Randolph Wemyss Memorial Hospital, Fife

Randolph Wemyss Memorial Hospital, photographed in October 2019 © H. Richardson

The cottage hospital at Buckhaven opened on 28 August 1909. It was designed by Alexander Tod of Kirkcaldy for Lady Eva Wemyss in memory of her husband, Randolph Gordon Erskine Wemyss, of Wemyss Castle. Randolph Wemyss had died in July 1908 aged just 50 after a long illness, but in his relatively short life he had made a considerable impact on the Wemyss estate, guided and inspired by his mother. He invested the profits from the coal mines on his land both to improve production – building a coaling dock at Methil, and a railway from there to Thornton – and also to improve the conditions of his tenants and workers. He was behind the development of the ‘New Town’ or ‘Garden Village’ of Denbeath, where he built over 200 cottage flats in 1904-5, and invested in the company that built a tramway from Kirkcaldy to Leven.

OS Map, 25-inch, revised in 1913. The Wemyss Memorial Hospital is here dwarfed by Denbeath School to its north-west. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

The housing built by Wemyss at Denbeath was remarkable in many ways. The design of the cottage flats was unusual. Arranged in terraces of two storeys, with one flat per floor, the L-shaped flats interlocked with their entrances alternately on the north and south sides. The upper-floor flats were accessed by external stairs. They were also unusually large, giving a larger square footage of floor area than was recommended by the 1919 Housing Act, and built on a low density at 10 houses per acre, yet the rents kept affordable.  [see John Frew and David Adshead’s article, ‘”Model” Colliery Housing in Fife: Denbeath “Garden” Village 1904-8’ in Scottish Industrial History, X (1987) pp 45-59 for more on the housing.]

Wellesley Road. Detail of the cottage flats in Denbeath, photographed by Jerzy Morkis in 2010, © CC BY-SA 2.0, reproduced from Geograph

Designs for a cottage hospital to serve the new garden village may have been outlined around 1907 by Randolph Wemyss and Alexander Tod, the Wemyss Castle estate architect. However, they were seen through by Lady Eva Wemyss, with Tod, following her husband’s death. Lady Eva was Randolph’s  second wife (he had been divorced from his first wife in 1898), and the daughter of William Henry Wellesley, 2nd Earl Cowley, a great nephew of the Duke of Wellington. Both Lady Eva and Alexander Tod were said to have visited ‘some of the principal hospitals in the country’ before settling on the design, which embodied the ‘best features found in all of them’. [Dundee Courier, 31 March 1909, p.6]

Detail of ward wing, photographed in October 2019 © H. Richardson

In March 1909 Lady Eva Wemyss laid the foundation stone, placing a sealed glass jar containing current coins and copies of the daily newspapers in a cavity on top of which the foundation stone was lowered into place. Building work proceeded rapidly, and at the end of August 1909 the hospital was officially opened by Lady Eva, the ceremony being presided over by Charles Carlow, the manager of the Fife Coal company. Carlow gifted the four-dial clock, which originally had Westminster chimes, and had the novel design of hands representing the miner’s pick and shovel.

Detail of the central tower. The hands of the clock are in the shape of picks and shovels. Photographed in October 2019 © H. Richardson

The plan is of the standard central administration block flanked by ward blocks favoured at the time but it is dressed up with baronial details. Described as picturesque in the contemporary accounts in the local newspapers, the building has undoubted charm. Originally the harling was yellow, or ochre coloured rather than white.   There are circular stair turrets and corbelled bartizans at the angles of the wards. The somewhat eccentric entrance has a Doric portico fronting a circular tower, topped with a conical roof sporting the gabled clock faces.

Detail of the entrance to the Randolph Wemyss Memorial Hospital, with the coat-of-arms of the Wemyss family carved in red sandstone in the pediment. Photographed in October 2019 © H. Richardson

To the rear were the kitchen and laundry, with the ‘latest appliances for mechanical ironing of linen’, and at the east end of the site a small chapel and mortuary. Originally there were wrought-iron gates ‘of mediaeval design, with side railings of wrought iron’ – now long disappeared’

Rear of the hospital, showing the kitchen, laundry and boiler house, photographed in October 2019 © H. Richardson

The hospital was designed as a surgical hospital – accidents in the coal mines were not infrequent – and contained two main wards with six or seven beds in each, an emergency ward with two beds, operating theatre, X-ray room, doctor’s room, as well as accommodation for the matron and nurses and the usual stores and offices. Three ‘up-to-date’ bathrooms were installed, including, an ‘electric bath’.  It was to be lit by electricity, and heated by hot-water pipes and open fires.

