Dundee Women’s Hospital

South Front of the former hospital, photographed in 2018 © H. Richardson

On the slopes of Balgay Hill to the west of Dundee sits the former Dundee Women’s Hospital. Since it closed in the 1970s it has been converted into private flats. One was for sale when I visited the site in February this year. On a sunny day it is a pleasing building, in a quiet, understated Scottish Arts & Crafts style, with cream-painted harling and twin gables enclosing a balcony and verandah. It was designed by a local architect, James Findlay, and was opened on 24 February 1915.

Detail view of the central balcony and verandah, photographed in 2018 © H. Richardson

The hospital began as a dispensary for women, established in Dundee in about 1891. In October 1895 a committee was formed to consider establishing a small cottage hospital. In the following year the hospital was opened at 19 Seafield Road, near the Tayfield jute works. It claimed to be the first private hospital in Scotland for the treatment of women by women medical practitioners. Three women were the chief promoters of the scheme: the social reformer Mary Lily Walker, Dr Alice Moorhead and Dr Emily Thomson. The aim was not only to provide hospital treatment for women who wished to be treated by women, but also a private home for women with limited means.

By 1911 it had been decided to build a new hospital. Fund-raising events were held, at first with the idea of enlarging the existing building, but Beatrice Sharp offered £4,000 to build a new hospital. A memorial recording her gift can still be seen set into the boundary wall. Beatrice Sharp was the wife of a wealthy industrialist and together they had commissioned Sir Robert Lorimer to rebuild Wemysshall in Fife, creating Hill of Tarvit House in 1907.

Memorial plaque on boundary wall, photographed in 2018 © H. Richardson

Plans for the new hospital were approved by the Town Council in 1912 and two years later the building was completed. However, on the eve of the hospital’s opening a fire broke out causing major damage and destroying all the woodwork. It took another year or so to restore and rebuild the hospital.

The fire was not accidental. It was reputedly an arson attack by suffragettes – a rather surprising target perhaps. The artist and suffragette, Ethel Moorhead was the sister of Alice Moorhead, one of the founders of the hospital. Ethel Moorhead was connected with a number of arson attacks and other militant acts – from smashing windows in London to throwing an egg at Winston Churchill. But she was also the first suffragette in Scotland to be force fed while in prison in Edinburgh in February 1914. Although she was seriously ill after this, she recovered and continued campaigning. It was suggested that she was with her friend and collaborator Fanny Parker in a failed attempt to blow up Burns Cottage in Alloway in July 1914.

Former Dundee Women’s Hospital,  photographed in 2018 © H. Richardson

Whether or not she was behind the attack on the Dundee Women’s Hospital does not seem to be recorded. Suffragette literature was found in the neighbourhood and a message was left at the scene that read: ‘no peace till we get the vote. Blame the King and the Government’, the same message left at similar incidents all over the country. [1] The fire was spotted by a nurse at the nearby Victoria Hospital who raised the alarm. It was reported that late the previous night and early on the morning of the fire, a grey, or slate-coloured motor car was seen in the district containing several women. The night watchman on duty at the hospital also reported seeing three women having a look at the place early one morning after the fire. He thought that they might be ‘of a mind to return to complete their work’ . It was early dawn and the light uncertain. On seeing the watchman the women quickly disappeared. They appeared to be ‘young and well dressed’. [2] The timing was unfortunate for the hospital-  the attack was made in early June, not long before the outbreak of the First World War, after which the suffragettes suspended their campaign.

Extract from the 2nd-edition OS map, revised in 1921. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

While the rebuilding work was carried out, the hospital moved into temporary accommodation at 19 Windsor Street. At the end of February 1915 the new hospital was officially opened. The two storey building set on high ground with commanding views south over the Tay provided twenty beds. On the ground floor at the east end was a sun room: ‘an ideal little nook … where the convalescents can have a sun-bath at their leisure’. [3] The covered verandah and balcony above were deep enough to allow beds to be pushed out onto them. Inside cream distempering set off brown woodwork, while palms and flowering bulbs adorned the corridors.

Extract from the 25-inch OS map surveyed in 1951-2. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland. This shows extensions to the original building to the north west. 

James Findlay, the architect of the hospital, was born in Alyth, Perthshire, the son of a successful grocer and baker. He was married to Margaret Ann Donaldson, who died in October 1916. Findlay had been articled to John Murray Robertson in Dundee and took over the practice when Robertson died in 1901. Findlay’s chief assistant was David Smith who had worked in the London County Council’s Architect’s Department in 1902-3. While in London, Smith studied at the influential Regent Street Polytechnic and later joined the office of Leonard Stokes before returning to Dundee. He was responsible for much of the design work in Findlay’s practice. Findlay himself was one of the first people in Dundee to own a motor car. He appears in the local press on several occasions for minor traffic offences – he was fined a guinea for exceeding a 10-mile-per-hour speed limit in 1912.

