The Hospitals on Islay

Islay Hospital, Bowmore. View of the ward block and main entrance from the west. Photographed in May 2019, © H. Richardson

There have been three hospitals on Islay: a poor law institution that provided medical care for paupers and in the early decades of the National Health Service became the island’s general hospital; an infectious diseases hospital, established in the 1890s, and provided with a permanent small building in 1904; and the present Islay Hospital built in 1963-6, pictured above.

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Extract from the 1st-edition OS map, surveyed in 1878, reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The earliest of these was the poorhouse, built in 1864-5 on the outskirts of Bowmore on land owned by Charles Morrison. The local Parochial Board decided to get their plans from an Edinburgh architect with experience in such buildings,  J. C. Walker. As can been seen from the map above, the building comprised an H-shaped complex. The main north wing was of two storeys, the rest single-storey. (For a photograph of the poorhouse see the Islay History blogspot)

Gartnatra Hospital, from an old photograph on display at the Columba Centre.

To comply with the Public Health Acts the local authority had to provide accommodation for cases of infectious disease and so a fever hospital was established at Gartnatra, to the east of Bowmore. Although the building pictured above was built in 1904, there had been a hospital hereabouts since at least the mid-1890s. The local Medical Officer for Health, Dr Ross, reported on an outbreak of measles in 1895, the patient being  removed to the hospital. However, as there was no nurse employed by the local authority to attend the hospital, the patient’s mother went to nurse her daughter. Dr Ross had no authority to confine the mother to the hospital, and she went in to the village on many occasions. In a short time the disease spread rapidly throughout Bowmore.

The former fever hospital, now the Columba Centre. Photographed in May 2019, © H. Richardson

The situation was finally remedied with the erection of a new building for which the plans were approved by the Local Government Board for Scotland in 1902. To cover the cost of construction a loan of £1,100 was secured from the Public Works Loan Board. The building is dated 1904, and the Local Government Board sanctioned it for occupation in February 1905. It was built by James MacFayden. The building survives, though the interior has been completely refurbished and a large extension built to the rear. It is now in use as a cultural centre. In the photograph below, the old hospital is the gabled block on the left, with the short bay attached (the former sanitary annexe). The rest has been added to form the new cultural centre and cafe.

The former Gartnatra Hospital, viewed from the east. Photographed in May 2019, © H. Richardson

With the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948 the administration of Gartnatra Hospital and the poorhouse, latterly known as Gortanvogie House, passed to the Campbeltown and District Hospitals Board of Management, under the Western Regional Hospital Board (WRHB). Under the terms of the National Health Service Act responsibility for the elderly remained with local authorities, so the presence of elderly as well as the sick at Gortanvogie posed problems. In the opinion of the Board of Management, although Gortanvogie left much to be desired, the conditions were probably better than most of the patients enjoyed at home.

Photograph taken in 1955 outside Gortanvogie Hospital. The Matron, Miss C. E. M. Morrison, is seated on the left, and behind her in uniform is the hospital sister, Agnes Watson Miligan. A colleague is pictured seated to the right, and a young patient standing behind. (Reproduced by kind permission of L. Tudball. © L. Tudball.)

Given the list of improvements that the Matron had requested, this makes for a depressing view of those conditions. She had asked, without success, for: electric light – the Hydro Electric Board’s supply reached the front door, but the building was not wired; hot water on the ground floor; a bathroom directly off each main ward on the ground floor; a linen cupboard; wooden or other suitable flooring instead of stone floors; a brick side screen with steel windows along the outside of a covered way between the front and back of the building to stop the inmates from passing through the staff dining-room;  essential repairs to the structure of walls and ceilings, and re-slating a large part of the roof. Neglect of building maintenance during the war, common throughout Britain, had left many of the inner walls damp and rotten, with plaster having fallen from many of the ceilings.

Extract from the 2nd-edition OS map, surveyed in 1897, reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

Gartnatra, on the other hand, was described as well-built with no serious trace of damp except in two W.C.s at the back on either side which were below a flat part of the roof where the rain water had forced a way in during stormy weather.

‘The site of Gartnatra is bleak and exposed to the prevailing westerly wind coming off the bay; there is nothing “cosy” about the building, but Matron remarked that the islanders are used to hearing the wind roar about their houses. Our visit was on a day of cold rain. A shelter belt of trees would obviously be desirable, but we were told that owing to the wind and the salt spray from the sea, there would be little chance of trees growing.’

