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Mystery of Strathpeffer hospital for the poor

By Gregor White

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Leslie family
Leslie family

AN appeal for information about the history of a little-known hospital has been issued by a group looking to document the story of institutions across the Highlands.

Jim Leslie, who heads up the History of Highland Hospitals Project, says the group has come across evidence of a hospital in Strathpeffer pre-dating the more well-known Nicholson Mackenzie which opened in 1898.

"It was called the Strathpeffer Infirmary or Institution and was ‘established for the relief of the destitute and suffering poor who annually resort to the mineral waters from the surrounding counties’," he said.

Spearheaded by wealthy Victorians concerned about poorer people being unable to afford the several weeks of treatment that was the norm for "taking the waters" in the spa resort there is evidence that the then MP for Dundalk Captain JE Gordon was among the first to publicly lobby for the facility.

By 1834 a half acre site had been granted by John Hay Mackenzie of Cromartie, with building costs estimated at £500 and running costs of around £100 a year.

The hospital could accommodate up to 50 people who would stay five to six weeks each and was open by August 1836 when a fundraising bazaar was held in its large room.

"It was supported by the wealthy who, the same year, ran a bazaar in Inverness Town House during the Northern Meeting which raised £500," Mr Leslie said.

"The following June it received part of the proceeds of a London charity sale – organised by a Miss Gordon – and there was a further sale of fancy goods in Strathpeffer in August.

"In 1838, a matron (with Gaelic) was required."

There was an appeal the same year for funds collected by the Highland Relief Committee to combat the impact of potato famine to be diverted to the hospital, but this was unsuccessful.

Apart from this very little is known about the institution.

"We do not know how successful it was or have any other information on who ran it or raised funds for it," Mr Leslie said.

"What we do know is that the hospital fell into disrepair and, in 1857, it was recommended that ‘the unsightly old wooden Infirmary be demolished’, which indeed it was.

"The remaining funds (£164) were handed over to the promoters of the Ross Memorial Hospital in 1872.

"Forty years later the Nicolson Mackenzie Hospital managers noted that ‘an infirmary for the reception of patients to be treated by the Mineral waters was built in Strathpeffer Spa in the first half of the (19th) century...but the principal Supporters had died’ and due to this and other causes it was no longer used for the reception of the sick poor.

"They also noted that ‘deficiency of funds for its upkeep led to its demolition’."

The History of Highland Hospitals project is run by Steve, Moira and Jim Leslie.

Over the past 10 years it has published four books on Highland hospitals, finding several with virtually no previous written history.

They are presently working on the hospitals of the Ross and Cromarty area.

Anyone with any knowledge of the Strathpeffer Infirmary – or any other Ross and Cromarty or wider Highland hospital – can pass information to Mr Leslie by emailing jimleslie1@outlook.com or calling 01381 620412.

More details of the work of the group is available at www.historyofhighlandhospitals.com

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