Brooksby House, Largs. From Yachting Residence to Seaside Convalescent Home.

For many decades, Brooksby House was the convalescent home for Glasgow’s Victoria Infirmary. The Governors of the Infirmary purchased this substantial villa by the sea-front at Largs in 1896 and it opened the following year with accommodation for 24 patients.

Postcard of Brooksby House, postmarked 1910. Reproduced by permission of H. Martin

Convalescent Homes were a common aspect of health care for about a century. They first emerged in the mid-nineteenth century in an attempt to solve the problem of patients discharged from hospital who did not fully recuperate, either from having to return to work too soon, poor sanitary conditions in the home, or inadequate nourishment. In the late-eighteenth century some general hospitals began to provide convalescent wards and a few of the more enlightened workhouse infirmaries had convalescent wards around the mid-nineteenth century.

The former Metropolitan Convalescent Institution, later Ellesmere Hospital, Walton-on-Thames. Photographed in 1993 © H. Richardson. The hospital closed in 1989, and some time after 1998 was converted into private flats.

The first convalescent home in England seems to have been the Metropolitan Convalescent Institution. It grew from an ad hoc  arrangement between Theodore Monro, a medical student at Barts Hospital in the City of London and his brother, a vicar in Harrow Weald, whereby patients discharged from the hospital were lodged with families in the Harrow Weald to recuperate. Monro wanted to provide an asylum in the country, where pure air, rest and nutritious diet would speed recovery. In 1842  a vacant workhouse in Carshalton provided a more formal home for the nascent institution, but a purpose-built home was erected in 1852-4 near Walton-on-Thames, designed by Joseph Clarke in a handsome Italianate style (later renamed Ellesmere Hospital).

Despite its success, and increasing awareness of the usefulness of convalescent homes, there was a lapse of some years before any more homes were built. This changed during the 1860s, with homes built in Bournemouth (the Herbert Memorial), Wimbledon (the Atkinson Morley), Whitley Bay (Prudhoe Memorial), and various other locations. The first in Scotland was established at Dunoon in 1869 (the Dunoon Homes).

The Prudhoe Memorial Convalescent Home, Whitley Bay, reproduced from the Wellcome Collection, CC BY

The earliest purpose-built homes were designed on hospital-like lines with large nightingale-style wards. Florence Nightingale herself commended a more domestic scale and appearance, and published an ideal plan in 1863 for a convalescent hospital arranged as three cottages, linked by covered ways.

Florence Nightingale’s ideal convalescent home, plan and elevation, from Notes on Hospitals, London, 1863

Like Brooksby House, many convalescent homes were established in converted houses. Brooksby was originally built around 1837-40 as a yachting residence for a Glasgow merchant, Matthew Perston. It is attributed to the architect David Hamilton, or his son James, under the partnership they formed of D & J Hamilton. Designed in a fashionable though restrained Italian Renaissance style, the main elevation faces west, towards the sea, with a verandah, now missing its canopy, in front of the central projecting three bays. The main entrance was on the south side, with a grand porch sheltering the doorway. The house had particularly fine interiors, with plaster ceilings, chimney-pieces and a painted armorial ceiling in the rooms on the ground floor.

Brooksby House, photographed in June 2018 by Ian Rainey. © Copyright Ian Rainey and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Perston already had a house in Largs by 1836, when he was the owner of the Yacht ‘Wave’, though his address is not give as Brooksby in the newspapers until 1845. In 1839 he had won a challenge cup with Wave and he had been elected a steward of the Royal Northern Yacht Club by 1844. The Club’s Regatta was held in Largs in that year. In 1846 he was listed as a shareholder of the Glasgow, Largs and Milport Steam-boat Company, but his main business was the Bothwell Street Spinning Company, Glasgow. Perston was bankrupted in 1847, and had to put Brooksby House up for sale or to let. A buyer proved hard to find, and a sale of his wines, port, madeira, sherry etc along with much of his household furniture was held in June 1848. The following year, in October 1849, the house was advertised for sale again, at the reduced price of £3,700, despite having cost £10,000 to build. It was described as a splendid marine residence. It had three reception rooms, seven bedrooms, as well as a bathroom and hot and cold water.

