Leanchoil Hospital, Forres

Recently I have been thinking about the topic of ‘Beauty and the Hospital’ – the subject of a conference being held in Malta next month by the International Network for the History of Hospitals. Specifically, I have been considering hospital architecture, and even more specifically Scottish hospital architecture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I could nominate quite a few candidates for a top ten of beautiful hospital buildings – they  might not be to everyone’s liking of course.

Leanchoil Hospital, photographed in 2012© Copyright Anne Burgess and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Leanchoil Hospital on the outskirts of Forres was one of the first that sprang to mind. For me it is the archetypal cottage hospital, possesses great architectural charm, and resembles a miniature version of the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh – not the present building but the magnificent Victorian building in Lauriston Place designed by David Bryce.

Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, from an old postcard

Leanchoil Hospital was designed by the Inverness architect John Rhind. The postcard below hopefully shows something of the similarity to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. The central range with its twin shaped gables contained the main entrance and administrative offices and makes a handsome preface to the square tower rising behind.

Postcard of Leanchoil Hospital from around 1900. Reproduced by permission of H. Martin.

On either side the ward pavilions have round Baronial style towers which, as at the ERI and most Victorian pavilion-plan hospitals, contained the WCs. (On the plan below these are labelled ‘offices’ – as in necessary offices.) Originally the terminating turrets of the sanitary annexes neatly rounded off the design, but extensions were added at both ends. The two-storey centre block contained matron’s and surgeon’s rooms either side of the main entrance, with an operation room, kitchen, scullery, larder and stores behind. The upper floor was occupied by bedrooms for the matron, nurses and servants.

Plan of Leanchoil Hospital published by H. C. Burdett in Cottage Hospitals, general, fever and convalescent… 3rd edition, 1896, p.262

Before the cottage hospital was built on the outskirts of Forres, the only available inpatient accommodation in the town was in a small building on Burnside. A public meeting held in 1888 first mooted the possibility of building a cottage hospital in Forres and in the following year John Rhind was asked to provide plans. These were sent to H. Saxon Snell & Son, the pre‑eminent London‑based hospital architects in England at that date, for their comments. However, before they could reply, Rhind had died and H. Saxon Snell took over as architect to the project.

Extract from the 2nd edition OS map surveyed in 1904. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The site chosen for the hospital was to the south-east of Forres, on Chapelton Muir, and extended to 9 ½ acres. It was described as ‘most picturesque and secluded, the trees in rear of the building sheltering them from East winds and forming an excellent background to a noble pile of buildings’. This ‘noble pile’  blends Baronial and Jacobean details to produce a lively façade, dominated by the central square tower. The general features of the building and overall design are probably the work of Rhind rather than Snell, but Snell would undoubtedly have ensured that the small wards were provided with sanitary annexes separated from the wards by properly cross‑ventilated lobbies and other similar details.

Donald Alexander Smith, later Lord Strathcona, photgraphed c.1890. National Archives of Canada. Public Domain image.

Funds for the hospital were donated by Sir Donald Alexander Smith (later Lord Strathcona), who was born in Forres but settled and made his fortune in Canada. In 1888 he offered £5,000 for the erection of the hospital and in 1891 he promised to grant a further £3,000 once the buildings were completed. At that point the estimate for building work stood at just short of £7,000, which the governors considered ‘more than it was advisable to spend’. It was decided to take tenders for just the main building – these came in at £4,900. Building work was superintended by H. M. S. Mackay of Elgin, with Mr Dorrell, as the Clerk of Works.

The hospital was unofficially opened at the end of April 1892, when the matron, Miss Gertrude Seagrave, who had previously served at Ashford Cottage Hospital, in Kent, moved in (quite a move, from Kent to Moray), and the first patients were admitted.

Leanchoil Hospital, photographed c.1989, ©Harriet Richardson

The broad corridors on either side of the central block each had a bay half way along creating a small day-room for convalescent patients. The wings contained two wards each, one with four the other with two beds, with a nurse’s room and bath-room between them. The wards were heated by ventilating stoves, especially designed for this building, and the floors were laid with hard Canadian maple, wax-polished. The detached building to the rear of the hospital contained a wash-house and laundry, ambulance house and mortuary.

Leanchoil Hospital, photographed in 2010. It then had 23 beds, outpatients department and minor injuries casualty department. © Copyright John Allan and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

At the Annual General Meeting of the Governors held in January 1898, the chairman of the governors, Sir George Campbell Macpherson Grant commented on the largest expenditure of the previous year – some £500 on the site and railings. Perhaps anticipating criticism, he endorsed the expenditure, as money well spent: ‘…as that had brought the grounds into keeping with the hospital, and nothing tended to promote recovery more than beautiful scenery.’

Leanchoil Hospital gate lodge, photographed in 2009. © Copyright Stanley Howe and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Stanley Howe, who took the lovely photograph above and posted it on Geograph, noted the  stone plaque over the window, inscribed ‘The gift of Campbell MacPherson Grant of Drumduam, 1890’. ‘Mais pourquoi?’, he asked. As noted above, Campbell MacPherson Grant was the chairman of the governors, and was one of many who gave generously to fund the building and endowment of the hospital.

