Woolmanhill redevelopment

Woolmanhill Hospital, Aberdeen. The neo-classical style building was designed in the 1830s by Archibald Simpson. Photographed in 2010 © Copyright Bob Embleton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Back in February this year, the local press relayed proposals to transform Woolmanhill Hospital, Aberdeen, into a hotel and homes. The scheme, submitted by the developer Charlie Ferrari, is for a 52-bed boutique hotel, 27 serviced apartments, 32 residential apartments and just 10 affordable flats. Ferrari has set up a company CAF Properties (Woolmanhill) Ltd to put in a joint application with NHS Grampian to Aberdeen City Council. The hotel and serviced apartments would be sold to the G1 Group, owners of the Palm Court Hotel in Aberdeen. Ferrari was quoted in the Aberdeen Evening Express saying that he hoped to bring the site back to life and make it a ‘vibrant addition to the cityscape’, recognising that it was valued for its heritage. The proposal is to renovate four buildings on the site, and incorporates a lighting display in the central courtyard. The original hospital building would become the hotel, the Stephen Building, would be converted into the serviced apartments while the Victoria building would be turned into flats. The affordable housing element is destined for the former archive building to the north of the site.

The medical block, fronting Woolmanhill, photographed in 1964

All four main buildings are listed at grade A. The oldest of the four was designed by Archibald Simpson and is an elegant neo-Classical granite building of 1840, near the centre of Aberdeen. Comparable to the earlier Gray’s Hospital at Elgin, it was designed as an impressive public building as much as a functional hospital. To the rear of Simpson’s block are two ranges, largely dating from 1887, which create a roughly triangular court. Just as the Infirmary at Woolmanhill was replaced nearly a century later by the Foresterhill complex, the Woolmanhill building replaced an earlier infirmary built a century before.

Façade of the Royal Infirmary, Aberdeen. Engraving by W. Banks & son.  Wellcome Library, London. Reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 

The Aberdeen Infirmary was founded in 1739 and the foundation stone of the first building on the Woolmanhill site was laid in January 1740. It was of simple construction, built to the designs of William Christall who had visited Edinburgh and Glasgow to view William Adam’s Edinburgh Infirmary and Glasgow’s Town’s Hospital, before completing his own plans. It opened in 1742, providing twenty beds, including accommodation for lunatics, and had cost £484. No illustration of this building appears to have survived. On the completion of Simpson’s new Infirmary the old building was demolished.

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

In 1887 a major extension and reconstruction scheme was begun. The site formed an awkward wedge and added to this difficulty the managers wished to avoid interfering with the existing buildings. H. Saxon Snell, the well-known hospital architect in London, was consulted and at his suggestion Simpson’s building was converted into an administrative and clinical area, with new ward pavilions built to the rear. He also recommended retaining the separate fever block at the rear as part of the new surgical block. Known as the Jubilee Extension Scheme, the new blocks opened in 1897 and provided a new surgical block, medical block, pathology and laundry blocks. W. & J. Smith & Kelly, the Aberdeen firm of architects, carried out the work.

View from the south-west, photographed in May 2015 by RCAHMS

The new administration department, formed out of the former hospital, was also to provide accommodation for nurses:

“The first thing in a good modern hospital was to have the best possible accommodation for nurses… In some of the larger hospitals such as that of Marylebone every nurse has a bedroom to herself. The committee do not propose to go to that extent but they propose that everyone of the higher nurses… shall have a room to herself, and that the others shall be accommodated two in one room.”

It is perhaps worth noting that the Marylebone hospital referred to in London was in fact a workhouse infirmary. It is a measure of the changing attitudes to hospital and nursing provision for paupers that their nurses were offered better accommodation than those in a Scottish Royal Infirmary.

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Plans of Aberdeen Royal Infirmary published in H. C. Burdett’s Hospitals and Asylums of the World, 1893, portfolio of plans. Above: the northern half of the site, with the new block on the left. Below the original building showing its new room uses.
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Ground plan of Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, from H. C. Burdett, Hospitals and Asylums of the World, 1893
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Ground plan of Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, from H. C. Burdett, Hospitals and Asylums of the World, 1893. 

Burdett classified the layout and plan of Aberdeen Royal Infirmary as ‘composite or heap of buildings’,  which was his class 4, class 1 being pavilion plan hospitals, class 2 block plan and class 3 corridor plan. There is a suggestion that the ‘heap of buildings’ class was the worst type. The plans were published before works on the new buildings had been completed.

