Jan-Mar 22

January 2022

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 (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

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.

February 2022

This month continues our look at Dunbar Battery Hospital and focuses mainly on the hospital during World War One.

Booklet on the Battery Hospital (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)
Above is the front cover of a booklet about the hospital in WW1. The publication was produced by the Haddington  Voluntary Aid Detachment. VADs as they were known, were “Made up of men and women, and the VADs carried out a range of voluntary positions including nursing, transport duties, and the organisation of rest stations, working parties and auxiliary hospitals”. You can read more about VADs in WW1 here. In the foreword to the booklet, published in 1915, we are told that the VAD were asked to “turn the Battery into a hospital” 8 months previously, presumably some time in 1914. There were 8 patients when the VAD arrived and one of their first tasks was to “thoroughly clean the building, which had been practically in disuse for a number of years”.

RAMC soldiers attached to the hospital

The photo above is of two RAMC orderlies attached to the hospital. RAMC stands for Royal Army Medical Core  whose main ask was to help soldiers wounded at the front, but also to support hospitals such as the one at the Battery. Dunbar Town Council agreed in June 1915 to “an application of Mrs Anderson of Bourhouse to the Chamberlain that the borough allow a new heating system to be fed into the Battery Hospital without expense to the burgh”. Alice H N Anderson – the Commandant of the VAD at the hospital – had written to the Council stating that a new boiler was needed in the kitchen and a new water cylinder to supply the water. Mrs Anderson added that what was also needed was “To put an open fireplace into each of the wards, building chimneys for them, in place of the old stoves which constantly smoke and won’t burn at all in an East wind”. The letter ended by stating that money was being collected for the improvements and that “after the War it [the improvements] may prove a benefit to the place. This is our great desire. Believe me.”

The large ward at the Battery hospital

The photo above is also from the booklet and shows the larger of the two wards. By this time, Mrs Anderson’s fires and chimneys had been installed. The enlarged photo shows the nurses standing by the beds of wounded soldiers as well as others – perhaps RAMC or convalescing patients – in what looks like a scrupulously clean ward. The booklet noted that by 1915 “Our full complement of beds is fourteen and very few weeks have passed without at some time seeing most of them occupied….. Within the last seven months, over one hundred and seventy patients have been treated and passed out of Hospital. As to out-patients, ten thousand is well below the mark”. This would suggest that the hospital was also catering for the local population as well as the soldiers. In 1919, the Battery Hospital was opened as a Cottage Hospital, with the Council giving the building free of rent. On 18 July 1919, The Haddingtonshire Courier reported “In presence of a large and representative gathering, the Battery Hospital was on Wednesday afternoon opened as a Cottage Hospital for Dunbar and district”. The vice-president of the hospital Major Carey stated that the VAD no longer needed the hospital but locally, “a much felt want would be supplied if the hospital could be run as a cottage hospital”. All the equipment was given over by the VAD and Red Cross Society. “The opening ceremony was simple and impressive” with a hymn of dedication, the Courier reported. The hospital was then formally opened by the Dowager Duchess of Roxburghe. In the hospital, one bed was dedicated “to the memory of Sister Violet Fraser who for three years carried out the duties of sister in the auxiliary hospital” before going to Serbia where she died.

March 2022

This month and next month, we will be looking at the former Cottage Hospital in Dunbar. The hospital produced a booklet c1930 and we will subsequently be examining some of the photos from the book. At the back of the booklet, there were several adverts for local businesses in Dunbar and these firms presumably paid the hospital for the adverts.

Advert in Cottage Hospital booklet (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

G Cunningham workers building St Margaret’s. Reproduced with permission of  https://www.a1historydunbar.com/

The first advert is for George Cunningham’s business. He built the Dunbar Parish War Memorial which now stands on the grassy area just before Winterfield Promenade. He was also responsible for the building of St Margaret’s – now the clubhouse of Winterfield Golf Club – 2nd photo above, as well as many other houses in Dunbar. The advert shows that his business covered internal building e.g. kitchen ranges (not a term used today) and you can see some examples of what his work might have looked like here. The advert also stresses the importance of “practical workmen”. George Cunningham also sold houses and was a contractor for people selling houses. He died in Stanley House, Dunbar in 1941.

Advert for “new” chemist shop in Dunbar
The advert above – best seen enlarged – is for the “dispensary” i.e. what we now refer to as a chemist’s. George Grant took over the business from Purves & Co. David Anderson provided the following: “James Aitchison Purves opened the ‘New Dispensary’  at least as early as 1886 (Slaters Directory) in rented premises at 25 High Street”. It then changed hands but “reappeared trading as Purves and Company at No25 in 1913. James Aitchison Purves died aged 75 in 1929, which may have prompted the sale of the goodwill of the business to George Grant”. The advert is interesting  for the “Pure Drugs and best quality surgical dressings”. We might wonder why there is an emphasis on “Pure” drugs – as opposed to? It is also interesting for the inclusion of “Agent for British and Kodak Films”, given that not many people owned cameras at this time. The shop is still a chemist’s at 25 High Street and is now Lloyds Pharmacy.

Aitken Chemist advert

The advert above is one for Aitken the Chemist, recently taken over and may be renamed Dunbar Pharmacy. The Robert Aitken shown here owned both the chemist shop and the “mineral water” business. The business was inherited by Robert Aitken’s two sons, Robert and William (Bill) Aitken. Bill Aitken took over the lemonade business and married Netta Murray, who was the pharmacist in the chemist’s shop at that time. The chemist shop was later taken over by Robert Aitken, after his mother had looked after the shop until he was old enough. (Information from Christine Mitchell nee Aitken). You can see an example of the  lemonade factory’s produce here.