Design for entrance hall floor, dated April 1909. © RCAHMS

Some of the original plans have were deposited in the National Monuments Record of Scotland (now part of Historic Environment Scotland), including a design for the entrance hall floor. It features the Wemyss family crest of a swan at the centre.

The Chapel and mortuary, photographed in October 2019 © H. Richardson

The grounds were laid out and planted with flowers and shrubs by the head gardener of Wemyss Castle, Charles Simpson. Originally the front of the hospital looked directly out over the Forth, but housing has since been built opposite. Along with the view, the hospital has lost a few of its original features – weather vanes formerly topped the turrets, a swan in the centre, a working miner with lamp and tools and a ship and colliery winding engine on the side turrets. On the whole, though, the building is little altered, except internally largely the result of a sizeable addition to the west built in the 1960s as a geriatric unit added by the South East Regional Hospital Board in the face of a pressing need for additional beds for the elderly in Fife.

Geriatric Unit, from the south, photographed in October 2019 © H. Richardson

An extension of the hospital was first mooted late in 1954. At that stage it was hoped to add an out-patient and physiotherapy department. At much the same time the South East Regional Hospital Board had been considering its strategy for hospital provision for the ageing population, specifically in Fife. Early in 1955 sketch plans were drawn up, at this stage for a 44-bed unit with some physiotherapy and out-patient accommodation. Little progress having been made, in January 1957 the Regional Board appointed Dr Robert Rankine to develop and take charge of a hospital geriatric service for the county.  He produced a report in April endorsing the proposals to expand the Randolph Wemyss hospital. At this stage, however, there was no prospect of funds being available for such a building before 1960. In February 1959 the Regional Board approved the acquisition of additional land to the west of the hospital for a new building and the construction of a 60-bed geriatric unit, with limited facilities for physiotherapy, at an estimated cost of £120,000. [Fife Archives, H/EF/1/10-11, East Fife Hospital Board of Management Minutes.]

Geriatric Unit, from the west, photographed in October 2019 © H. Richardson

The new unit was built in 1962-3 and officially opened early in 1964. The architect in charge was Iain D. Haig, one of the team in the Regional Board’s architects department headed by John Holt. Although in marked contrast to the original hospital, its stylish design and respectful distance from the older building ensures that each can be equally appreciated. (Personally, I think they are both very handsome – in different ways.) Rather like the slightly earlier Phase One buildings at the Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy, the geriatric unit blends modernism, in its construction and the concrete fins that form the building’s most distinctive feature, with elements of traditional Scottish vernacular building traditions, in the use of random-rubble stone as a facing on the ground storey.

Geriatric Unit, showing the low link-building, photographed in October 2019 © H. Richardson

The new range was designed with a reinforced concrete frame, aluminium sliding sash windows (since replaced), a central spine beam supporting floors and roof, and close-centred perimeter columns of precast concrete designed as projecting fins to create ‘sun baffles’ for the ward areas. Wards were on the upper two floors, designed on an adaptation of the Nuffield type with the bed bays on one side of a service corridor, and ancillary rooms, plus single-bed rooms, on the other.

Geriatric Unit, view towards entrance on west front, photographed in October 2019 © H. Richardson

Each of the two ward floors accommodated thirty patients arranged in two nursing units per floor of sixteen and fourteen beds, with four 6-bed bays, one 3-bed bay and three single rooms. Nurses stations were in the service corridor area placed centrally between the 6-bed bays and with the single rooms close by. Glazed screens divided the bed bays to maintain a clear view for the nursing staff. A day room was placed at the centre, between the two 6-bed bays, and a passageway ran along the south-west side beside the windows, fitted with a handrail to assist ambulant patients to exercise, out of the way of the main circulation corridor on the other side of the wards. Perhaps in an echo of the original entrance hall floor, there was a patterned vinyl-tile floor, supplied by Nairn’s of Kirkcaldy in the new wing. The original colour scheme throughout was grey and white, with accents of stronger colour. [The Hospital, May 1965, pp.229-30]

In 2008 the hospital was re-opened by Nicola Sturgeon after modernisation. It currently operates as a community hospital run by NHS Fife, with various out-patient clinics, and the geriatric unit (now the Wellesley Unit) providing in-patient palliative and continuing care.

