Royal Cornhill Hospital

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Royal Cornhill Hospital
Opened 1800
Current Status Preserved
Building Style Echelon Plan
Location Aberdeen
Alternate Names
  • Aberdeen Lunatic Asylum
  • Aberdeen District Asylum
  • Aberdeen Royal Mental Hospital
  • Royal Mental Hospital


Royal Cornhill Hospital, Aberdeen was opened in 1800 as Aberdeen Lunatic Asylum. The earliest reference to the need for care for the mentally ill in Aberdeen is found in the minutes of the Town Council in 1718 - "several pious disposed gentlemen had voluntarily oblidged themselves to pay some money for a mortification, towards maintaining of persons deprived of the use of their reason". When Aberdeen Infirmary was founded in 1739 the Town Council handed over this and other money to the Infirmary for the care of such patients, and six `Bedlam cells' were provided at the new hospital. By the end of the 18th century it was considered inappropriate to have hospital and asylum on the same site, and in 1797 the lands of Clerkseat, near Aberdeen, were purchased.

The Asylum, which provided twelve cells, was opened in November 1800 and in its first 18 months 27 patients were admitted.Internal alterations were soon made to provide additional cells and in 1809 further renovations were carried out to allow for the complete segregation of male and female patients. By 1818 the asylum had 63 patients. It was agreed that the original hospital was too small and that a new building should be erected as soon as possible. An additional three acres were purchased and a new building, capable of holding a further 150 patients, was added. The first resident medical superintendent was appointed in 1830 and Clerkseat House was built in 1852 as the Superintendent's house. However, it was soon used as additional accommodation for patients who could not be housed in the overcrowded main buildings.

By 1857 the average daily number of patients in the hospital was 291.Under the 1857 Lunacy (Scotland) Act districts were obliged to provide care and treatment for pauper lunatics within their own area. The districts around Aberdeen entered into agreements with Aberdeen Asylum for the care and treatment of the pauper patients from their areas to be carried out at the Asylum. By 1860 the hospital was again overcrowded and in order to relieve the problem the adjoining estate of Elmhill was acquired and Elmhill House was built. It was intended to be for the care of private patients who were able to pay a guinea a week or more and opened in 1862. The estate of Glack, comprising two mansion houses set in 283 acres of land, in the parish of Daviot was purchased in 1888. The estate was to form the country extension to the main asylum in Aberdeen, providing the kind of surroundings and work familiar to many of the asylum's country patients in the hope of enhancing their recovery. 100 patients were transferred to Daviot. In 1892 the Board of Managers decided to upgrade the main buildings in Aberdeen.

A new hospital for the care of sick and acute cases was built to the rear of the main asylum buildings. It opened on 3 August 1896 with patients being transferred one week later. In 1898 a new laundry and a wing which included a female day room and two large dormitories were built. The number of patients being admitted to the hospital was increasing every year. By 1900 the average daily number of patients in the hospital was 867. The Aberdeen District Lunacy Board, which had responsibility for the pauper lunatics in the city, decided that, rather than pay the annual charges levied by Aberdeen Royal Asylum, they would build their own asylum.

The Aberdeen District Asylum was built at Kingseat, just outside Newmachar and opened in 1904. Henceforth pauper patients from the city were admitted to Kingseat.The managers of the Aberdeen Asylum bought the property of Wellwood at Cults in 1930 and converted it for use as a nursing home where early cases of nervous and mental diseases could be treated and cared for without the need for admission to the main hospital. Wellwood Home opened on 31 October 1931. Soon after this the buildings at Daviot were upgraded and switched to the care of private patients.The term `lunatic' had been dropped around the beginning of the 20th century and by the 1920s `mental hospital' was used in preference to asylum. However the change in name was not formally effected until 1933 when the Aberdeen Royal Lunatic Asylum officially became Aberdeen Royal Mental Hospital. The Second World War, like the First, meant that the hospital lost staff to war service. Not only that, but because Kingseat Hospital had been requisitioned by the Admiralty a large number of patients from Kingseat had to be accommodated in the Aberdeen hospital and conditions were cramped. In 1943 the hospital site was bombed during an air raid. Four lives were lost and several wards, the laundry and Elmhill House (then the nurses' home) were severely damaged.

The hospital became part of the new National Health Service in 1948 and was administered by the Aberdeen Mental Hospitals Board of Management, later the Royal Cornhill and Associated Hospitals Board of Management. A regional psychiatric out patient centre, the Ross Clinic, was opened in 1959 and in 1964 the hospital changed its name again, becoming Royal Cornhill Hospital. Following the reorganisation of 1974 it came under the South District of the Grampian Health Board and from 1 April 1993 Royal Cornhill Hospital became part of Grampian Healthcare NHS Trust. In 1975 a decision was taken to build a new hospital on the same site as the old hospital and work on the demolition of the site began in 1988. The re-development, which was completed in September 1994, comprised 180 acute psychiatry beds, 90 long-stay beds, out-patient accommodation, a forensic unit and the Fulton Clinic. Daviot continued as a hospital until 1995.