The History of The Crichton
The Crichton is a project of national importance as a model for both the re-purposing of a significant historic site and for the delivery of education, training, enterprise and knowledge exchange.
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 Physician 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.
Although Dumfries and Galloway Council still retains ownership of the site they have no direct control over its management having opted to lease the property long-term and unencumbered to The Crichton Trust, a registered charity and social enterprise. The current lease runs until 2141. The Trust is responsible for the sustainable development and management of the estate. In our fast-changing connected world of automation, climate change, ageing and work mobility we recognise a need to discover and develop new inspiring inclusive ways to live, work, learn, play and relax. Here at #TheCrichton we want to empower and enable a new cross-generational, business, academic and individual knowledge exchange community that shapes the ‘Future Economy’. We will do this primarily via the enterprising custodianship of The Crichton Estate, creating a world-renowned home and destination for innovation; a place for people to cohabit and share ideas – all inspired by The Crichton’s extraordinary history, places and spaces. Rooted in our rural setting and gigabit connected to the world. Continued public access and enjoyment of the estate and the preservation of its character and integrity are key factors in its management and development continues to this day.
The Crichton Trust has an ambitious vision for The Crichton, which from 2018 is under new leadership and aims to ensure The Crichton is both preserved and sensitively developed to meet the needs of modern day life, business and education.
The last major development of the original Crichton Royal Hospital to be built was Easterbrook Hall with its commanding position on the estate and imposing architecture, it really is an impressive building. Easterbrook Hall is a category B listed red sandstone building on a rectangular plan with perfectly symmetrical main elevations.
Externally and internally the building is notable for a wealth of classical Art Deco detail. The building also has an exceptional setting on a raised terrace facing the Crichton Memorial Church, beautiful lawns and open landscape of the scenic Nith Estuary.
Completed in 1938, having been in planning for over 20 years, Easterbrook Hall was the brainchild of Dr Charles Easterbrook – the dynamic medical superintendent in charge of the hospital from 1907 to 1937. The idea behind Easterbrook was conceived following extensive research in the USA and Canada into providing recreational facilities for mental health patients.
After the closure of the original mental health facilities, Easterbrook was still used by the NHS for hydrotherapy in the building’s swimming pool as well as for lectures, dentistry and exercise classes. After several years of detailed planning and fundraising, Easterbrook Hall was refurbished into the modern facility we know today and re-opened its doors in May 2006.
The focal point of the 85 acre estate is the cathedral-style Crichton Memorial Church, designed by Edinburgh architect Sydney Mitchell, 1890-97. The Church features a nave, chancel, transepts and a 123 feet high square tower over the crossing.
The richly detailed exterior is of red sandstone from Locharbriggs and the elegant interior features sandstone from nearby Thornhill. Inside the church you will find a stunning oak roof and floors of Irish and Sicilian marble under foot and superb furnishings, including a stone carving by William Vickers of Glasgow illuminated by the impressive stained glass by Oscar Paterson of Glasgow.
As a non denominational church, The Crichton Memorial Church is available for weddings, graduations, concerts and events.
In 2017, a centenary celebration event was held in the Church.