Adamson Hospital, Cupar, Fife

The Adamson Hospital, photographed in December 2017 © H. Richardson

The Adamson Hospital in Fife’s County Town of Cupar is a modest, quietly attractive Edwardian building with a bold modern wing added in 2012. It first opened in 1904, but this was not the beginning of its history. Like so many historic hospitals it had a shaky start, but unusually it began in a fine purpose built hospital erected in the 1870s. Its only fault was location – it was built on the outskirts of the picturesque village of Ceres, about 3 miles to the south of Cupar. Its isolated position and inadequate support from local doctors proved its downfall, it operated for just six years as a hospital and then lay empty until it was acquired by the Leith Fortnightly Holiday Scheme.

Postcard of the first Adamson Cottage Hospital, reproduced courtesy of Ian Lindsay © Ian Lindsay, Postcard13
The original hospital, named the Adamson Institute (sometimes also called the Adamson Institution), photographed in December 2017 © H. Richardson

Alexander Adamson, after whom the hospital was named, was a manufacturer in Ceres, ‘in the halcyon days of handloom weaving’ (according to the St Andrews Citizen). [1] He died in 1866 a wealthy man, bequeathing the residue of his estate for the purpose of founding either a school or a hospital in or near Cupar. His seven trustees were personal friends and were mostly from Ceres, and when they decided upon building a hospital, they chose Ceres as its location. Thus the Adamson Institute  or Institution as it was variously known was built in 1872-3 to designs by the Cupar architect David Milne. A portrait of the founder, painted by Charles Lees, was to be hung on its walls.  

Detail of the centre gable and flanking dormer heads – the latter carved with the date 1872, photographed in December 2017 © H. Richardson

Surviving today, though now converted into private flats, the former Adamson Institution is a handsome building, not obviously a hospital in its outward appearance. This was common enough for cottage hospitals, particularly the earlier ones, which deliberately aimed to present a more domestic appearance than the often dour poor law infirmaries designed with Nightingale-style ward blocks. Cottage hospitals treated a broader spectrum of society, were generally operated by the local general practitioners and sometimes charged a small fee to in-patients. The Ceres building fits neatly into this pattern. Its architect was local, as were the builders and craftsmen who worked on it: the builder was from Ceres, Robert Nicholson, as was the joiner, William Younger; the plumber was Mrs Steele from Cupar; William Bryson of Cupar was the plasterer; Francis Batchelor, the slater, was also from Cupar; the lather, John Burns was from St Andrews as was the bell hanger, James Foulis. [2]

The map is not very clearly labelled. The ‘Adamson’s Institute’ is the large building to the right of the lettering, marked with a small circle. Detail from the 2nd Edition 25-inch OS map, revised in 1893. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Just fifteen patients could be accommodated in eight bedrooms, three on the ground floor and five on the first floor, and there was a sitting room on each floor for the use of ambulant patients. The board room was to double as an operating room and there was the usual accommodation for staff and services. Although the building was completed in 1873 and Dr Blair of Strathkinness appointed as its medical officer, it is unclear whether it received any patients in the early years. Dr Blair left the district in 1876, and in 1877 the Trustees were advertising for a nurse, who would also act as a Housekeeper and Cook, for the hospital which was ‘about to be opened’. [3]

This 1912 map marks the Leith Holiday Home (it is the large building some distance to the right of the label). Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

In 1883 the trustees were forced to close the hospital. Various efforts were made by the local authorities to acquire the building as an infectious diseases hospital, but these were rejected by the Adamson Trustees. In 1895 it was leased to the committee of the Leith Fortnightly Holiday Scheme, providing under-privileged town children with a ‘fresh-air-fortnight’. The first fifty children were sent here in July 1896. The building was finally purchased by the Scheme in 1901. (Later it became known as Alwyn House, an employment rehabilitation centre run by the RNIB.) 