Extract from the 1st edition OS map, surveyed in 1855. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

By the 1850s Brooksby had become the home of Robert Graham, a Justice of the Peace for Ayrshire. Graham senior had died by the mid-1860s, but his daughter, Gertrude Schuyler Ramsay, wife of George Gilbert Ramsay, Professor of Humanity at the University of Glasgow, and his son, R. C. Graham and his wife, retained the house. In 1897 Brooksby  was acquired by the Victoria Infirmary, Glasgow. The Grahams offered to sell for £4,000, but the Infirmary Governors did not wish to pay more than £3,500. After some haggling, they agreed to meet half way. The acquisition of a convalescent home fulfilled the wishes of the Infirmary’s benefactor, Robert Couper, who had left £40,000 in his will to establish both the infirmary and an associated convalescent home.  It was hoped that the home would allow patients to be discharged earlier, and thus help to lessen the waiting list.

Ceiling in one of the ground-floor rooms, photographed by RHCME in 2012

Brooksby House was attractive because of its seaside location, easy distance from Glasgow, and because the service buildings to the rear, including coach-house and stables, could easily be rented out and provide an income without interfering with the amenity of the home. After a swift refurbishment, the home was formally opened on 26 June 1897 by Lady Watson, wife of the Chairman of the Board of Governors, Sir Henry Watson. Accommodation was provided for 24 patients, later raised to 30.

Painted ceiling in ground-floor room of Brooksby House, photographed in 2012 by RCHME

Under the National Health Service Brooksby initially remained under the same Board of Management as the Victoria Infirmary. Latterly it was mostly used to provide a fortnight’s holiday for long-stay psychiatric patients from Leverndale Hospital, Glasgow. In 1983 it was transferred to Ayrshire and Arran Health Board. It provided continuing care beds until around 2006 and since 2009, has been used as the North West Ayrshire Resource Centre by the NHS.

Sources: 

The Scotsman, 8 Sept 1847, p.4: Glasgow Herald, 18 April 1845, p.2; 6 March 1846, p.4; 25 Feb 1848 p.3; 29 May 1848, p.3: Greenock Advertiser, 14 December 1852 p.2: Morning Advertiser, 11 Aug 1865, p.8: Largs & Millport Weekly, 3 July 1897: NHS, Greater Glasgow & Clyde Archives, Victoria Infirmary Annual Reports: S. D. Slater & D. A. Dow, The Victoria Infirmary of Glasgow 1890 -1990, 1990, pp.245-7.

Lunatic at Large: an escaped patient from Ayr District Asylum

geograph-667812-by-Mary-and-Angus-HoggThe former Ayr District Asylum, now Ailsa Hospital photographed in 2008. The building to the left is one of the villas built in 1899 © Copyright Mary and Angus Hogg and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

‘Lunatic at Large’  was the sensational headline in the Glasgow Herald, at the end of November in 1871 of a sad story about a woman in her 30s who had escaped from the Ayrshire District Asylum at Glengall, just south of Ayr (now Ailsa Hospital). She was named as Christina Morton or Reid. Her story made the headlines because it was linked to the disappearance of two young children, a girl of about five or six years of age and a boy of just two and a half, who had been sent by their mother to fetch milk from the dairy, a few doors from their house in Mill Street, around seven o’clock in the evening. When after an hour they had failed to return the mother first searched for them at her neighbours’ houses and then raised the alarm. A diligent search was made, even of the river Ayr which ran past the foot of the gardens in Mill Street, but no trace of the children could be found. All the inhabitants of Mill Street ‘were running in search of them in all directions’. While the search was underway the police received a report that a female patient had escaped from the District Asylum that afternoon. And so the story unfolded:

Near midnight…

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It is a pitiful tale. Ayr District Asylum had only been opened for a couple of years in 1871. Evidently she was returned to the asylum, as she is listed as a patient there in the 1881 census.