The former Gartnatra hospital, now the Columba Centre, viewed from the south-east. Photographed in May 2019, © H. Richardson

When the question of modernising the hospital facilities was under discussion, a small team from the mainland visited Islay in May 1952 that included Mr Guthrie, the Regional Hospital Board Architect, Dr Guy, the Medical Officer of Health, and representatives of Argyllshire County Council. The Secretary of the Board of Management for Campbeltown & District Hospitals favoured an extension to Gartnatra but the local doctors argued for a new hospital on a more convenient and sheltered site. Funding was the main problem, but the Department of Health were conscious that spending money on upgrading inferior accommodation was not the best long-term policy.

Plans for extending Gartnatra were drawn up by the WRHB architects, only to be rejected by the Board of Management. With patient numbers dwindling to none, Gartnatra closed in April 1955. The following year the tide had turned towards using Gortanvogie as the hospital and turning Gartnatra over to the local authority as a home for the elderly, and in 1958 sketch plans were drawn up by the WRHB for a new hospital building on the Gortanvogie site. By May 1959 these plans seem to have evolved into something like their final form, encompassing the demolition of Gortanvogie and building in its place two separate buildings, a hospital and a home for the elderly. This was certainly the case by the following May, when some of the problems of shared staff and services were beginning to be discussed.

Islay Hospital,  south-west corner of the main block, showing what was originally planned as the patients’ dining and sitting-room and on the left the end of the link corridor to the Eventide Home. © H. Richardson

By July 1960 detailed plans had been drawn up by the WRHB and submitted to the Department of Health. Forbes Murison, Chief Architect to the WHRB, had been building up a central staff of architects with some success, and did not want to have them sitting around doing nothing. The Islay job was one on which he was keen to let them cut their teeth. In 1960 Douglas Gordon McKellar Adam had joined as Principal Assistant, (he became Assistant Chief Architect in 1962).

Islay Hospital, general view from the entrance looking along the south side of the ward block, photographed in May 2019  © H. Richardson

In the hopes of gaining the necessary approbation from the Department of Health, the WRHB stressed that Gortanvogie was one of the few examples of an old poorhouse still used in the hospital service in the Western Region. It not only had 12 beds for the sick, but 8 for the old and infirm under the charge of the local authority. Despite the nature of its original purpose, the hospital had in recent times been fulfilling the functions of a cottage hospital by the admission of general and maternity patients. The fabric of the building was so poor as to make reconstruction unviable. Many of the floors were laid directly on the ground, and there was practically no sub-floor ventilation. The intention was to provide all the services of a general cottage hospital and make the island as independent of the air services as practicable. Argyll County Council wished to arrange for the provision of a 20-bedded Eventide Home as part of the scheme, and it was agreed that the one architect should design both, and that this should rest with the Regional Board’s architectural staff.

The entrance front of the Eventide Home, photographed in May 2019, © H. Richardson

The new hospital was also originally to provide 20 beds (an additional maternity bed was added later), as well as X-ray, casualty and treatment room, mortuary, boiler-house, kitchen etc, accommodation for the matron and six nurses – considered essential given the location on a ‘remote island’. From the start, the hospital was to be linked to the eventide home by a covered way, and the heating, hot water services and kitchen were to be shared. This raised the question of who should fund what. It also required authorisation from the Treasury as sharing facilities was not authorised by the National Health Service Act. Although combining a hospital with a home for the elderly went against government health policy, as well as introducing the complexity regarding shared funding, mixed institutions were thought to have a place in the more remote parts of the Scottish Islands and Highlands.

Plan of Islay Hospital, based on original dated January 1962, in the National Records of Scotland. © H. Richardson

At this point the estimated cost was £146,000. At the end of October the Department forwarded their comments on the plans. Within the Department of Health these were circulated to a team of advisers on the different elements of hospital design, function and administration, each of whom submitted comments, criticisms and suggested alterations. The list of criticisms was lengthy, ranging from concern over the position of the maternity unit below the staff residential quarters (as babies’ crying was liable to cause disturbance), to suggesting that the entrance to the visitors’ viewing room into the mortuary should be placed opposite the doctor’s room rather than in the main hall.  Some rooms they thought too small, others too large.

Islay Hospital. This block was designed as the maternity wing with staff accommodation on the upper floor © H. Richardson

Treasury approval was granted in November 1960, and the following month the Department was able to give the Regional Board approval in principle to enable planning to proceed. In June 1961 the WRHB sent in revised plans, and raised the issue that the scheme would need to be carried out in two phases, the first phase being the provision of the hospital which could be done without demolishing the existing building, and the second phase being the eventide home following demolition. The revised plan for the eventide home had by then already been agreed to by the County Council, but one of the Department of Health’s architects, R. L. Hume (presumably Robert Leggat Hume, 1899-1980), also discussed the plan with the Regional Board, which seems to have resulted in further revisions.