Postcard of the Adamson Cottage Hospital

Meanwhile the need for a cottage hospital in Cupar was becoming increasingly pressing, in particular for cases of severe injury due to accidents. This became critical in 1899 when the place to which accidents or special cases of illness were taken was taken over by the burgh and made into an infectious diseases hospital, closing its doors to all other cases. Other patients had to suffer the long journey to Edinburgh for admission to the Royal Infirmary. Members of Cupar’s Sick Poor Nursing Association were instrumental in finally getting a cottage hospital in the town. In April 1899 they opened a small hospital-come-nursing home at Moat Hill. Pressure was also put on the Adamson Trustees to fulfil their original requirements. The decision to sell the Ceres building to the Leith Holiday Home Committee and buy or rent a building to be called the Adamson Hospital ‘in a more suitable place’ was narrowly voted through at a meeting of the Trustees in February 1901. [4]

The original part of the Adamson Cottage Hospital, photographed in December 2017 © H. Richardson

After obtaining plans from three local men: Henry BruceDavid Storrar and Henry Allan Newman, Newman was appointed and work progressed quickly. The contractors for the work were mostly from Cupar or Cupar Muir: J. Stark, mason; Thomas Donaldson, joiner; A. Stewart, plumber; Messsrs M’Intosh & Son, plasterers and slaters; John Randall, painter; C. Edmond, glazer; R. Dott Thomson supplied the grates and A. Douglas of Dundee electric bells. The furnishing was carried out by W & J. Muckersie, the window blinds by Hood & Robertson, both of Cupar. [5]

Extract from the 2nd edition OS map, revised in 1912, reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The hospital opened in December 1904. There was no formal opening ceremony, but the local press published a sketch of the new hospital after a drawing by the architect, and carried a full description of the building. On the ground floor, to the left of the main entrance, was the female ward and a bedroom and sitting room for the matron, while in the equivalent position to the right was the male ward, the Yeomanry Ward, and an operating room. Kitchens etc were to the rear, nurses’ and staff accommodation in the attic. The Yeomanry Ward was a memorial to members of the 20th Company of the Imperial Yeomanry who served in the Boer War and was paid for by funds raised by Sir John Gilmour. [5]

The new wing of the Adamson Cottage Hospital. Photographed in December 2017 © H. Richardson

Since its opening in 1904 several extensions and additions were made on the site. Most recently in 2011-12 a new health centre was added to the west of the original building and the original hospital reconfigured by JMArchitects for Glenrothes and North East Fife Community Health Partnership (GNEF CHP) with Ogilvie Construction Ltd. This work entailed clearing away some of the later extensions to the hospital.

  1. St Andrews Citizen, 2 March 1901, p.6
  2. Fife Herald, 2 Oct 1873, p.2
  3. Fife Herald, 27 Sept 1877, p.1
  4. Dundee Courier, 27 Feb 1901, p.7
  5. St Andrews Citizen, 12 Nov 1904, p.6

Sources: Fife Health Board: Minute Books: The Courier, 26 Nov 2012: a booklet has been produced by Cupar Heritage on the history of the hospital (which I haven’t yet seen).