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Operating Theatre, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, from the Handbook and Guide to Aberdeen of 1914

Amongst the later additions were new operating theatres (pictured above), and out-patients’ department (below)

The out-patients’ department, photographed in 1964
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Out-Patient Department, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, from the Handbook and Guide to Aberdeen of 1914

The out-patients’ department (demolished) was opened in November 1912, situated to the east of the infirmary on the other side of Woolmanhill. A large top-lit waiting hall was centrally placed off which were situated admission rooms, dispensary, Ear and Throat, Dental and Skin clinics, bacteriological and sterilising rooms, operating rooms for minor surgery, dressing and recovery rooms etc. A basement housed stores and heating chamber, and on the upper floor were two 4-bed wards for the Ear & Throat department and some staff accommodation.

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Extract from the 25-inch OS map revised in 1926. The out-patients’ block occupies the island site north of the Drill Hall, bounded by St Andrew Street, Woolmanhill, Andrew and John Streets. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Following the opening of the new Royal Infirmary on the Foresterhill site in the 1920s Woolmanhill was retained and there were still in-patient facilities here until relatively recently alongside a number of out-patient clinics. Since the closure of the hospital was agreed in 1999, health services have been winding down on the site and gradually relocating. The last remaining clinics are for ENT and audiology, which are due to move out this year.

[Sources: Evening Express, 4 Feb 2016, online, 27 March 2016, online: British Medical Association, Aberdeen 1914, A Handbook and Guide, Aberdeen, 1914]

Dry January? Head for a Hydro! A brief look at Victorian hydropathic establishments in Scotland

After the feasting and convivial drinking over Christmas and the New Year, a dry January has become increasingly common. The adverse effects of alcohol on our health are widely known and understood today, as are the benefits of keeping well hydrated, preferably by drinking plenty of water. These twin truths go a long way to explain why hydropathic establishments and spas have survived long after other institutions offering specialist treatments have either disappeared or remain rare.  Sea-bathing, anti-vivisection, galvanic, and mesmeric hospitals all had their promoters and supporters from the eighteenth into the twentieth centuries, though widely condemned by the medical profession. But a water cure, particularly if it was balanced with exercise in country air and abstinence from alcohol, did few any harm and benefitted many.

Shandon Hydro library of congress
Shandon Hydro, Helensburgh, image from National Library of Congress. West Shandon House, built in 1851, was altered and greatly extended by Peddie & Kinnear in the 1870s to turn it into a fairy tale castle of a hydropathic establishment.

Spas and Hydropathic establishments are generally set in attractive locations, occupying imposing buildings, and have not been neglected by historians. Health tourism has been studied both from an architectural and historical perspective in recent years. [1] Hydros had their heyday in Scotland in the later nineteenth century, the Shandon Hydro at Helensburgh and the Dunblane Hydro were both built to designs by Peddie & Kinnear in the 1870s. By that time they had become popular as health resorts and were often closely linked to the temperance movement. They attracted the healthy as well as the invalid, and water treatments began to subside in importance. Unsurprisingly, in terms of architectural planning later hydros were little different from hotels, only the treatment rooms set them apart.

Dunblane hydro Lib or Congress
Dunblane Hydro, designed by Peddie & Kinnear 1875. Image from National Library of Congress 

The water cure had been introduced into Britain from the Continent in the mid-nineteenth century, as a separate medical strand from taking the waters at a Spa. For the water cure primarily concerned water as an external treatment, with baths, douches and other inventive ways of applying water to the body. Hydropathy was big business in England and Wales before it gained much ground in Scotland. The first hydropathic establishments north of the border were small, located at Rothesay, Dunoon and Aberdeen. [2]

L0010944 Graefenberg: Hydropathic Establishment of Vincent Priessnitz Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Graefenberg: Hydropathic Establishment of Vincent Priessnitz, circa 1839 Life of Vincent Priessnitz Metcalfe, R. Published: 1898 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Graefenberg, Hydropathic Establishment of Vincent Priessnitz, from the Wellcome  Library reproduced under under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

At Rothesay the hydro was set up in 1843 by Dr William Paterson who had visited Vincent Priessnitz, the founder of the water cure movement, at Graefenberg. Paterson’s hydropathic establishment occupied Glenburn House, overlooking Rothesay Bay on the Isle of Bute. The house was converted to provide accommodation for just ‘a few invalids’. [2] Unlike Priessnitz, Paterson combined the ‘judicious use of medicine’ alongside cold water in his treatments. The hydro was successful and underwent a number of additions before it was rebuilt in the 1890s following a fire. [3]

Glenburn hydropathic Rothesay
Glenburn Hydro, Rothesay from Wilson’s Guide to Rothesay and the Isle of Bute, 1848

The short-lived hydro at Dunoon was established in 1846 by another Scottish doctor who had been directly inspired by Priesstnitz, Dr Rowland East. It too was in a converted house, which was situated near the recently built Kirn Pier, on the banks of the Clyde. Here water treatment was combined with a regime of sea-water bathing.  The third hydro, opened at Aberdeen in 1850, was perhaps the most influential, but it was begun not by a doctor but a churchman, the Reverend Alexander Munro. Munro belonged to the Evangelical Union, and his interest in hydropathy was very much a product of his faith, providing scope for ministering to both the physical and spiritual needs of his flock. [4]

