Crichton Royal Hospital

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Crichton Royal Hospital
Established 1835
Construction Began 1838
Opened 1839
Closed 1995
Current Status Preserved
Building Style Pavilion Plan
Architect(s) William Burn
Location Dumfries
Alternate Names
  • The Crichton Royal
  • Crichton Royal Institution


In February 1834 forty acres of the Mountainhall Estate at Hillhead were purchased for almost £5,000 by the Crichton Trust, which was reduced to three members that same month with the death of John Crichton. An eminent Scottish Architect, Mr. William Burn of Edinburgh, was invited to draw up plans for the new asylum. Mr. Burn had designed Murray Royal Asylum at Perth and also the present Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh; his local works included Craigielands at Beattock and several churches in the South West, for instance Morton Church at Thornhill.

By the mid 1830's the Crichton Trust reserves would not permit of the building of Burn's entire plan which was composed of two linked Greek crosses. The trio of Trustees gave approval to the erection of just over half of the original plan, that is the northern portion of the present building known as Crichton Hall, which at the outset was called the Crichton Institution. On 20th June 1835 Mrs. Crichton delivered her prayer of blessing for the building which was soon to take shape.

Two oil paintings in the hospital's possession exhibit interesting features of the design of the asylum. One depicts the buildings as they were designed by William Burn - not as they were executed - that is, the whole main building with its identical twin towers, an elaborate central dome, and a high wall running round the periphery. The service buildings which included laundry, stables, stores, and dung heap are also shown; not surprisingly this range of buildings was not permitted to 'grace' the front (western) aspect for long, and after other sites were found for them they were demolished in 1857. This move would have pleased Mrs. Crichton herself because writing to Admiral Johnston, possibly in 1856, she said: "The present offices have always been a great eyesore, particularly the smoke and the great want of having no place for the Horses and Carriages of the Directors whilst at the Asylum on business." (However, she was philanthropic enough to add the rider, "still if we could in any way do good to a larger portion of our fellow creatures, I would prefer it.")

It is interesting that this precise scene was also featured as a woodcut accompanying an article describing the new asylum which was printed in the 'Saturday Magazine' of July 20th 1839. Furthermore, in the hospital's collection of early artwork by patients the same scene recurs several tirnes. It is not clear who the original illustrator was: it is hardly precise enough to have been commissioned by the architect himself.

The other painting dated 1847 is by Joseph Watson, a local professional artist, who resided at Castlebank, Glencaple Road. (Other examples of his work are owned by Dumfries Burgh Museum). The artist has detailed his impression from the high ground to the North East of the hospital (where the golf course is now located). The main asylum building, set against a charming backcloth of Glencaple and Criffel, is seen as two-storeyed from this vantage point because of the lie of the land and reveals the caged balconies where patients exercised in bad weather and which were glazed in stages towards the end of the nineteenth century. Crichton House (Campbell House) where the Superintendent lived, is in the foreground.

Mr. Ernest Errington, who became Secretary and Treasurer to the Crichton Board of Management in 1960, calculated that it cost £38,149 to erect the original hospital and a further £4,506 to equip it. One of the regulations of the new asylum was that a patient's name was known only to the Visiting Committee, the Medical Officers, and Matron. The first patient as we have already learned, was admitted on 4th June 1839, the day after the Hospital opened. She would have been placed on the west side of the building as gentlemen were housed in the east. This thirty-year-old childless blacksmith's wife was suffering from delusions. Her illness was purported to have been brought on by a fit of jealousy at seeing her husband hand his snuff box to a good looking young woman in the next pew during a church service: "the patient walked to the asylum under the charge of some friends. She is much emaciated, the skin sallow and dirty looking; the aspect that of prostration and dejection." Some four years later on 15th May 1844 the patient was discharged: "the progress .... towards a healthy and happy tone of mind has been very gradual .... the light of reason rendered her almost good-looking."

In step with the perceived requirement of the times the Hospital expanded and contracted again. At its peak it extended to some 1000 acres in area and housed up to 1300 patients. In addition to its own water supply it had power station, farm, gardens, and various ancilliary services with all the necessary trades-people to run them assisted by suitable patients as part of their therapy. It was at one stage virtually self sufficient.

The expansion of the hospital resulted in the erection of some attractive and interesting buildings by such architects as William Burn, Sidney Mitchell, and local man Walter Newall amongst others.Virtually all the buildings on the site have been recognised as being of architectural significance and are protected by being listed as either Category A or Category B buildings. A gradual contraction began in the 1970's with the farm being taken over by The West of Scotland Agricultural College, wards closed when no longer required, and surplus buildings being leased out. This contraction accelerated in the 1990's and in 1995 the site, excepting those buildings still required by the Hospital,was purchased by the Regional Authority to preserve it as an amenity for the people of the region. It is now known as 'The Crichton' as separate from Crichton Royal Hospital and is run by 'The Crichton Development Company' which was set up to run and develop the site.

In 1999 on the threshold of the new millennium it could be said that Mrs Elizabeth Crichton's original wish may eventually have been achieved with the establishment of the Crichton University Campus. This unique development in Britain if not the world hosts two Universities and a College - an extension of Paisley University, Crichton College of the University of Glasgow, and a section of Bell College, Hamilton. The three establishments although operating independently combine to share certain facilities such as Library and Students Union.

[Mrs Elizabeth Crichton]On May 19th 2000 His Royal Highness Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay, unveiled a bronze statue of Mrs Crichton during a visit to the Crichton University Campus. The sculpture was commissioned by the Crichton Trust with funding from the Universities of Glasgow and Paisley and the Landale Family Charitable Trust. The Sculptor was Professor Bill Scott (born in Moniave) of Roslin, Midlothian and the statue was cast by John Brazenall. The statue, mounted on a single block of local Lacharbriggs sandstone sited between Crichton Memorial Church and Easterbrook Hall, shows Mrs Crichton seated looking towards the campus area and holding in her hand a book depicting the Goddess Athena.