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Down Memory Lane by Bill McAllister: The city building that gave a home to the most desperate as Old Edinburgh Court, off Old Edinburgh Road, used to be Inverness Poorhouse

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Old Edinburgh Court in Inverness is a former Poorhouse.
Old Edinburgh Court in Inverness is a former Poorhouse.

The summer sun glints off its white harled exterior and today it contains comfortable high-ceilinged apartments, but it was once much more spartan.

This year marks the centenary of its closure as Inverness Poorhouse and the 60th anniversary of its opening as Hilton Hospital.

The historic building on what is now Old Edinburgh Court, stands just off Old Edinburgh Road on what once marked the burgh boundary.

Inverness had its first municipal doctor back in 1680 and a century later the Kirk Session struggled to find funds to cope with up to 800 paupers at a time. After a new Poor Law in 1843 created parish boards, Dunbar Hospital in Church Street was made the original Poorhouse. The new board, however, sought custom-made premises and engaged local architectural firm Matthews and Lawrie.

James Matthews had built the Caledonian Bank on High Street in 1847, remodelled Aldourie Castle four years later and built Nairn United Presbyterian Church in 1852.

Stonehaven-born William Lawrie joined the firm in 1855 and took increasing control of its Inverness office. He took the lead in completing the Black Isle Poorhouse at Fortrose in 1856 and a similar one in Nairn four years later. A plaque at the Inverness premises states 1860, but the work was not completed till the following year.

The main building, like those at Fortrose and Nairn, had an H-shaped layout. It was two-storey. At the front was the governor’s quarters, offices and committee rooms, with the dining hall and chapel in the central block and the accommodation in the two wings. The single storey buildings at the rear were for work rooms, including a bakehouse and laundry.

Four gabled bays add to the front elevation and an arched block at the entrance contained a porter’s room and the admissions administrator’s office.

The 1881 Census showed 96 occupants with Donald Macfie, from Ardnamurchan, as governor and his wife Helen, from Uddingston, as matron with their son John (18) as law clerk.

The inmates included Ann McKenzie (87) from Gairloch, Isabella Macarthur (85) from Muir of Ord, and Jane Ross (80) from Dores. Former upholsterer William Kennedy, Inverness, was 78, a year older than ropemaker Duncan Robertson.

Margaret Noble, an Inverness farm servant, was there along with daughters Margaret (10), Mary Ann (6) and Williamina. (2) The youngest resident was Flora Macdonald, only a month old.

John Cameron (61) had been a soldier in the 93rd Highlanders, David Fraser a grocer, Catherine Forbes and Mary Grant were dairymaids, Jessie Mackinnon a dressmaker, Duncan McIntosh a carpenter, Donald Mackenzie a cabinet maker and Alex Munro a shoemaker.

The use of Scotland’s 50 Poorhouses declined after 1906. In 1911, Alexander Ross carried out an extension to what in 1921 was renamed the Muirfield Institution.

Poorhouses were abolished by the 1948 National Assistance Act.

The National Health Service growth saw Muirfield taken over and renamed Hilton Hospital in 1961.

It remained a valuable community hospital until 1987, when it closed. Raigmore Hospital’s eight-storey tower block had opened two years earlier, and thus Hilton was rendered surplus to requirements.

The building was used as health board offices for some years before being sold and converted into apartments. Thus it still serves Inverness.

• Sponsored by Ness Castle Lodges.

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