Aberdeen Royal Infirmary – 275 years of healthcare at Woolmanhill

The Infirmary at Woolmanhill opened its doors to patients in 1742, the idea for a public hospital first being put forward in 1739. In its 275 year history on the site, it has seen many changes to its buildings and to its functions. Nothing survives today of the original building, though a date stone from 1744 was found during excavations for the new Medical Pavilion in 1893 and reset into the Porter’s Lodge. Almost from the moment it opened its doors, the Infirmary has been adapting to the changes in both medical advances and society with alterations and expansions taking place from as early as the 1750s. The Infirmary was granted its royal charter in 1773, allowing it to be known as Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

Simpson block pc no title
Simpson Pavilion, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Woolmanhill.

The oldest surviving building on the Woolmanhill site is the Simpson Pavilion, designed by Archibald Simpson, and completed in 1840. The Surgical Block (Victoria Pavilion) was completed in 1892, and the Medical Block in 1897. This was renamed the Mount Stephen Pavilion in 1900, and in 1912 a new out-patient and casualty block was opened on the corner of St Andrew Street and Woolmanhill. This was later demolished in 1990 to make way for the roundabout and Denburn dual carriageway.

Woolmanhill New Wards
The Surgical Block (Victoria Pavilion on the left), and Medical Block (Mount Stephen Pavilion on the right), Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Woolmanhill.

In 1913 the ENT clinic moved into the Mount Stephen Pavilion, but only two years later the hospital was used by military and naval authorities during the First World War to accommodate wounded soldiers. In 1920 the Joint Hospitals Scheme was put forward by Medical Officer of Health Matthew Hay and a fundraising campaign took place in order to pay for the main functions of the Infirmary to move into new buildings on the site at Foresterhill. The new Infirmary buildings were opened in 1936, and the first patients admitted in November of that year.

Following the move to Foresterhill, a number of changes took place at Woolmanhill, not least during the Second World War. The buildings were let out to various organisations, with the Surgical and medical blocks being let to the Town Council’s Air Raid Precautions department, the Territorial Army, the Air Force Association and the Ministry of Labour. The Town Council purchased the site in 1945, and the Victoria Pavilion was then leased to the Dunfermline College of Physical Education from 1950. The North East Regional Hospital Board bought back much of the site in 1955, which saw a reshuffle of departments – dermatology, ENT, and the VD department moved to the Medical Block (Mount Stephen Pavilion), while the casualty department was finding itself increasingly isolated from the facilities available at Foresterhill. It moved to Foresterhill in 1978.

W'hill casualty block
The Outpatient and Casualty Block at Woolmanhill – this is where the roundabout is now situated.

There followed a gradual move away from Woolmanhill as new sites opened across Aberdeen, and existing hospitals expanded to take on clinics and functions which would have operated from Woolmanhill. Audiology and the ENT department, which had spent over 100 years at Woolmanhill, moved away in April 2017, ending 275 years of the provision of healthcare on the site of Aberdeen’s first public hospital.

Male Ward, Mount Stephen Pavilion
Male Ward in the Medical Block (Mount Stephen Pavilion), Aberdeen Royal Infirmary at Woolmanhill.

Fiona Musk
NHS Grampian Archivist

Website: bit.ly/NHSGrampianArchives

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