Islay Hospital, main entrance  © H. Richardson

Some of the criticisms revolved around room allocation, others around safety. The home was designed around a garden court with a pool in the centre – and so there were concerns that the old people might fall in. Hume discussed the plans with Mr Ellis (Kenneth Geoffrey Ellis), one of the Regional Board’s architects who confirmed that the points raised had been attended to, and that the pool was intended to be shallow with low shrubs or flowers planted around it to keep old people away from the edge.  (The plans submitted to the Department were drawn by Ellis, and are dated January 1962.)

Islay Hospital, viewed from the south-east looking towards the maternity and staff quarters’ block. On the left is the rear of the entrance block, and the link range contained treatment rooms and the X-ray room.  © H. Richardson

Although it had been hoped that building would start in the financial year 1961-2,  the already complex bureaucracy was exacerbated by the apportionment of costs between the Department and the County Council. It was not until June 1962 that the Department sanctioned the preparation of final plans.

Islay Hospital,  from the north-east with the ward block in the centre and the eventide home to the right of the picture © H. Richardson

Revised plans were submitted in April 1963, and circulated yet again to the Department’s professional advisers for comment. As comments trickled in they were relayed back to the Regional Board, but the Department was at pains to stress that they would not expect drastic alterations to the proposed layout at this stage.  The main delaying factors were not difficult to identify: the amount of scrutiny that the project was given had led to ‘a good deal of adverse comment on the plans’; the architectural staff of the WRHB were under pressure to cope with the wider building programme; and the awareness of the shortage of capital funds had generated a reluctance to embark on a relatively expensive project for its size. Once the plans were agreed and the costing completed, work began towards the end of 1963.

Islay Hospital, north side, with wards and kitchen block. © H. Richardson

Caution over the estimates was well founded. Within the three years since the original probable costing of around £100,000, it had more than doubled to £236,816. The revised figure took into account the special prices that might be expected to be charged for building on Islay. But everyone involved was aware that costs might still creep up. The main difficulty was attracting a sufficient number of contractors even ‘reasonably interested’ in building on Islay, in order to avoided inflated prices.

The north-east corner of the Eventide Home, with the link corridor between it and the hospital, photographed in May 2019 © H. Richardson

The hospital was built first, then Gortanvogie House demolished and the home built on its site. In 1966 work on the hospital was completed. It had cost about £180,000, and provided 12 chronic sick beds, 6 beds for general medicine and 3 maternity beds.

Sources: 

National Records of Scotland, HH101/1491: Dictionary of Scottish Architects

Brechin Infirmary and St Drostan’s House

Prospect of Brechin (detail), by John Slezer from Theatrum Scotiae, 1693. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

On a gloriously sunny day in April I visited Brechin, primarily to see the cathedral with its extraordinary round tower, but while there walked over to Infirmary Street to see what remains of a group of buildings that for so many years took care of the health and welfare of the city: the now-closed Brechin Infirmary, largely of the 1860s, a 1970s Health Centre, the former poorhouse (built in the 1870s) and the remnants of the former infectious diseases hospital (late 1890s). Tucked in behind is a post-war hospital block, added to the site in the early 1960s, and sheltered housing built in the 2000s. This group also lies conveniently between the railway station to the south, and the cemetery to the north.

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Extract from the second edition OS map, revised in 1901, reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

Brechin Infirmary opened as a general voluntary hospital in 1869, but the sick poor in the city had earlier been served by a dispensary, established in about 1824 following a bequest of £50 from a Mrs Speid of Ardovie. The dispensary supplied medicine and medical attendance to the poor for free, and by the mid-1840s was said to be in a prosperous state. But the new Poor Law had placed all sick paupers under superintendence of the local Parochial Board, which had appointed a surgeon to carry out that task. As a result, ‘only some six or eight patients remain upon the dispensary lists’.[1] Over the years the dispensary’s work diminished, until it closed altogether.

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Extract from the OS Town Plan of Brechin, 1852. The Poorhouse is on City Road near the corner with Damacre Road. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The first poor law institution in Brechin was opened in 1853 in City Road, locally usually known either as the almshouse, poor’s house, or parochial lodging house. It was in a large converted tenement which the Board purchased for £300 in 1852 from a Mr Thomson, writer, of Montrose. A later report suggested that the building had originally been built as a cotton factory, but that when this business failed it was sold to Mr Thomas who converted it into a dwelling house. [2]

In July 1864 plans for a hospital were first made public, after the late James Don, Esquire, of Bearhill, bequeathed £1,000 for the purpose of establishing a hospital or infirmary and dispensary in Brechin on condition that a further £1,000 was raised within 18 months by the local community. Subscriptions to the cause quickly mounted to more than £3,000, including £100 from Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, 2nd Baronet, and his brother, the Hon. R. J. Jejeebhoy. (Perhaps they were approached by someone local, the Jejeebhoys wealth and generous philanthropy, and associations with Britain, were well known.)  The Earl of Dalhousie (Fox Maule-Ramsay, the 11th Earl) offered the site – considered open healthy and with convenient access by three different roads –  at an annual feu-duty of £4 per acre.

