home on the fourth side opposite the cubicle block.

View of the single-storey ward pavilion on the east side of the square. Photographed October 2020 © H. Blakeman

The single-storey ward pavilions were intended for scarlet fever and diphtheria cases and comprised wards of three and thirteen beds. The cubicle block could take doubtful cases or patients suffering from different diseases as each separate room or cubicle had just two beds (nine in all)  – usually these had glazed partitions between them. The cubicle block had an operating theatre and treatment room attached. 

View of the corresponding ward pavilion on the west side of the square. Photographed in October 2020 © H. Blakeman

There was also an administration block with kitchen, stores and dining‑rooms, located to the west of the wards and near the site entrance. This is a two-storey, T-plan building with large bow windows to the ground-floor rooms at either end of the main front, and a smart porch over the main entrance.  The buildings were designed in the streamlined manner of the International Modern style, with wide bow windows, on the lines of Tait’s Hawkhead Hospital in Paisley. 

The north elevation of the Nurses’ Home. Photographed in 2020 © H. Blakeman

The nurses’ home lies to the south of the wards, the main rooms enjoying a view south to a tennis court. Like the administration block, this has two bow windows to the outer ground-floor rooms, here leading out onto a terrace. There was accommodation for 46 staff, and training nurses had study room. Service buildings included a laundry and ambulance station, and boiler house to power the central heating system.

South elevation of the Nurses’ Home. Photographed in October 2020 © H. Blakeman

In 1958 Inverurie Hospital was adapted to maternity as well as general nursing cases. It had by then become part of the National Health Service and was part of the North Eastern Regional Hospital Board, based at Aberdeen. With the introduction of antibiotics the need for infectious diseases hospitals had greatly diminished, but there had been a rise in demand for maternity accommodation. An ageing population also created a shortage of beds for geriatric patients, and many of the smaller isolation hospitals became geriatric units. Inverurie was to provide 30 maternity beds, the rest for ordinary medical beds and some for the elderly.

Later developments at the site included a standard plan 30‑bed ward unit, which opened in 1982. Plans for a major redevelopment were made in the early 1990s, intended to provide a geriatric unit, day hospital and facilities for occupational therapy and physiotherapy. These eventually seem to have been abandoned. More recently a new ‘Integrated Health Care HUB’  has been built, and the 1980s building demolished. The hub was the first phase in a projected larger scheme. It occupies the site of the cubicle isolation block and was designed by Mackie Ramsay Taylor Architects. Their brief was to provide for General Medical Practice, including minor injuries, a Community Midwifery Unit, Dental Suite, and various out-patient clinics. Plans were finalised in about 2015.

View of the back of the admin block with one of the local residents in the foreground. © H. Blakeman

With grateful thanks to my former colleague at the Survey of London, Sarah Milne’s grandmother, Elsie Cartney, a former nurse, who very kindly gave me a copy of the excellent history of the Inverurie hospitals produced by many of the people who worked there and published in 2004. 

Sources: Grampian Health Board Archives, minutes of county council health committee: A History of Inverurie Hospitals, 2004: Ian Shepherd, Aberdeenshire: Donside and Strathbogie – An Illustrated Architectural Guide, 2006: The Hospital, 3 April 1897, p.18: Medical Officer for Health for Aberdeenshire, Annual Report 1936;  Scotsman, 30 Jan 1937, p.14; 30 Oct 1937, p.17: Aberdeen Weekly Journal, 23 Nov 1939, p.4: Aberdeen P&J, 11 Dec 1940: Scottish Hospitals Survey, Report for the North Eastern Region, 1946: Aberdeen Evening Express, 6 Nov 1958, p.9: Aberdeen P&J 8 Feb 1991, p.33