Extract from the 1st edition OS map, surveyed in 1867, showing the Aberdeen hydro at Loch-head, (just west of the Royal Lunatic Asylum). Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland. Alexander Munro moved the hydro here in 1853 from Angusfield, where he had begun his hydropathic establishment in 1850.  [5]

Munro’s Aberdeen hydro proved sufficiently successful to warrant additions to the house at Loch-head. He built a new wing ‘of three storeys, two of these having fine oriel windows’. The new wing contained a dining room, drawing room and recreation room in addition to further bedrooms. Later he added a Turkish bath, in moorish style. In 1864 Munro left for the new Cluny Hills Hydro and his position at Loch-head was filled by Dr Meikle, for whom it proved a stepping stone to founding a new purpose-built hydro at Crieff.

Bridge of Allan Hydro, National Library of Congress

The Allan Water Hydropathic establishment was built in 1861-4 to designs by a lesser Glasgow architect James Hamilton, and was an early work in his career. Soon after he was commissioned to design the West of Scotland Seaside Home at Dunoon (later remodelled as the Dunoon Hydro), the Glasgow Hydropathic and Turkish Bath, and possibly desinged extensions to the Glenburn Hydro, Rothesay. James, his son John and grandson Arthur were all closely associated with Rothesay and designed a number of villas thereabouts.

Strathearn Hydro, Crieff.  Library of Congress

The Hydro at Crieff is possibly the best known Scottish hydro, and one of the few to survive as a hotel to this day. It was first opened as the Strathearn Hydro in 1868, built for the not inconsiderable sum of £30,000 and founded by Dr Thomas Henry Meikle, on the back of the success of the Loch-head hydro at Aberdeen. The original building was designed by Robert Ewan, an architect and engineer who was commissioned in 1866 while still working as an assistant architect to J. Russell Mackenzie in Aberdeen. The early success of the establishment is attested by the almost immediate need to extend the accommodation, first with attic bedrooms in 1872, then in 1875 the dining and drawing rooms were extended. Further substantial additions were made in 1888 and 1894, and a winter garden was added in 1903-5. Ewan and his architect sons, Robert and Charles, were retained for these additional works. They were not foremost amongst Scottish architects, and the hydro is not the finest piece of architectural design, but it has distinct charm and a lively roofline of turrets and gables.

The Winter Garden from Strathearn Hydro’s souvenir brochure produced in the 1950s.

During the Second World War the Strathearn Hydro at Crieff was requisitioned by the army, it partially re-opened in 1949 and after refurbishment a souvenir brochure was produced to entice new visitors and encourage former guests to return. It advertised various sports: golf, tennis and croquet out of doors, billiards and a swimming-pool in doors. It also boasted 58 separate ‘lock-up’ compartments for motor cars. The medical side had not been entirely abandoned, there was a physiotherapy department, which it was hoped would prove increasingly helpful in the treatment of rheumatism ‘and in the restoration of function’. [6]  It remained dry, though, until the 1970s, when the management finally applied for a table licence. [2]

[1]  Phyllis Hembry, British Spas from 1815 to the Present… 1997: J.Bradley, M. Dupree, and A. Durie ‘Taking the Water-Cure: The Hydropathic Movement in Scotland, 1840-1940’ in Business and Economic History, vol.26 no.2, Winter 1997 pp.426-37: James Bradley ‘Medicine on the margins? Hydropathy and orthodoxy in Britain, 1840-60’ in Waltraud Ernst ed, Plural Medicine, Tradition and Modernity 1800-2000, Routledge, 2002: Allan Brodie, Travel and Tourism in Britain, 1700 – 1914, 2014: Eric Zeulow, A History of Modern Tourism, 2015.
[2] Alastair J. Durie, Water is Best The Hydros and Health Tourism in Scotland 1840-1940, 2006
[3] John Wilson, Wilson’s Guide to Rothesay and the Isle of Bute, 1848: Richard Metcalfe, The rise and progress of hydropathy in England and Scotland, 1906, p.157
[4] Alastair J. Durie ‘”The drugs, the blister and the lancet are all laid aside” Hydropathy and medical orthodoxy in Scotland, 1840-1900’ in Repositioning Victorian Sciences: Shifting Centres in 19th century… D. Clifford, E. Wadge, A. Warwick, M. Willis eds, 2006
[5] ‘Aberdeen in Byegone Days’, Aberdeen Journal, 30 Sept 1909, p.2
[6] Strathearn Hydropathic Crieff, souvenir brochure printed by David Philips, Crieff, n.d. but describes the hydro as being 90 years old.