Main front of Brechin Infirmary, photographed in April 2019 © H. Richardson

The hospital was designed by William Fettis or Fetties, and construction was carried out by local builders and craftsmen: Mr Alexander Crabb, mason; Messrs W. Black & Sons, carpenter work; John Lindsay & Son, slaters; J. & J. Thomson, plasterers; and C. Middleton & Sons, plumbers. Their tenders for the work amounted to just over £1,500. [3]

The foundation stone was laid with full Masonic honours in May 1867 when building work was already well underway, and the first storey all but completed. The infirmary building was described at the time as ‘of the plainest description, being wholly formed of rubble work’ apart from the front wall which was ashlar. The plainness of the building was to be alleviated by the garden in front, which was to be finely laid out as pleasure grounds studded with shrubs. A kitchen garden was destined for the rear half of the garden. [4]

West elevation of the infirmary, with later day room in the foreground, photographed in April 2019 © H. Richardson

In May 1869 the new infirmary was formally opened by the Earl of Dalhousie. The 1901 map shows the infirmary before it was enlarged in the 1920s, with its principal front facing west, and indicating that the garden had been laid out on that side. (The garden was later built over for the present health centre.) Four wards occupied the long north-south wing, two on each floor on either side of the central entrance and with up-to-date cross-ventilated W.C.s, suggesting an awareness of the relatively recent developments in pavilion-plan hospitals on the lines recommended by Florence Nightingale. Two wards were for accidents and two for fever patients.

View of the infirmary looking west to the rear of the earliest part of the building. Photographed in April 2019 © H. Richardson

A major renovation, alterations and additions were carried out in 1928-9, for which the architect was David Wishart Galloway. During the work the patients were moved out to Maulesden House. The cost was largely met by a donation of £10,650 from the trustees of the late Sir James Duncan of Kinnettles. Plans were submitted to the Dean of Guild Court in September 1928. It was at this time that the new main entrance was formed, set in the gabled bay, treated as a pediment with oculus and framed by giant pilasters. The new accommodation included four private wards. The contractors were: joiners, Messrs W. Black & Son, Ltd, Brechin; plumbers, Mr J. Davidson; plasterwork, Messrs Burness Montrose; mason, Mr Rennie Brechin; slater, Mr D. Scott, Brechin. In December 1929, following the death of the architect David Galloway in a motorcycle accident, the infirmary directors appointed Maclaren, Soutar & Salmond, who had taken over Galloway’s practice, to see through the reconstruction. [5]

On the vacant land to the east of the infirmary a new poorhouse was built in 1879-80 to designs by James Baxter, architect, Brechin, to accommodate about 80 paupers, 51 being transferred from the old building but the Parochial Board intended also to move most of those receiving outdoor relief into the poorhouse.

South elevation of St Drostan’s House, the former Brechin poorhouse. Photographed in April 2019 © H. Richardson

It is in a similarly plain style to the infirmary, although the Brechin Advertiser was curiously impressed with its appearance, describing it as a ‘magnificent building’ that was an ornament and a credit to the town. The article continued:

Poor-houses have too frequently been poor in every sense of the term – poor in architecture, poor in conveniences, poor in comfort. It will be seen, however, … that the new Poor-house of Brechin possesses not only the external appearance, but all the internal appliances of a modern mansion-house. [6]

According to the same article, the architect’s plan for the poorhouse had been commended for its simplicity of design and conveniences and comfort in its internal arrangements. These comprised a room on either side of the entrance door for the Matron, and beyond these separate stairs to the upper floor.  A corridor ran the length of the building on both floors. On the ground floor, on the north side of the central corridor, were two large sick rooms and two sitting rooms, and on the south side a spacious dining hall. Store rooms and bathrooms were placed at either end, a large kitchens was at the east end of the dining room. On the upper floor were the sleeping wards, and here the corridor had a glazed partition half way along separating the males from the females.

