Athelstaneford | Notes on East Fortune Hospital

Marjo & Cornelis van Wessel


The farm owned by William Bell of Hawick purchased by the Admiralty. Land of East Fortune owned by the Frasers of Tweedale (13th century)


In September approval given to build an Air Station at East Fortune to defend Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth against attacks of German Airships. Later approval also given for submarine spotting


Sheds for aircraft set up in June. Many local woman found welcome employment in the Fabric Shop sewing the vast amounts of cloth required for the covers of the non-rigid airships. There were sports meetings, and a short golf course as well as football and cricket pitches. At the weekend there were liberty buses to North Berwick and Dunbar. There was a news magazine Eagle which ran from 1916. Wooden huts were provided for the staff


An aerial photograph of late 1917 shows some of the current hospital buildings on the west – the main entrance including the ‘gun-room’ (junior officers’ mess, crew procedure trainer, 1944), staff hut next to the gunroom, the garden, but none of the wards. Also visible are the huge airship sheds. East Fortune was the training school for aircraft pilots flying from the Battle Cruiser Fleet based at Rosyth


Influenza hits the East Fortune garrison (50 cases). Food was cooked centrally for the whole station


The quality of the food was poor and demobilisation took too long, a strike followed. The R34 took off on 2nd July for first crossing of the Atlantic. A commemorative plaque, originally located near the entrance of the hospital can now be found near the ‘canteen’ at the museum of flight


Station closed, wireless station open until June at least. (Signal Station, block-2, possibly open till June 1921)


During the national coal strike, East Fortune buildings were used by the Navy as a headquarters. Service men were sent to various pits in East Lothian to work the pumps and safety equipment. After the strike the airships sheds were used as a depot and dismantling plant for 160,000,000 rounds of small arms ammunition. The work was carried out by local workers. The airship sheds were demolished and 350 acres (1.5 sq. km) was purchased by the South Eastern Counties of Scotland Joint Sanatorium Board as a TB hospital (July 1921). Not included were the airship sheds, hangars and hydrogen plant


The first Medical Officer is Dr. Charles Cameron (March) and Miss Sarah Park the first Matron. Blocks 2 and 3 and the Maids’ Home were ready for use. There was no central heating (open fires and coal stoves or ‘boggy’ stoves). On the 1st December block-1 opened (16 female adults). Verandas were added to the wards to make open air treatment possible


On the 1st January Block-2 opened and 48 children move in. Work began on boiler house, laundry, theatre & plaster room and kitchen (as it is today)


Work finished on the boiler house, laundry and kitchen. The first X-ray machine was installed and later that year, the sewing room was operational. The hospital also invested in a second-hand T-Ford and driver. There was a railway siding from the main Edinburgh to London line offering occasional rides on foot plate for children


The sanatorium opened in full with 199 beds and care was available for all ages. The school opened providing education for children (classroom of 32 children). A canteen was started following a £20 donation from the Sanatorium Board. Consulting surgeons attended the hospital


The road the East Fortune was upgraded and a kitchen garden and orchard were started. The theatre was completed and a chaplain appointed


East Fortune Sanatorium housed 210 patients. TB was widespread and children were mostly affected in the bones, joints, glands or had the deadly meningitis. Most adults had lung TB. Treatments included fresh-air, diet, immobilisation, exposure to sunlight and medicines (gold treatment). Koch’s tuberculin was evaluated as well as Ca-treatment. Exposure to sunlight had to be done gradually. Affected parts of the body had to be immobilised (splints and plaster casts). Lungs were rested by partial sometimes by complete collapse (this was done by a visiting surgeon under local anaesthetic). There was almost complete autonomy by the medical administrator, clinicians and matron and discipline was stern. Lay administration confined to finance, salaries and ordering etc. Junior doctors were required to do two ward rounds per day and had to learn to use the X-ray equipment, do the plastering, give out medication, examine sputum and urine and do the stock taking in the hospital shop


Boy Scout and Girl Guide Companies started in East Fortune


Death from TB was still frequent. The staff tried to be compassionate without getting too involved. Volunteers were visiting as well as organised parties, concerts and bands to entertain the patients


East Fortune had its own concert party (20 domestics)


Dr. Walter Mercer appointed as the first consultant surgeon. The sanatorium was extended (12 patients and additional staff). The ‘Senior Hut’ (Sisters’ home) was build as well as a house for the assistant medical officer. Entertainment was organised by two volunteers and there were Sunday services and a RC mass


‘Senior Hut’ extended


East Fortune earmarked as a hospital for civilian casualties as world war two was imminent


Sanatorium was prepared for civilian casualties with auxiliary theatres and x-ray room (present pharmacy building). In September extra beds were added to make 413, achieved by the addition of three large wooden wards with 22 beds each (and another nine wooden huts?). In addition five huts for staff were erected. Later that year 125 beds were returned to the Sanatorium Board. All patients were transferred (except 19) or sent home (September). The sanatorium was under control of the Department of Health


