The Crichton is a project of national importance as a model for the regeneration of a significant historic site and for the delivery of education and training.
The story of the Crichton begins in 1823 with the death of Dr James Crichton of Friar’s Carse who left to his widow, Elizabeth, the then considerable sum of around £100,000 to be used for charitable purposes. With the help of her friend, the Rev Henry Duncan, Minister of Ruthwell Parish and founder of the Trustee Savings Bank, Elizabeth attempted to endow a College of University status in Dumfries ‘for the education of poor scholars’. After a twenty year battle, she recognised that her dream was not to be and instead endowed a ‘lunatic asylum’ on the edge of the town. In delivering the Crichton bequest, Elizabeth was determined to produce a hospital that was the best in Europe, not only in the treatment of patients but also in its architecture and environment. When recruiting the first Physical Superintendent, the same considerations applied. The appointment of Dr William Browne was to be the first in a long line of very able and distinguished physicians in charge. The doors opened in 1839. The next 150 years saw the growth of that vision into an internationally recognised centre of excellence in mental health research and care.
In the 1980’s the value of the large psychiatric hospital was being questioned and, despite its international reputation, the Crichton Royal Hospital was considered surplus to requirements. However, the local community was keen to ensure that such a magnificent estate remained in public ownership. In 1995, the local authority took the decision, with courage and foresight, to purchase the site from the Health Board. It did so with the primary objective of ensuring that this important public asset was saved, protected and sensitively developed for the good of the wider community. It also recognised that there was, at last, the chance to respond to local ambitions to develop a much needed University Campus offering local access to Higher Education, thus fulfilling Elizabeth Crichton’s dream.
The Local Authority retains ownership of the site. The Crichton Trust holds the lease and is responsible for the sustainable development and management of the estate. The years from 1996 – 2016 have seen the exciting growth of the Crichton. Continued public access and enjoyment of the estate and the preservation of its character and integrity are key factors in its management and development.