Rear view of St Drostan’s House, looking west, behind is the eastern end of Brechin Infirmary. Photographed in April 2019 © H. Richardson

The out buildings included a probationary ward, washing-houses, ash pits, and coal cellars. Once the new poorhouse had been completed and the inmates moved from the old building in City Road, the latter was put up for sale. It was bought by Mr J. L. Gordon, the Town Clerk, for £541, on behalf of the Town Council, with the intention of converting it into a model lodging house. [7]

Block to the rear of St Drostan’s House, one of the original out-buildings. Photographed in April 2019 © H. Richardson

A further report in the Brechin Advertiser following the opening of the new poorhouse, continued the enthusiastic spirit of the previous account, noting the ‘tasteful and imposing appearance’ of the main frontage, and approving of the introduction of mullioned windows  to relieve the ‘baldness that might otherwise have characterise the house’. The garden had been laid out under the superintendence of Mr Annandale of the nearby Den Nursery, and the contractors were listed as: Mr J. Cribb, mason; Messrs Black & Son, joiners; Mr Masson, plasterer; Messrs Kinnear & Son, plumbers; Mr W. Bruce, painter; and Mr J. Davidson, slater – all of Brechin. [8]

South front of the former poorhouse or Parochial Lodging House, with the mullioned windows on the upper floor in the gabled bays. The bay windows on the ground floor are post-war additions. When new sheltered housing was built to the rear in the early 2000s the  former poorhouse was converted to offices, but is currently empty. Photographed in April 2019 © H. Richardson

The next development of the medical services in Brechin was the establishment of an isolation hospital in the 1890s. Infectious cases, or ‘fever patients’ had up until then been cared for in the infirmary, but in times of epidemic there was insufficient accommodation there. In February 1893 an outbreak of smallpox at the Forfar and Brechin Railway huts at a time when the fever ward in the infirmary was already full prompted the Police Commission in Brechin – responsible for public health – to meet with the directors of the Infirmary to consider providing either a permanent or temporary hospital for infectious diseases. In 1895 the Brechin Police Commissioners joined forces with the District Committee and were on the search for a site. They discussed commissioning plans and estimates for a new hospital. The site must have been acquired by the end of August 1897 when an advertisement was placed in the Dundee Evening Telegraph for ‘Bricklayers (a Few Good) wanted. Apply New Hospital, Brechin’. [9]

Detail from the 25-inch OS map revised in 1922, showing the infectious diseases hospital to the north-west of the Infirmary. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The plans were drawn up by T. Martin Cappon, architect, Dundee. A caretaker was appointed in 1898, the building work probably completed by then. The hospital comprised three detached blocks, probably the administrative building, which would also have contained some staff accommodation, and two ward blocks.

Probably a block from the former isolation hospital, to the rear of Brechin Infirmary, photographed in April 2019 © H. Richardson

Another building on its own to the north (pictured above and below), may have been the service block containing disinfecting chambers, with boilers and disinfectors, wash-house, mortuary and stores. Thomas Martin Cappon went on to design the Forfar County Hospital in 1899. [10] 

Surviving building from the former infectious diseases hospital. Photographed in April 2019 © H. Richardson

Post-War Changes

By 1940 the infectious diseases hospital had been converted into accommodation for the aged and infirm, but by 1950 it had been closed. The Eastern Regional Hospital Board recommended retaining the buildings for accommodation for nurses and for storage, releasing a hut at the infirmary which might be used for 30 chronic sick patients. [11]

Extract from the 1:1,250 OS map revised in 1965. This shows the 1920s extension to the infirmary, and the large post-war addition pictured below. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

At the infirmary itself the largest addition since the 1920s was made in 1958-60, when the large wing to the north was added. A bequest of nearly £14,000 from Mrs Agnes Pederson, a Brechin woman in America, was used to provide new kitchen premises, out-patients’ and physiotherapy departments, alterations to staff quarters and a day room for geriatric patients between the new accommodation blocks. [12]

A spliced photo showing the south-east front of the post-war hospital extension. Photographed in April 2019 © H. Richardson

The health centre was built in about 1971, and was the first to be built in Angus.[13]

See also RCAHMS, National Monuments Record of Scotland, drawings collection, for the infectious diseases hospital and  www.workhouses.org for St Drostan’s House.

  1. Montrose, Arbroath and Brechin Review; and Forfar and Kincardineshire advertiser, 13 Feb 1846, p.5
  2. Brechin Advertiser, 14 Sept 1852, p.2: 2 March 1880, p.2
  3. Dundee Courier, 23 Aug 1864, p.4; 12 Dec 1865, p.4; 19 Dec 1866, p.4: Dundee Advertiser, 29 Dec 1864, p.3
  4. Montrose, Arbroath and Brechin review; and Forfar and Kincardineshire advertiser, 19 April 1867, p.4: Dundee Courier, 6 May 1867, p.4
  5. Brechin Advertiser, 5 June 1928, p.5: Aberdeen Press & Journal, 20 Sept 1928, p.5: Dundee Courier, 10 Oct 1928, p.5; 11 Dec 1929, p.6Dundee Evening Telegraph, 11 Dec 1929, p.10
  6. Brechin Advertiser, 2 March 1880, p.2
  7. Brechin Advertiser,  16 March 1880, p.2
  8. Brechin Advertiser, 16 March 1880, p.3
  9. Dundee Courier, 1 Feb 1893, p.3: Aberdeen Press & Journal, 12 April 1893, p.5; 19 Aug 1896, p.6Dundee Advertiser, 10 April 1895, p.2; 23 Oct 1896, p.2Dundee Evening Telegraph, 25 Aug 1897, p.3
  10. Dundee Courier, 6 July 1897, p.3; 4 Oct 1899, p.4: Peterhead Sentinel and General Advertiser for Buchan District, 28 Aug 1898, p.4
  11. Dundee Courier, 26 Jan 1950, p.4
  12. Brechin Advertiser, 2 Dec 1958, p.5
  13. Aberdeen P&J, 16 Feb 1971, p.31

