A History of Health

The archives service hold a great number of items relating to the history of health across East Lothian.

While patient registers and the like are generally kept by the Lothian Health Services Archive in Edinburgh, we hold a number of images, plans and ephemera showing the history of hospitals and organisations in East Lothian.

Currently we have a display of some of these items on display upstairs at the Centre which will be available until late April. If you have items or memories that you would like to share please get in touch as we would love to hear from you

Edington Cottage Hospital, North Berwick

The Edington Convalescent Home was founded by Francis and Elizabeth Edington who were from a North Berwick family. The Home was funded by money bestowed by Elizabeth Edington. Francis Edington (1819-1901) and his sister Elizabeth Edington (1831-1908) owned the Commercial Hotel (County Hotel) 15-17 High Street, North Berwick. Their portraits hang in the vestibule of the Edington Home.

According to newspaper reports, Miss Edington had directed her trustees to pay the Provost, Magistrates and Town Council the sum of £10,000, free of legacy duty, in trust to erect and maintain a Convalescent Home to be called ‘The Edington Convalescent Home’. This facility was to provide an accident ward and a sickness, non-infectious and not incurable disease ward. The latter was to be kept exclusively for inhabitants of the town and its environs. the home was formally opened in October 1913. The Edington, as it was called, became a place where mothers could go for a few days respite and was known locally as ‘The Home For Tired Mothers’.

Today, the Home is called the Edington Cottage Hospital. Although a listed building, it has a modern hospital interior.

The archives hold an extensive collection of material for the hospital..

Dunbar Cottage Hospital
Dunbar Battery Hospital 1894

Dunbar Battery Hospital 1894

Dunbar Cottage Hospital has its origins in the Battery Hospital, a small military hospital which functioned during World War I. At the end of the War local doctors and others decided to utilise the building to found a cottage hospital. Dunbar and District Cottage Hospital opened in July 1919 and continued to operate in the Battery Hospital building until December 1926. Funds were raised to purchase a larger building and in 1927 the Managers acquired Yorke Lodge: the house was altered and opened as a cottage hospital in May 1927.

On transfer to the National Health Service in 1948, the hospital became part of East Lothian Hospitals Board of Management. At this time its name was changed to Dunbar Cottage Hospital, and its bed complement was 13. The hospital closed in March 1973 when hospital services in Dunbar were centralised at Belhaven Hospital. The building has since been used as a holiday home for patients. In 1974 this home became part of North Lothian District of Lothian Health Board.

East Fortune Hospital

East Fortune Hospital was built during World War 1.

In 1921, some of the buildings and land were purchased by the South Eastern Counties of Scotland Joint Sanatorium Board. Prior to this, The East Fortune Naval Airship Station occupied the site but was closed in 1920, leaving only maintenance staff. Plans were drawn up to change the purchased buildings into a sanatorium (tuberculosis hospital) and the hospital functioned as a sanatorium right up to the post World War 2 periods.

In 1951, the number of beds was increased. A new laboratory at the Outpatient’s Department was built and equipped. In addition, accommodation for male and female nursing orderlies was built. The archives hold a number of images of the staff at the hospital some of which you can see here

Dr William Murray, who was Superintendent of East Fortune Hospital around the mid 1950s to 1960s, dedicated his life to stamping out tuberculosis. His time at East Fortune Hospital is captured in his book A Life worth Living.

In the periods of 1950 to 1959 the hospital-school hosted many young people and children and there was even a school at the hospital with the admission registers stored with the archives here.

East Fortune Hospital eventually closed in 1990.


At the onset of the 20th century there were a number of nursing institutions in East Lothian. These included the East Lothian Benefit Nursing Association, the Prestonpans and Cockenzie District Nursing Association, the Pencaitland and District Benefit Nursing Association, the Tranent and District Sick Benevolent Association and the Haddington District Nursing Association.

The East Lothian Benefit Nursing Association was formed by the merger of Eastern and Western nursing associations of East Lothian. These nursing associations were originally formed around 1898. The East Lothian Benefit Nursing Association held their first AGM in November 1904. The Association provided nurses and medical services to subscribers. The association also raised monies through activities such as sales, fetes, and benefit concerts.

The average number of staff employed by the association during one year was nineteen. Nurses were sent to work anywhere in Scotland after their training which was usually held in Edinburgh. While some nurses were sent to densely populated areas some were sent to rural area with great distances between patients, such as that covered by the East Lothian Benefit Nursing Association. They attended to members of the Association who were ill and these members did not need to make payments. A non-member requiring assistance, however, had to pay for any services rendered.

Case list records per parish reveals that the Association covered much of East Lothian and also catered for members of similar organisations in Peeblesshire, Roxburghshire, Berwickshire and Fife.


As the need for specialist health care for those with mental issues became apparent, East Lothian built a hospital in Haddington in 1866. In the completely un-PC language of the day ‘lunatics’ were sent to Haddington District Asylum a place you might know better as Herdmanflat Hospital.

Contrary to the stereotypical view of Victorian mental health care, the hospital was often commended for the care of it’s patients with an 1876 Inspectors report noting:

‘ The asylum is cheerful, comfortable and homelike, the walls have been papered or painted, the windows fitted with valances. The meals are served with neatness and males and females take alternate places at the table’

The archives hold an early register of those patients who stayed at the hospital which features in the exhibition

Musselburgh had a good number of asylums – many more than you would expect. The 1841 census shows 10 institutions given over to patients with mental complaints. Some of these were private asylums and Edinburgh families were often advised to send those in need to Musselburgh for treatment.

A report of 1857 gives a very mixed report on the care patients receive. While one is noted to have a bowling green and billiard table another is reported to be using straight jackets and shower baths to regularly subdue patients.

Not everybody who went to an asylum had mental health issues there is evidence that some of the private asylums in Musselburgh took in gentleman who were looking to avoid the bankruptcy courts!