Only a few miles apart, there are two small hospital buildings both designed by W. C. Joass. Both hospitals are particularly fine examples of Victorian cottage hospital architecture in Scotland, typical of the diminutive scale of the earliest hospitals of this type.
W. C. Joass was the father of one of the great London Scots architects J. J. Joass. William Cumming Joass was born in Inverness in 1833. He may perhaps have trained with Alexander Ross, as he was later taken into partnership by him and placed in charge of the Dingwall office. From 1865 Joass was practising on his own account there. Most of his work was in the Highlands, much of it domestic or farm buildings, but also quite a few churches, some schools – notably during the 1870s, and police stations in the late 1880s and 90s (four of these were on the island of Lewis). In the year that he became a partner of Alexander Ross the poorhouse on Skye was one of the projects in hand, but the first hospital that Joass designed was the Ross Memorial in Dingwall.
Still functioning today, this hospital opened in 1873 as a memorial to Dr William Ross who died in 1869. Joass was also the architect for additions to the hospital carried out around 1879. That year he was also engaged to design the Spa Pavilion at Strathpeffer, having earlier designed two hotels in the small Spa town, the the Strathpeffer and the Ben Wyvis.
The Ross Memorial treated both medical and surgical cases, and, if need arose, could accommodate infectious cases, due to the way in which it was designed with effective separation between the wards. Joass was advised by the local medical practitioner, Dr Bruce, as well as drawing on Florence Nightingale’s Notes on Hospitals. The medical and surgical sections were designed to function independently, minimising the risks of cross infection. Each comprised two small wards (with just two beds apiece), with their own kitchen, wash-room and WCs. The nurse’s room was placed between the wards, with inspection windows through which she could view the patients.
Henry C. Burdett, the great social reformer and chronicler of hospital design in the late-nineteenth century, commended Joass’s plan in his book, Cottage Hospitals, published in 1880: ‘as, with the exception of the ventilation of the WCs, which should in all cases be entered by a lobby with cross ventilation, so that the escape of sewer gas into the passages may be avoided, we consider the arrangements very good indeed.’ Burdett’s description of the hospital suggests that in the short time since it opened it had adapted to suit local needs and was treating surgical and accident cases on one side of the building, and infectious diseases on the other.
The Inverness Courier, reporting on the opening of the hospital, found no fault with the building: ‘everything about the hospital is so arranged as to prevent the absorption of any poisonous matter’. The floors were ‘saturated with solid paraffin’, and non-absorbent matting used. The main decorative element seems to have been a set of engravings given by Lady Walden to cheer the rooms. An unusual detail given in the newspaper regarded the operating table, made of pitch pine donated by the owner of one of Inverness’s sawmills, Mr Walker. The table was made by Mr Lewis Macdonald, carpenter, but intriguingly, the legs were turned ‘by an amateur’.
The David Ross lodge, at the entrance to the hospital, was built in 1895-6 as a memorial to the Provost David Ross by the Wester Ross Farmers’ Club. In 1909 a new isolation hospital was built, with six wards, kitchens, nurses’ accommodation, bathrooms and ‘special pan cleaning apparatus’ (this may be the block to the west of the main building – later used as a nurses’ home). It also had a veranda for the open-air treatment of patients suffering from tuberculosis. Further additions were made in 1938 by the local architects Mackenzie and MacDonald and X-ray apparatus was installed, gifted by William Peterkin, a well-know shorthorn breeder. Peterkin later gave £3,000 to build and furnish a maternity home on the site. This gift was announced mid-December in 1944, and only a week later he died suddenly (though he was 87 years old). When the new wing was opened in July 1946 it was named the William Peterkin Maternity Home in his honour. The ‘home’ provided 16 beds, varying from one-bedded to four-bedded, and a labour room. During that year around 200 babies were born in the hospital – the only such facility in the county of Ross-shire.
Two years after the Maternity Home opened, the hospital passed to the Secretary of State for Scotland under the National Health Service. The change had not been welcomed by the Chairman of the managers, W. R. T. Middleton.
Under the NHS a new out-patient department was built which opened in 1962. This was followed by new maternity and physiotherapy units in 1966. The design of the out-patient department was based on the standard plan devised within the Department of Health for Scotland, a copy of which was supplied in advance of publication to the Northern Regional Hospital Board. D. Polson Hall, the Architect to the Board, had to adapt the plan in order to provide additional space for orthodontics and eye specialities. Double-glazing was another modification, not unreasonably for a hospital in the Highlands. The standard plan was also applied to the out-patients’ departments at Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, and the Lawson Memorial Hospital, Golspie, built around the same time.
The maternity unit contained 16 beds and labour suites, and the physiotherapy unit included treatment rooms and a gymnasium. Building costs for the maternity and physiotherapy units were not overly high, coming in at £111,136, below the limit of the region’s ordinary building programme and thus not centrally funded. This included the boiler house, which had to be put in to cope with the demands for heating and hot-water in the enlarged hospital.
