Stracathro Hospital

Stracathro House, from Gershom Cumming, Forfarshire Illustrated, 1843

Stracathro House was built in 1827 to designs by Archibald Simpson for Alexander Cruickshank Esq whose fortune came from plantations in the West Indies. Cruickshank owned estates in British Guiana and St Vincent, and was awarded over £30,000 in compensation for freed slaves in 1836. Nevertheless, by the 1840s he was facing financial embarrassment and he returned to Demerara where he died in 1846.

Stracathro House photographed by RCAHMS in 2003

Stracathro House was built into a sloping site, thus the principal front is of two storeys without basement and the garden front to the rear has a raised basement. The main nine‑bay façade comprises slightly advanced outer bays capped by a stone balustrade and between these five bays set behind a screen of fluted Corinthian columns in antis. This screen breaks forwards in front of the centre three bays forming a tetrastyle portico.

Postcard with views of Brechin, including, top left, the mansion house at Stracathro Hospital, © H. Martin, reproduced with permission.

Following Cruickshank’s death Strathcathro House and estate were put up for sale at auction in July 1847. It failed to sell on that occasion. The house was fully furnished, the estate extended to 1,939 acres, of which 447 were wooded and 161 laid out as park and pleasure grounds, the rest being farmland. Eventually it was bought by Sir James Campbell, former Lord Provost of Glasgow, when it was put up for sale again in December at a reduced price of £40,000, reckoned to be about half the amount that it had cost Cruickshank. Campbell’s second son was Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, liberal MP and Prime Minister 1905-8. His eldest son, James Alexander Campbell, who inherited Stracathro, married Ann Peto, daughter of the railway baron, Sir S. Morton Peto. James died within weeks of his brother in 1908. James Morton Peto Campbell inherited, but died in 1926 after a prolonged illness at Careston Castle, Brechin, the home of his sister and brother-in-law, William Shaw Adamson. Stracathro House passed to the Shaw Adamsons. William’s son, William Campbell Adamson, was in the Royal Flying Corps and was killed in action in France in 1915. His son, William John Campbell Adamson inherited from his grandfather in 1936 when he was only about 22 years of age.

Rear view of the house. The wings were added later. Photographed in 2012 by Cisco, reproduced under creative commons license CC-BY-SA-3.0

During the First World War Stracathro was used as a military hospital, and was afterwards returned to the Campbells. The young William Campbell Adamson leased the house to the Department of Health for Scotland in 1938, when it was earmarked as a site for an emergency hospital. This was one of seven Emergency Medical Scheme hospitals built in Scotland. Hutted ward blocks were erected in the grounds to take the anticipated civilian casualties from air raids, while the house was used for staff accommodation.

Extract from the OS 1:25,000 map published in 1957. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The hospital was ready for occupation by the summer of 1940. Guidelines for the design and construction were given by the Department of Health to local architectural and/or engineering firms to erect EMS hospitals. For Stracathro the scheme was carried through by the firm of Maclaren, Soutar and Salmond, a Dundee practice which had an office in Brechin at that time.

Postcard with aerial photograph of the hospital

Nationally the programme for building these hutment hospitals, either on new sites or adjoining existing hospitals, was designed to provide 35,000 beds in England and Wales by the end of December 1939, and 10,000 additional beds in hutments (i.e. ward huts – single storey detached blocks) in Scotland on twenty sites.

This postcard showing the admin block of the hospital is not dated, but looks to me to be of the 1950s or 60s

Stracathro provided 999 beds, and took troops, local residents and later casualties. After the war it became a local general hospital, and was transferred to the National Health Service in 1948 under the Eastern Regional Hospital Board.

Another postcard with an aerial photograph of the hospital. On the right are flat-roofed ward blocks, the rest of the blocks having pitched roofs, suggesting that they are a different building phase. 
One of the few surviving war-time ward blocks at Stracathro Hospital, photographed in 2013 © Copyright Anne Burgess and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Stracathro is the only one of the seven independent EMS hospitals built in Scotland to have so far retained any of its original ward blocks. Most on the site have been largely, if not completely rebuilt, although the original footprint of much of the hospital remains. In 2011 the Susan Carnegie Centre, for patients with mental illnesses, opened here, designed to replace Sunnyside Hospital. Stracathro House itself was sold by Tayside Health Board in 2003 and was converted back into a private residence.


Legacies of British Slave Ownership, profile of Alexander Cruickshank: The Garden History Society in Scotland, Survey of Gardens and Designed Landscapes: Stracathro HousePP: 10th Annual Report of the Department of Health for Scotland, 1938 Montrose, Arbroath and Brechin Review, 7 May 1847; 29 Aug 1847; 31 Dec 1847; 31 Dec 1847: London Daily News, 16 Feb 1847, p.8:  The Scotsman, 10 July 1940: Hansard, Commons Sitting 1 August 1939: University of Dundee Archive Services, records of the Eastern Regional Hospital Board; Museum Services, Hospitals at War