The contractors, like the architects, were almost all local: building work was carried out by James R Anderson, bricklayer, builder and contractor,  E Esplanade, (whose home address in a 1912 directory was given as 4 Morgan Street); the joiners were Alexander Bruce & Son, Victoria Joinery Works, 129 Clepington Road; the plumbers John Orr & Son, registered plumbers and sanitary engineers, 272 Hawkhill; workshop, 31A Ryehill Lane (home 290 Balckness road): slater and harl work, William Brand & Son, slaters and cement workers, St Vincent Street, Broughty Ferry: glazier work, Lindsay & Scott, glass merchants, glaziers, and zinc and lead window makers, 24 to 28 Bank Street, branch 86 Victoria road: painter work, Allan Boath, painter and decorator, 141 and 143 Nethrgate, home – 171 Perth Road: grates, G. H. Nicoll & Co., furnishing and general ironmongers, 18 and 20 Bank Street: heating, Henry Walker & Son, Newcastle: Verandah ironwork, Thomas Russell, smith and engineer, St Andrew’s Iron works, 50 and 52 St Andrew’s street, home – 8 Nelson Terrace: gates and railings, George Mann, blacksmith, 40 Seafield Road: walls, William Bennet, builder and contractor, 41 Reform street, yard , 11 Parker street, home – 93 Arbroath road: roads, David Horsburgh, carting contractor, 65 Trades lane home – Eden villa, 83 Clepington Rd: grounds, James Laurie & Son, landscape gardeners & valuators, Blackness Nursery.

 

This advertisement for James Laurie & Son, who laid out the grounds of the hospital, appeared in the Dundee Directory for 1911-12, reproduced from the National Library of Scotland

The hospital was transferred to the National Health Service in 1948 and latterly became an annexe of the Royal Infirmary. It closed in 1975 but was retained by Tayside Health Board until the 1980s when it was sold with outline planning permission for redevelopment. Full permission to convert the hospital into flats was granted to the new owners, Hilltown Property Company, in 1988.

Notes: 1. The Suffragette, 5 June 1914: 2. Dundee People’s Journal, 6 June 1914 p.9: 3. Dundee Courier, 25 Feb 1915, p.4.

Sources: Dundee University Archives, plans: Dundee Courier, 9 Dec 1911, p.624 Feb 1915, p.6, 4 Oct 1916, p.6: Wikipedia: Dundee online planning portal: Aberdeen Press & Journal, 23 May 1914, p.7;  Dundee Evening Telegraph, 9 Nov 1904, p.5; 21 Oct 1907, p.3; 13 Sept 1912, 15 Oct 1913, p.2; Dundee People’s Journal, 30 May 1914, p.9; 7 Oct 1916, p.11; Perthshire Advertiser, 10 March 1943, p.8

 

Dundee Royal Infirmary, now Regents Gardens

Postcard showing the principal south elevation of the Royal Infirmary

Dundee Royal Infirmary closed in 1998, commemorative plaques and other items from the infirmary were transferred to Ninewells Hospital which replaced the infirmary as Dundee’s general and teaching hospital. Since then the original building and the main later additions have been converted into housing, renamed Regents Gardens, completed in 2008 by H & H Properties. The original planning brief for the site was approved before the infirmary had even closed, in 1996. The masterplan was approved in 2000, amended the following year. The architects for the conversion were the local firm of Kerr Duncan MacAllister.

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Aerial photograph of the site in 2010 from RCAHMS

Listed Grade A, the original infirmary, now Regents House, was the last of the former hospital buildings to be tackled. It was reconfigured to provide 63 apartments, with ground-floor flats some having individual main door entrances, and the high-ceilinged flats on the upper two floors featuring galleries looking over the living-rooms. Caird House (listed Grade B, built in 1902-7 as the cancer wing), was turned into 22 apartments and 5 pent-house flats; Dalgleish House, the 1890s nurses’ home, provided 19 apartments; Loftus house, which was originally the Caird Maternity Home and later a nurses’ home, was converted into six town houses; and the small Gilroy House was converted into two houses.

This view of Dundee Royal Infirmary from the Law shows the former Cancer Wing, photographed in 2005 by TheCreator, public domain image on Spanish Wikipedia’s entry for Dundee.

The old wash-house and drying green to the east of the infirmary was built up with housing as part of the redevelopment of the infirmary site. The wash-house itself had been demolished and replaced by the Constitution Campus tower of Dundee College in the 1960s (opened in 1970). By 2015 this was closed and awaiting redevelopment as flats with a cinema, gym, office space etc., known as Vox Dundee (why? who comes up with these names? I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation).