Book Review: The Hospitals of Skye

I was delighted to receive three booklets this week from an ongoing series produced by the History of Highland Hospitals project set up in 2008. The first to be published was The Hospitals of Skye in 2011. Written by Jim Leslie and his son Steve, this slim volume provides a detailed history of the seven hospitals known to have existed on the island: the Skye Poorhouse, Portree and Ross Memorial Hospitals in Portree; Gesto Hospital, Edinbane; Martin Memorial Hospital, Uig; Mackinnon Memorial Hospital, Broadford, and a tiny smallpox hospital at Stein.

geograph-1751415-by-John-Allan

Portree Community Hospital behind the cottages on the water front, photographed in 2010. ©Copyright John Allan and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The buildings have been thoroughly researched, there are plentiful illustrations and the text is fully referenced with end-notes and footnotes. The stories of the hospitals and the poorhouse are written engagingly with an emphasis on their social history. This is mostly concerned with the staff and founders of the hospitals, but there are also details of patient numbers, including the detail that Gesto Hospital, in 1912, was reported as being full, and amongst the patients was a Welsh tramp with a broken leg in the attic.

I have had an enjoyable weekend up-dating the entries on the Highlands page of this website, adding in new information and correcting a few errors that I had made. Portree hospital, pictured above, had been extended since I visited it in the 1980s. It was built in the 1960s, and had a wonderful almost Art Deco-style bowed entrance porch with a port-hole window, but this has been altered and its character lost (I don’t think portholes on the door make up for the loss). Otherwise it is an endearing building and an early example of an entirely new NHS hospital.

geograph-2201759-by-Carol-Walker

Gesto Hospital, Edinbane. Photographed in 2010. The boarded up building looking more dilapidated by the month. What a pity! © Copyright Carol Walker and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The Gesto Hospital closed in 2007 and has stood empty ever since. As Carol Walker comments on her photograph above – what a pity! I hadn’t realised that the harling was not original – the book contains a photograph of the building from the 1920s (it is also on the front cover of the book) showing the exposed masonry with its neat cherry-caulking. As to the Stein Smallpox Hospital, that was completely new to me – a prefabricated Speirs & Company building that was never actually used and was only in existence between 1905 and about 1919.

geograph-1445976-by-Mick-Garratt

I love this photograph taken in 2009 by Mick Garratt with its Mediterranean colours. Former Gesto Hospital © Copyright Mick Garratt and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

As the Leslies’ book was published five years ago there have been some further developments in the lives of these buildings. I was sorry to see that plans were passed last year by the Highland County Council to demolish the old poorhouse – built in 1859 and designed by William Joass, an architect about whom I should like to learn more. The poorhouse had never been heavily used, and was turned into a hostel for school children in the 1930s (the Margaret Carnegie Hostel).

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The Combination Poorhouse, Portree. Extract from the 1st-edition OS map, surveyed in 1875. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The John Martin Hospital at Uig was a youth hostel in 2011, but was closed and sold off around 2013, while the Ross Memorial Hospital, which had been turned into an arts centre in the 1980s and had closed in 2007, has since been remodelled and extended to become the new West Highland College, opened in 2013 as part of the University of the Highlands and Islands.

geograph-2903451-by-John-Allan

Photographed in 2012 while under construction. The new Broadford Health Centre. This £1.3 million development nearing completion next to the Dr MacKinnon Memorial Hospital in Broadford will replace the nearby building currently used by Broadford Medical Practice. The new facility will serve people living in Broadford, Strath and north Sleat. © Copyright John Allan and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

There are currently two community hospitals on Skye, at Portree and Broadford (the Mackinnon Memorial). A new health centre was built next to the Mackinnon Memorial Hospital in 2012 by the NHS Highlands Estates Department. I rather like the health centre. It reminds me of a boat-house or perhaps even a smoke-house, though that might not have been what the architects were aiming for. In 2014 plans were announced to build a new community hospital on the island at Broadford with a reduction in services at Portree, sparking a ‘Save Portree Hospital’ campaign (there is to be a protest march on 20 June, if you feel like joining in). It seems likely that the Portree hospital building will be replaced. I hope that it will not share the same fate as the former poorhouse.