East Fortune requisitioned as a satellite field for Drem in June and the field was upgraded with hard runways (stone supplied from Cambus Quarry by Grantshouse) and the buildings that are still in place. (See also Bunyan, IT, 1993 ‘East Fortune in World War II’ Transactions of the East Lothian Antiquarian and Field Naturalists’ Society, Vol. 22, pp101-4)


In January the Department of Health returned the sanatorium to the Sanatorium Board with 211 beds. Patients down to 150 and there were hopes that the sanatorium would reopen again. Streptomycin (supplied in small quantities) used against TB and responsibility for this treatment was to move from the Local Authorities to the Regional Boards of the new NHS. Chest services were established. The sanatorium was transferred to Bangor during the war (started on the 4th April and completed in 6th May). East Fortune became a base for Operational Training Units (OTU) and the first of these (60 OTU created to train night fighter crews) was dispatched from Leconfield in Yorkshire on 4th June 1941. The aircraft employed were Miles Magisters (twin seat, single engine advanced trainer), Airspeed Oxfords, Boulton Paul Defiants (replaced by Beaufighter in June 1942) and Bristol Blenheims. A total of 1500 people were based in East Fortune at the time. The first crews trained at East Fortune were mainly flyers from Poland, New Zealand, Australia and Canada. The Air Interception Flight was commanded by Squadron Leader Constable-Maxwell from 604 Night Fighter Squadron who trained the pilots together with his radar operator Sergeant Quinton


RAF Station (60 OTU). 60 OTU was dropped in November 1942 as part of the reduction of night fighter policy and replaced by 132 OTU (strike training) and came under Coastal Command


RAF Station (132 OTU). 1730 people were based at East Fortune as well as eight Beaufort torpedo bombers and the latest Beaufighters


RAF Station (132 OTU). In April de Havilland Mosquitoes arrived at the base. Training was provided for 21 Beaufighters and 6 Mosquitoes (May). Extra buildings were set up for the Mosquitoes as well as a 72,000-gallon fuel-store


RAF Station (132 OTU). On the 26th January the airfield was covered by one foot of snow and clearance caused problems. The transfer of Mosquito training to Haverfordwest was postponed. For the remainder of the war East Fortune was used as a diversion for Halifax and Lancaster bombers returning from Germany. Near the end of the war the atmosphere at East Fortune became more relaxed allowing luxuries such as music and debating circles as well as art and leatherwork classes. Shortly after the war East Fortune was used as a staging post for the Air Dispatch Letter Service flights from Blackbushe and Northolt (near London) to Norway and some training continued till the end of 1945. Only 900 people of all ranks were left. The aircrews lived in the centrally heated sanatorium buildings. The base had a post-office (the first of its kind in Scotland) as well as a laundry and a cinema


In May the OTU was disbanded and the airfield returned to Fighter Command. At the end of the year all buildings were returned to the Sanatorium Board. In January Dr W A Murray (Superintendent) was in charge of East Fortune Hospital. Repairs and alterations took place.


The sanatorium is taken over by South East of Scotland Regional Hospital Board (NHS). East Fortune may not be fit to reopen as a sanatorium. Staff recruitment was a problem as it was so isolated. Shortage of materials, and controls and licences (January)


The sanatorium is redecorated and reopened in April. Miss Carter (Matron) organises return of patients from Bangor in April; in-patients: April (127); November (268); December (338)


Three new ward-blocks completed (housing approximately 60 patients). The German domestic workers were discussed. Among the appointments were a physiotherapist, due to the commencement of chest-surgery, a teacher and a house officer. Proposals were made to send patient to Switzerland


Building programme: plans to increase East Fortune by 100-200 beds (wards 14, 15, 16 and 17 restored; wooden wards) as well as an increase in laundry-services, lab-facilities, transport and canteen. Other projects included 4 additional staff-houses, accommodation for male and female orderlies and signposting to East Fortune hospital from Haddington and Dunbar. Regional Board increased beds by 150 (130). Occupational therapist appointed. Switzerland treatment approved for 200 patients. Expansion commences and the heating system is completed by October. Telephone for patients in the patients’ recreation room. East Fortune work on fire alarm and internal phone + shower and toilets for surgeon. 4 orlit houses for staff. League of Friends started. Mr Logan (surgical), Mr Anderson (orthopaedic) and Mr Band (renal). There is a waiting list for beds and a shortage of nurses (fear of infection, despite the success of streptomycin). Lectures are given for the staff so they could sit the British Tuberculosis Association exams. The Medical Officer felt like a ‘provost’ over a small village. Matron in charge of food and nursing, later a dietician was appointed


Plans to increase East Fortune by 100-200 beds are approved. Appointment of senior house officer and a trainee laboratory assistant (research into the use of new drug for TB). Toilets for visitors build. Appointment of an assistant occupational therapist. Ambulance donated by the North Berwick Ambulance Association.