Sources
Glasgow Herald, 30 Nov 1871 p.4
Scotland Census 1881

 

 

Ayr District Asylum, William Railton’s unbuilt design

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Detail of William Railton’s proposed elevation for the Ayr District Asylum

A competition was held for the design of Ayr District Asylum in 1864. The commission was awarded to Edwards & Robertson of Dundee early the following year, their plans having been judged ‘most preferable’ (see Ailsa Hospital, on the Ayrshire and Arran page). There were seven competitors, and the runners up were each awarded £25. These included Peddie and Kinnear, whose plans are in the National Monument Record of Scotland, Murdoch and McDermott of Ayr, and William Railton, of Kilmarnock. [1]

Railton’s plans are dated 31 December 1864. William Railton was an architect and engineer who also designed Kilmarnock Infirmary and the Cunninghame Combination Poorhouse (later Ravenspark Hospital), neither of which has survived. He was born in Glasgow but moved to Kilmarnock at a young age, and married Isabella Railton of Carlisle in 1859. He is not the William Railton who designed Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. [2] Although the plans for Ayr District Asylum were unexecuted they are interesting by way of comparison with Edwards and Robertson’s plans and as an example of the type of accommodation that was generally provided for ‘pauper lunatics’ in the mid-nineteenth century.

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Elevations

The two-storey range in the foreground with its slender tower rising above the main entrance, was to contain rooms for visitors and new inmates and the apartment of the medical superintendent (on the left with a separate front door). This range sits in front of the main asylum complex which is contained within a walled enclosure. The long three-storey block designed to house the patients is almost devoid of ornament.

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Ground-floor plan

The design provided accommodation for 204 patients in the first instance, with the potential to extend later as funds permitted. The patients were simply divided by gender, males on one side, females on the other, with equal numbers of each. On the female side was the wash-house and on the male side were workshops. A small dead house was located next to the workshops off the airing yard of the male infirmary wing.

IMG_0153Detail of the central portion of the complex with the administration block at the front (bottom of the plan), 

At the heart of the complex on the ground floor was the kitchen, although the dining hall was on the floor above. (On the winning design by Edwards and Robertson the dining hall and kitchen were both on the ground floor.) Here were also rooms for the officers of the asylum, a dispensary, rather a large waiting room, and assorted store rooms.

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Detail showing ground floor male side

The plan was a little old-fashioned for its date, the day rooms lack bay windows and the provisions of baths is distinctly miserly, which might explain why Railton failed to win the competition.

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First-floor plan

The first floor has a similar arrangement of single rooms off a broad corridor at the end of which is a rectangular day room, a further day room occupies the space over the wing for infirm cases. Staff accommodation occupies a central position and there are dormitories over the wash-house and workshops. Rather than for staff these are more likely to be for patients whose condition rendered them fit for work.

IMG_0144Detail showing the Dining Hall at the heart of the asylum. To the front is the entrance or administrative block, with the medical superintendent’s house on the left. 

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Second-floor plan.

On the top floor were dormitories: four large rooms containing from twelve beds to fifteen beds. Just one bath again, and two water-closets.

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Block plan of the main building range

The block plan shows how the accommodation was arranged. The airing yards allowed the patients to be segregated while taking exercise out of doors, and had access to the gardens around three sides of the building, shown laid out with some formality. [3] The medical superintendent has his own private garden, and there appears to be a separate garden in the corresponding position on the other side of the administration block, perhaps also for staff. What is not shown from this detail, is that the admin block faces north-west, the patients’ wings being orientated on a roughly west-east axis, with the single rooms on the north side and the corridors facing southwards.

Notes

  1. Railton’s plans are currently in my possession: Plans by Edwards and Robertson are deposited in the Scottish National Archives, RHP34893: Peddie and Kinnear’s plans are at RCAHMS, National Monuments Record of Scotland, ref: DPM 1860/89/1: Glasgow Herald, 20 Feb 1865, p.5
  2. Nelson’s Column was designed by the London architect William Railton in 1839. The two Williams may have been related, perhaps by marriage, Isabella Railton who married the Kilmarnock William, could have been a cousin of either. Isaac Railton, father of the London architect, was from Throstle Hall, Caldbeck, Cumberland.
  3. Sarah Rutherford is the leading expert on the landscaping of asylums, see for example Landscapes for the Mind and Body