J. C. Leslie and S. J. Leslie, History of Highland Hospitals The Hospitals of Skye, 2011, Old Manse Books, Avoch, Scotland ISBN 978-0-9569002-0-3 £5

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Marvellous Maps – updating the Scottish Hospitals Survey

Probably the best source that I have been using for updating the Scottish Hospitals Survey is the National Library of Scotland’s map images. Maps are always key to charting the history and development of buildings, settlements and indeed the landscape. And the best thing of all is that the NLS is freely available to all. It is a wonderful resource.

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Athole & Breadalbane Union Poorhouse (see Perth & Kinross). Extract from the 1st Edition OS Map, surveyed in 1863. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

Many of the maps, and for me particularly the first edition Ordinance Survey maps and large scale town plans, are things of beauty as well as mines of information. Being so used to the grey tones of most nineteenth-century OS maps, the vibrant pinks and reds of the buildings, buff or ochre paths and roads, and the blues of river and sea, are also a joy.

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Kelso dispensary, Roxburgh Street, founded in 1777 (see Borders).  Extract from the 1st edition OS map, surveyed in 1858. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

For anyone interested in public buildings these maps are especially useful as they give ground plans, and often room uses as well.

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Barony or Barnhill Poorhouse was completed in 1853, so this map was produced just a few years after it opened (see Glasgow). Extract from 1857 Town Plan of Glasgow, reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland
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Detail of the OS large-scale Town Plans, showing the central part of Barony Poorhouse.

I have never been sure about how to interpret the mapping of gardens, some seem too generic to be completely accurate representations, although the general layouts, or features such as embankments, paths, ditches etc. are more likely to be as existing. If anyone knows more, please do enlighten me. Looking at the detail of Barony Poorhouse above, the arrangement in the airing yard with diagonal paths leading up to a viewing area with seats seems too unusual not to be an accurate depiction of an actual feature.

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The former Crichton Royal Asylum (see Dumfries & Galloway). Extract from the 1st edition OS map, surveyed in 1856. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The Crichton Royal  – what at first site might look like elaborately laid out formal gardens around the cruciform building are in fact the earthworks of the different airing grounds.

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Detail of the former Crichton Royal Asylum. Extract from the 1st edition OS map, surveyed in 1856. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

Zooming in it becomes clearer. The airing grounds were walled enclosures, to prevent escape, but in order to allow the patients to see over the confining walls the ground within was built up to form a flat-topped mound. Bowling greens are shown close by the Crichton Royal and the Royal Edinburgh Asylum (below).

Royal Edinburgh Asylum (see Edinburgh). Extract from the large-scale town plans, sheet 50, surveyed in 1852. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

Comparing different editions of the maps show how an institution was added to and changed. Between 1852 (above) and 1876 (below) wings were added to the main asylum building to the west, extending into the walled airing grounds.

Royal Edinburgh Asylum. Extract from the OS Large-scale Town Plans 1876. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The grounds of the East Division of the Royal Edinburgh Asylum not only have a bowling green, but what appears to be an orchard with paths crossing it, a formal flower bed (on the west side), shelter belts of mixed trees, and, on the east side, a cruciform feature which, on zooming in, is marked as a bower.

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Detail of the 1852 map, showing the Bower in the asylum grounds, with a cage marked at the centre where the paths cross. 

The cage presumably was an aviary. Caged birds were recommended for lunatic asylum patients in the mid-nineteenth century, along with potted plants and pictures, to provide objects of interest and an air of domesticity.

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Perth poorhouse (see Perth & Kinross), later Rosslyn House, council offices. From the OS large-scale town plans, 1860. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

Perth poorhouse can be seen in splendid isolation, the wrong side of the railway tracks and very much on the outskirts of the city. The map was produced in 1860, the year after the poorhouse was built.

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Perth Poorhouse, detail. OS large-scale town plans, 1860. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The National Library of Scotland site allows you to zoom right in. The plan of the poorhouse above shows the room uses, positions of doors, windows and stairs. It shows the divisions within the poorhouse – women on one side and men on the other – and the separation of the aged and children from the able-bodied adults. You can also see that the managers had grander rooms, placed either side of the main entrance, which had bay windows (the Board Room and the Governor’s Office).

Finally, a note for anyone not of a Scottish persuasion. The NLS has maps of Northern Ireland, Wales, and, dare I say it, even England.