Extract from the 1st Edition OS Map surveyed in 1872. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

Dundee Royal Infirmary was officially opened on 7 February 1855, having been completed towards the end of 1854. It was designed by Coe & Goodwin of London. This building replaced the earlier infirmary built in the 1790s in King Street. By 1849 a committee had been appointed to select a site for the new infirmary and a competition was held for the plans. The eminent medical Professors James Syme and Robert Christison of Edinburgh were consulted in the selection of the winning design, and had also supplied a block plan of the necessary arrangements when designs were first invited. Although 30 sets of plans had been submitted by the summer of 1851, only three were considered acceptable and put on display. The Northern Warder was scathing in its criticism of the majority of the plans, which it thought must have been produced by ‘aspiring joiners’ hoping to win the £50 prize for the winning design.

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The main front of the hospital photographed around 1875 from Dundee Valentine Album, RCAHMS

Coe and Goodwin’s design was for a hospital of three storeys on a U‑shaped plan. It was of the corridor type of plan which was generally current before the introduction of the pavilion‑plan. Indeed, it was built in the declining years of corridor-plan hospitals, lending irony to Professor Syme’s description of it as ‘a model after which institutions similar in kind might well be constructed’. It is a bold essay in the Tudor style applied to a large public building (claimed to be the largest public building in Dundee at that time).  David Robertson, a local builder was appointed to erect the building and work was commenced in 1852.

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This more detailed plan is from the OS Town Plans, also of 1871. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Many extensions were built and sister institutions provided, one of the first was a convalescent home at Barnhill built in 1873-7  (since demolished). Problems associated with the plan had to be rectified – the chief of these being the sanitary facilities. One of the key aspects of pavilion-plan hospitals was the placement of the WCs, sinks and baths in rooms that were separated from the ward by a short lobby with windows on each side. This created a through-draught and was designed to prevent ‘offensive effluvia’ from being carried into the ward – bad smells or miasmas that were believed to cause disease. Plans to improve these and to build a new wash-house and laundry were prepared, and other similar institutions visited so as to provide the best and most up-to-date conveniences.

Plan of Dundee, 1906, by William Mackison, Burgh Engineer. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The plan of Dundee above marks the principal additions built to the north of the original hospital in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These have been retained and converted to housing. To the left is the nurses’ home, built in 1896-7 and named after Sir William Ogilvy Dalgliesh, president of the hospital and benefactor of the University’s Medical School. On the right hand side is the Caird Maternity Hospital, designed in 1897 and opened in 1900, named after its benefactor, the jute baron (Sir) James Key Caird. Though marked here as a maternity hospital it served a dual function, with one block for maternity cases and one for diseases of women; the third, central block contained administrative offices and staff residences. It was designed by Murray Robertson. Caird also funded  the cancer wing, built in 1902-7 to designs by James Findlay.

Detail from the OS plan of Dundee surveyed in 1952, showing the extent of the infill building. At this time the public wash-house and allotment gardens still occupied the site to the east. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The map above shows the extent of the extensions and additions to the site up to the 1950s, many of these were demolished following the closure of the infirmary. These included an extension to the west rear wing of 1895 providing a new operating theatre. Another building removed was the maternity wing, which had been opened in 1930, erected and equipped by R. B. Sharp and his brother F. B. Sharp of Hill of Tarvit, Fife (pictured below, and labelled maternity hospital on the map above). The architects were D. W. Baxter & Son. After it was built the former Caird Maternity Hospital was turned into nurses’ accommodation. A further addition providing new dispensary and pathology departments was opened in 1935, named the Sir James Duncan building.

This rather gloomy photograph shows the maternity wing in about 1989-91. It was a plain enough building but the assorted bits of piping, ducting and plant added to the roof and meandering over the wall surface do it no favours. Photograph © Harriet Richardson

This view shows the main front with the maternity wing to the right. Photograph taken c.1990 © Harriet Richardson

The grand centrepiece of the original infirmary with steps leading up to the main entrance. Photograph taken c.1990 © Harriet Richardson

Detail of main infirmary building, showing the end bays of main front with angle turret on the return. Photograph taken c.1990 © Harriet Richardson

Looking west along the main front towards the entrance. Photograph taken c.1990 © Harriet Richardson

Sources: Henry J. C. Gibson, Dundee Royal Infirmary 1798-1948… 1948: Dundee City Archives: The Builder, 23 Aug. 1851, p.529, 16 Oct 1897, p.312; Dundee Courier, 13 April 1895, p.3; 10 March 1896, p.6; 11 Dec 1977, p.4; Dundee Evening Post, 9 Dec 1901, p.4; Dundee Evening Telegraph, 13 Sept 1897, p.2: Dictionary of Scottish Architects; Unlocking the Medicine Chest: PGL ForfarshireThe Scotsman, 23 March 1900, p.4; 16 July 1935, p.7:

For more information on Sir James Caird see the James Caird Society