Dunbar Battery Hospital

Dunbar Battery Hospital

This month and next month, we are going to look at information on and photos of Dunbar Battery Hospital, partly from reports in The Haddingtonshire Courier and partly from a booklet produced in 1915 when the hospital was used for the military.

Battery Hospital

The photo above is taken from a booklet on Dunbar Cottage Hospital which took over the duties of the Battery Hospital in the 1920s. The Cottage Hospital will feature in later months this year. The John Gray Centre has an excellent and informative site on the Battery Hospital. The hospital is probably best known for its role as a military hospital in World War 1 but the building goes back to 1871. The Haddingtonshire Courier of 23 February 1872 reported that the Town Council was asked ” To consider the state of the hospital at the Battery”. Concern was raised in the town as “a female vagrant, labouring under fever of a highly infectious nature” had been sent to Dunbar from “Haddington or Linton”. The woman had subsequently died and “Dr Dunlop had given orders that the hospital be disinfected”. Re the photo above, you will see that the photographer is A P Thomson. Jim Herring contacted David Anderson, who is of the opinion that this is almost certainly “AP Thomson, newsagent of the same name (Alexander Petrie Thomson c1885-1955). He opened a shop at 59 High Street as a tobacconist c1920 then later at 125 High Street, as newsagent & tobacconist”. A P Thomson was not known as a commercial photographer. In the enlarged version, you will also see Morgan Laird – this refers to the publishers of the booklet, Morgan, Laird & Co. Ltd, Chandos House, London.

The Battery Hospital from the harbour

The photo above shows an artist’s impression of the hospital from Dunbar Harbour. Although the hospital building was began in 1871, water pipes and a sewer were installed in 1873, according to the Haddingtonshire Courier of 26 September 1873. This installation meant blasting rock at the side of Lamer Island and the pipes were “laid beneath the water at the drawbridge, where the depth at full tide is at least 12 feet”. In the Courier of 12 July 1875, it was reported that Dunbar Town Council noted in its accounts re the “new” hospital, that “Dunbar Town Council had given the ground at the Battery, the local authority for the burgh paid one quarter, the local authority for the parish one quarter and the Parochial Board one half of the cost of erection. The town’s proportion was £130 15s 7d”. This would be the equivalent of c£16,000 today.

Battery hospital in 1894 (Courtesy of East Lothian Council Archive Service)

The photo above (best enlarged for detail) – from the John Gray Centre website – shows the hospital in 1894. While this photo is obviously staged, it does nevertheless show two very smart nurses – the matron in white on the right perhaps? – along with an ill looking, bearded man in the bed on the right, and a very serious boy – suspicious of the camera maybe? – in the bed in the middle . The man sitting at the table, with a vase of flowers on it, could be a recovering patient or a visitor or a helper. The ward appears to be heated by a small stove with a long pipe above. What we can be fairly certain about is that, in the winter of 1894, with strong easterly winds hitting the Battery, a hospital ward would be a draughty and cold place to be. There are decorations on the wall of the ward which may be permanent or possibly seasonal.