The Ducker House, American prefab of the 1880s

While hunting for Doecker portable hospital buildings I came across its American counterpart, including an illustrated catalogue advertising their wares published in or after 1888. Ducker 23 Founded by William M. Ducker of Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A. who had patented his invention, the Ducker Portable House company had offices in New York and London. The catalogue showed a variety of uses for their buildings, ranging from the utilitarian hospital hut to more elaborate garden buildings. Ease of transportation was also emphasised. Ducker 22 Here one of their portable buildings is neatly packed onto a horse-drawn wagon. While below the image shows the mode of transporting a Ducker building in mountainous countries. Ducker 2 The buildings were ‘light, durable, well ventilated, warm in winter, cool in summer, healthful and cheap’. From reading the description of the buildings they seem to be almost indistinguishable from the Danish Doecker system, the components being wooden frames, hinged together, and covered with a special waterproof fibre. The same claims are made for both that they could be assembled without skilled labour. Ducker 4This example was said to be at Wellington Barracks in London. Another was erected in Blackpool; Henry Welsh, the local Medical Officer of Health, noted in August 1888 that the recently erected building ‘gives great satisfaction, and answers its purposes admirably’. The cost of this model was given as $600. The German War Department bought one, and they had been adopted by the United States Naval and Marine Hospital Service, and several Departments of Charities and Correction. In 1885 the Red Cross Society had organised an exhibition in Antwerp of portable hospitals at which the Ducker buildings (and Doecker prefabs) had been shown. Ducker’s was awarded a special medal by the Empress of Germany and, so it was claimed, garnered the ‘warmest encomiums from civil and military surgeons, engineers, architects and philanthropists from all parts of the civilised world’. Ducker 3 Wards are suitably Spartan, the interior here measured 18 x 34 ft. The Department of Public Charities and Correction, Randall’s Island Hospital erected a Ducker house. Of the many pest houses, generally for smallpox cases, erected in America, it seems likely that if they were not actually Ducker houses, they were of a similar design, as is suggested by an early photograph of a pest house put up at Storm Lake, Iowa, photographed in 1899 (see University of Iowa libraries)
Ducker 5 Temporary buildings were widely used at large construction sites to house migrant workers. Above is an administrative building, suitable for ‘Contractors and Construction Companies’ or for a private residence. It comprised a main building 16 x 30 ft and a separate kitchen and store-room connected by a covered passage. ducker 9 The workforce would be accommodated in huts such as this one. ducker 10 This is its interior, with simple iron bunk beads, it put me in mind of the description of the bunk house in Of Mice and Men. These huts were bigger than the hospital buildings, at 30 x 30 ft, and cost just over twice as much at $1,250. ducker 7 Versatility was key to healthy sales figures, so the catalogue demonstrates a variety of different uses for the Ducker portable building. Sports pavilions were an obvious use; above an athletic and bicycle hall, others illustrated were a racing stable, a boat house and a bowling alley. A photographer’s studio could be constructed for just $375, or a billiard room for $400 (billiard table not included). ‘The attention of hotel men is called to the fact that for annexes to hotels, to be used for sleeping apartments during the rush of midsummer, these building just exactly answer the purpose’. Ducker 14 For the domestic market there was a range of summer cottages (above), lawn pavilions (below) Ducker 13and camping houses. Ducker 12 The Norton Camp House could have been yours for $150 (and upward), measuring a cosy 9 x 12 feet and weighing 450 pounds. It could accommodate four people, and opened out on all sides. Camping was not necessarily a leisure pursuit, and this camp hut was also touted for cattle ranchmen, miners, prospectors, surveyors and contractors. If you were on vacation, however,  you might have considered a bathing house. Ducker 11‘The portability of these buildings make them simply invaluable… At the end of the season they can be taken down and stored until the opening of another season. They can be constructed in any form or style desired and can be made to comfortably accommodate more people than any other building known’. Ducker 15 The Lawn pavilions were the most decorative, being intended for ornament as well as usefulness, aimed at owners of large summer residences. ‘They are constructed in decidedly artistic style.’ Ducker 16 ‘and will be found useful and delightful for ladies’ sewing, reading and painting rooms, children’s play rooms, tea and lunch rooms, tennis purposes, and sleeping rooms as well if required’ Ducker 17 If you didn’t run to summer residence with large grounds in need of a lawn pavilion, then don’t worry, you could have an entire summer cottage or camping cottage. The latter pretty much the same as the hospital huts, but the former comprised the most ornate in the Ducker range. Ducker 18 This example seems to be giving a stylistic nod towards a Chinese pagoda or an Indian bungalow. As I am heading to Fife in Scotland later in the summer, I was particularly tickled to read the testimonial on the back cover of the catalogue which was furnished by one George C. Cheape, of Wellfield house, Strathmiglo in Fife, master of the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire hounds.  ‘No country house should be without one’  he wrote: ‘It was put up in one day by the village joiner and my gamekeeper.’ He continued to effuse about the merits of the building:  ‘In wet weather the children quite live in it, and play all day. I have gymnastic apparatus put up in it, swings, etc; the consequence is a quiet house, whilst the children are enjoying healthy exercise and games to their heart’s content, where they disturb no one, and their tea-parties in the Ducker House are enjoyed by all.’ Cheape was a Captain in the 11th Hussars, Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant of Fife. He was also widely travelled, had served in India, and had visited America on three occasions, having business interests in Texas, Colorado, Arizona and California. While in America he also travelled to Canada and Mexico, and worked to promote the interests of the International Company of Mexico, of which he was a shareholder. Sources: The catalogue for Ducker Portable House Co. can be found online from archive.org, information on George Cheape was from the census, marriage records, passenger lists etc and there is a brief biography in David Pinera Ramirez, American and English Influence on the Early Development of Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, 1995 pp.99-100