The second, and last, hospital that Joass designed was the Nicolson Mackenzie Memorial Hospital in Strathpeffer which first opened its doors in 1896. It was established as a mineral water hospital, a partly charitable and partly self-funding small enterprise to treat those of limited means seeking treatment for rheumatism and other joint pains.
Built on the slopes above Strahpeffer, the Nicolson Mackenzie blends in with the neighbouring villas of this surprising spa. It is a buff-coloured, harled building with a tall slim central block of two storeys flanked by single-storey ward blocks. At a public meeting in Strathpeffer in October 1891 the first committee was appointed for promoting a hospital scheme, and a site was gifted by the Earl of Cromartie (at the rear of Mr Lunn’s posting establishment). In 1894, the committee was offered £1,000 from Miss Morison Duncan, on behalf of her mother, Mrs Morison Duncan of Naughton House, Fife, if the hospital was named after her uncle, Dr Nicolson Colin MacKenzie, who had been born in Strathpeffer but had lost his life in rescuing his fellow passengers from the wreck of the Fairy Queen off the coast of Nova Scotia.
With this generous donation work was soon underway on the building, the foundation stone was laid in October 1895 by Miss Morrison Duncan herself. The local newspaper recorded the event, which took place on a fine, if chilly, day. The Mineral Water Home was heralded as a most beneficial institution at this fashionable resort that would greatly benefit the poorer class: ‘it will enable them to sojourn in search of rest and health without incurring anything like the expenditure they cannot at present avoid.’
The contractors who built the hospital were all from Dingwall or Strathpeffer: Mr Harrow, mason, and D. Ross, carpenter, both of Strathpeffer; R. Mackenzie & Son, plumber, D. Maclean, slater, and G. Mackay, plasterer, all of Dingwall. In August 1896 the building was completed and the opening ceremony performed by Lilian, Countess of Cromartie. Miss Morrison Duncan was there, along with the local dignitaries and visitors then staying at the Spa. A short notice of the opening appeared in the specialist journal The Hospital in September 1896 which described it as being a ‘pretty little building’. Its success was immediate, and the original provision of just ten beds soon raised to 12.
It was not the first hospital to be built in Strathpeffer, but there is a mystery surrounding the earlier hospital with just a few scraps of information having so far come to light. It is mentioned in the New Statistical Account for Scotland as having fifty beds – remarkably large for so small a place. It seems to have been established largely through the efforts of Captain James Edward Gordon, briefly M.P. for Dundalk. According to a later newspaper report, the hospital never opened, as Gordon did not appointed any trustees to run it, and the building was pulled down some twenty years after it had been built. This is not quite consistent with a report in the Inverness Courier of 8 August 1838 which mentions a hospital or dispensary at Strathpeffer, as a favourite project of Gordon’s, ‘the design of which is good’. At the time, Gordon was trying to divert funds from the Destitution in Shetland Fund to his Strathpeffer charity. There is also a notice which appeared in the Courier in August 1836, entitled ‘Strathpfeffer Infirmary’ about a bazaar that was to be held to raise money for this charitable institution ‘established for the relief of the destitute and suffering poor, who annually resort to the mineral waters from the surrounding counties.’ Perhaps the truth about this early hospital will emerge one day.
Its successor survives, though no longer as a hospital. Its future was already under threat in the 1960s, when the rationalisation of services and development of Raigmore were in full swing. It held out until the early 1990s, and was subsequently converted to domestic use. Around that time the harling, which had been painted white, was repainted a buff colour. Renamed Mackenzie House, it became a guest-house, and more recently has been adapted for holiday rentals. I would like to thank the present owner who very kindly allowed me to take some photos of the former hospital.
Inverness Courier, 30 Oct 1873, p.7: H. C. Burdett, Cottage Hospitals, 1880: The Hospital, vol.58, no.7 July 1962, p.491: Ross-shire Journal, 21 October 1892, p.4: 25 October 1895, p.7; 28 August 1896, p.7: The Hospital, 19 sept 1896, p.406: Ross-shire Journal, 16 July 1897, p.7; 6 May 1910, p.7: The Scotsman, 13 Dec 1938, p.8: Aberdeen P&J, 15 Dec 1944, p.4: The Scotsman, 24 July 1946, p.3
Medical Officer for Health, Ross and Cromarty, Annual Reports1946 adn 1947
Annual Reports of the Department of Health for Scotland: Parliamentary Papers, Estimates Committee, Hospital Building in Great Britain, Minutues of Evidence, Session 1969-70
Inverness Courier, 24 August 1836, p.1, 8 August 1838 p.3: The New Statistical Account of Scotland. V.14 (Inverness, Ross, Cromarty) Edinburgh W. Blackwood and sons, 1845, p.250
see also the Ross-shire Journal 8 Sept 2018