Former Maternity Wing, photographed in 2009. © Copyright Stanley Howe and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Leanchoil Hospital, maternity wing, photographed c.1989, © Harriet Richardson

Of later additions to the site, the maternity wing blends its modern style sympathetically with the old, by using the same tone of materials and keeping the wing to a single storey. It was built after a gift of £17,000 was made by Lady Grant of Logie in January 1939, though plans for the wing had been discussed since at least 1935 along with the general modernisation of the building and the addition of a nurses’ home. In November 1938 work had been completed to extend the wards and add sun rooms. The maternity wing was completed in 1940.

Extract from the 1:25,000 OS map, published in 1957, showing Leanchoil Hospital with the 1930s wing to the SE of the original buildings, and ancillary buildings added to the north. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

[Sources: H. C. Burdett in Cottage Hospitals, general, fever and convalescent… 3rd edition, 1896, p.262: Dundee Advertiser, 2 June 1892, p.3: Aberdeen Press and Journal, 22 Jan 1891, p.6; 2 Feb 1892, p.6; 28 Jan 1898, p.7; 27 May 1935, p.5: Inverness Courier, 29 April 1892, p.5: Aberdeen Weekly Journal, 14 Dec 1939, p.3.]

Cluny Hills Hydropathic Establishment

Now the Cluny Hill College campus of the Findhorn Foundation, this building just south-east of Forres in Moray, Scotland, was originally a hydropathic establishment. It was built in 1863-5 to designs by A. W. Bissett. A wing was added to the west in 1896-7 by John Forrest and further additions were carried out in 1905-7 by Ross & Macbeth. [1]

Cluny Hill College photographed in 2010 © Copyright Jean Aldridge and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Before it had even been officially opened there was sufficient confidence in its success for John Brodie Innes, of Milton Brodie, to urge the benefits of a ‘hydropathic excursion’ on Charles Darwin. Writing to Darwin’s wife, Emma, in January 1864, Innes declared:

‘The building is nearly completed and certainly is very handsome and will be comfortable. The soil, water, land and sea views are all in its favour. Among other arrivals for it is an equatorial telescope by Dollond. Sir Alexanders home of the toads is close by and much other interest in the immediate neighbourhood. I hope you will come.’ [2]

The house of the toads refers to the discovery of live toads deep in the ground, exposed during excavations for the Inverness and Perth railway near Altyre. Alexander Cumming of Altyre was a friend and neighbour of Innes, and had written letters to the press about the toads.

Cluny Hill Hydro,  from J. & W. Watson, Morayshire Described… 1868

Its original architect, A. W. Bissett of Elgin, died before the buildings were completed. The contractors were: masons – Messrs Humphrey and Rennie, Elgin; carpenter – Mr Alex Smith, jun., Forres; plasterer – Mr Alex. Ross, Forres; slater – Mr James Findlay, Forres; plumber – Mr Hunter Elgin; painter – Mr Stalker, Forres. The contract price was ‘about £2,500 exclusive of the baths’. [3]

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 17.52.40
Extract from the 1st edition OS map, surveyed in 1870. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

In a guide to Moray published three years after the hydro opened the building was described at some length. The rooms were large and airy, the dining-room a magnificent apartment capable of seating 80 persons. Next to the dining-room was a reading and writing room 40 ft by 18 ft. Over the dining-room was a luxuriantly furnished drawing-room, from which plate-glass doors led to an ante-room, 42ft by 18ft, with an entire glass front. On the west side contained the resident physicians rooms and ‘several handsome parlours and bed-rooms’. Residents had handsomely and comfortably furnished bedrooms placed on either side of a central corridor.

The baths were in the eastern section, those for men were on the ground floor and for women on the floor above. There was the usual range of baths: Turkish, plunge, shower, spray, rain, wave, douche, hose etc ‘hot and cold as required’. There was a croquet lawn and a bowling green in the grounds, and in inclement weather exercise and entertainment could be had in a bowling or skittle alley and gymnasium to the north of the main building, and a winter garden or conservatory. [4]

The Hydro photographed in 1955 when it was the Cluny Hill Hotel. The original section is to the left. Oblique aerial photograph taken facing North/West. This image was marked by AeroPictorial Ltd for photo editing. © Crown Copyright: RCAHMS

In 1869 the hydro was the scene of a tragic accident when George Norman, a naturalist ‘recklessly discharged a firearm’ and fatally wounded James Calder, the managing director of the establishment. A ‘locus of crime map’ was drawn up in relation to the ensuing trial to show the area and the exact spot where ‘Mr Calder had received the fatal wound’. Seemingly Mr Norman had been ‘firing with a pea sporting rifle at a cat’. He missed the cat but struck Calder in the head, who had been talking to some labourers engaged in gravelling a path. [5]

During the First World War the hydro was taken over by the military to billet troops. It returned to its original function after the war, but in 1937 became a hotel. By 1975 this was no longer profitable and the building was bought by the Findhorn Foundation for £60,000. [6]


[1] David W. Walker and Matthew Woolworth, Buildings of Scotland, Aberdeenshire: North and Moray, 2015
[2] J. Brodie Innes to Emma Darwin 16 Jan 1864 in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol.12, pp.18-19 CUP, 2001
[3] Elgin Courier, 3 April 1863, p.5
[4] J. & W. Watson, Morayshire Described: being a guide to visitors… Elgin, 1868
[5] Edinburgh Evening Courant, 11 Oct 1869, p.7
[6] G. Gawler, Grace, Grit and Gratitude, 2008p.198