Oldmill Military Hospital (now Woodend Hospital) Aberdeen

A Face in the Crowd

Postcard of Woodend Hospital dating from the First World War when it had been taken over as a military hospital. The card shows a concert being given in front of the main entrance block.

Woodend Hospital in Aberdeen was constructed as a Poor Law Institution, designed by the local firm of Brown & Watt, it opened on 15 May 1907 and was one of the last poorhouses to be built in Scotland. During the First World War the institution was taken over as a Military Hospital (from 24th May 1915 to 1st June 1919). The postcard above shows a concert underway, there is no message written on the back to give a clue as to when exactly the concert took place. It may have been the one described in the Aberdeen Evening Express in September 1915 when the band and pipers of the Scots Guards visited Aberdeen. From 11am to 12 noon they entertained the wounded soldiers and a small party of ladies and gentlemen, there being about 500 persons present. The band arrived at the hospital in motor buses supplied by the Suburban Tramways Company, and on arrival set up near the front entrance in the quadrangle. Band and pipers played alternately, and there was a cornet solo of ‘The Rosary’ and from ‘Il Trovatore’  played from the veranda.

Detail of the postcard, bottom right, showing some of the audience of the concert

One member of the audience was apparently more interested in the photographer than the concert. The local Aberdeen newspapers published during the First World War carry many mentions of Oldmill, most concern the numbers of wounded arriving by train in the city and thence out to the hospital. There were also appeals for wheeled chairs and books, and numerous accounts of entertainments and concerts laid on for the wounded men.

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A detail of the centre of the postcard showing the main entrance to Oldmill Hospital and the band performing in front

Zooming in on the centre of the postcard shows the band arranged in front of the main entrance, with patients and nurses looking on from open windows and the balconies. I don’t know whether the uniforms here are plausible as Scots Guards, they are perhaps too indistinct to be able to tell. The Gordon Highlanders also gave an open air concert, in September 1916.

Most of the concerts took place in the evening inside the large dining hall, some were small affairs with local folks performing a medley of songs, some were given by theatre companies. There were lectures (two on mountaineering), and in October 1915 a ‘talking machine entertainment’ comprising selections given on the Edison phonograph ‘greatly appreciated by all’. The Aberdeen Sailors’ Mission Choir gave the very first concert at Oldmill in July 1915, only weeks after the first patients arrived on 25 June. An ambulance train had arrived at Aberdeen Joint Station shortly after 4am with 100 wounded soldiers from the battlefields of France and Flanders, 83 of whom were transferred to Oldmill.

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Postcard of Oldmill Military Hospital, Aberdeen produced during the First World War

This is another postcard produced during the war – copies of it often surface on eBay. The institution was still relatively new when war was declared, and it was with reluctance that the parish council relinquished it to the military, but when the need for more hospital accommodation for the wounded became urgent the council yielded. Many of the poorhouse inmates were evacuated to Rosemount and Westfield schools, which had also been commandeered to take the war wounded, others were boarded out.

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Detail of the postcard, showing the bridge part way along the long entrance drive

The notice on the right gives the weight limit that the bridge could withstand at just over 3 tons. The map below shows the hospital complex in the 1920s, after it had been returned to the parochial authorities. The bridge pictured above crossed a roadway that provided access to two detached buildings in the grounds. I think these may have been the nurses’ home and the Governor’s house, but more research is needed to establish whether that is so or not. Although I am fairly confident that the left-hand building was the nurses’ home, a later map marks a tennis court next to it.

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Extract from the 2nd edition OS map, revised in 1924. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland
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Woodend Hospital photographed in 2014. © Copyright Bill Harrison and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The hospital continues in use by NHS Grampian though now its main entrance is on the North side from Eday Road. It is a handsome building, certainly a fine example of its type despite the parsimony of the parochial board. When the plans for the poorhouse were reported by the Aberdeen Daily Journal readers were assured that,

‘As the general view of the poorhouse to most people will be from the Skene Road, a few hundred yards away, it is not intended that any expense should be put upon fine masonry details, and the effect of a satisfactory composition will, therefore, be obtained by means of grouping of the various buildings and arranging them in such a fashion as to give a suitable yet dignified appearance to the whole.’ [Aberdeen Daily Journal, 22 Nov 1901, p.5]

Sources: Aberdeen Evening Express, 17 May 1915, p.5: Aberdeen Journal, 25 May 1915, p.4, 26 May 1915, p.4, 26 June 1915, p.2, 16 July 1915 p.6: Aberdeen Evening Express, 13 Sept 1915, 11 Oct 1915: Aberdeen Weekly Journal, 22 Sept 1916: site visited as part of the Scottish Hospitals Survey 1988-90