Proposal for a laboratory and dispensary. Reports that the public transport to East Fortune is inadequate and an increase in services asked for. Average patients: 345. Gate lamps donated by League of Friends. Two staff-houses nearing completion (orlit) and seven applications have been received. Staff housing programme plan for four extra houses to be build by the Scottish Orlit Company (later four more, all for married staff). Post-graduate course for doctors in chemotherapy given at East Fortune. Bus service at 2.30 on daily basis and over the winter months extension of last bus from North Berwick from 21.45 to 22.00 to give the staff a chance to see more of the films shown at the hospital cinema. Wireless for patients and a twelve-seater vehicle (Bedford Dormobile) delivered at 7th November 1953. Appointment of Almoner (Miss Bultitude)


Change to cubicles in huts 14, 15 and 16. Art therapy used in East Fortune.


Laundry truck replacement by Morris Commercial 1.5 ton. Request for the purchase of land for burial ground was refused. Proposal to use one of the hospital buildings as an interdenominational chapel (build in 1956). Proposal, following the TB physician’s report of unoccupied beds, to use beds for mentally defective children. First six cases of mental defective patients move in. There was space for 25 patients in all


Extra-mural clinic Mary Murray Institute, Prestonpans (used in conjunction with East Fortune).

Weekly clinics – Monday: x-ray and chest examination; Tuesday: renal clinic with visiting urogenital surgeon; Wednesday: artificial pneumothoral patients; Thursday: bone and joint cases, clinic by visiting orthopaedic surgeon.

Monthly clinics – x-ray for cases unable to attend normal clinics.

Outpatients: 3,397, x-rayed: 3,450, Total: 6,847 per year.

Talk by W. A. Murray, MD, FRCPE, DPH, reporting on his research and the results of the questionnaire: ‘What happens to our Patients’

TB patients 148; non-TB cases 21; and mental patients 12. Dr. Murray asks for £100 from the Endowment Fund for research of the effectiveness of the TB treatment in East Fortune hospital. School facilities in East Fortune to be reviewed due to the lowering of the numbers of children. Miss Killey appointed as pharmacist. Mental cases up from seven to ten; TB cases down to 200. Use of the empty beds in East Fortune for transfer of Roodlands General Hospital post-operative surgical and gynaecological cases as well as selected medical cases (block-3 East Fortune Hospital). No chronic sick.


300 Beds (24 thoracic surgery, 25 male pulmonary and ortho TB, 35 children (all types of TB), 18 convalescing from Roodlands General Hospital. Remainder pulmonary TB patients).

Average ward-size: 36 beds. Two walking machines for rehabilitation. Laundry kept at East Fortune.


Senior laboratory technician appointed. New cotton blankets (cross infection research); 140 children unit proposed for more children. Lowering of TB cases and less demand on beds. WRVS. Six – nine thoracic operations per week. Approval for summer camp for spastic children (Edinburgh and District Spastics Association) 17-31st July 1959; occupied beds (70 TB) out of a total of 340 beds. Proposal: 90 chest beds, 2 x 20 convalescence RGH Surgical, 160 M.D. beds (low-grade and non-ambulant)


Clerical assistant to pharmacy. Admission: 10 increasing to 20 adult male low grade MD in September. Number of children raised from 28-40 + 30 MD babies

1960Five genito-urinary surgical beds (Western General Hospital). Summer camp for Spastic Children (additional physiotherapy). 72 patients (42 certified TB and 30 informal), 40 mentally handicapped children (special chairs, walking aids, play room, bright ward and plastic pool), 31 MD male adults (sports-field, outings, crafts). Volunteer visitors for patients without visits. Sunday bus-service unsuitable to get staff in at 08.00. Episcopalian chaplain for further two years. A second physiotherapist appointed. All entertainment (incl. TV) paid for by Recreation Fund, but drop in donations for TVs from Endowment Fund. Mortuary trolleys purchased.

August: 30 TB, 88 non-TB, 38 children, 34 male MD and 36 male from Herdmanflat. First talks about care for the elderly in the form of sheltered housing in the hospital grounds


Proposed plan to improve accommodation for MDs and minor alterations to block-2 to provide isolation room. Workshops for tailoring and shoe repairs. Increase by 20 beds. Proposal by East Lothian county council to create eight houses for old people is approved. Difficult to get trained staff for MD. Taxi-service to transport two staff to and from Dunbar. Facilities for urological surgery granted. MD wards certified (Part I of the Ninth Schedule to the NHS (Scotland) Act 1947). Patients assist on wards with domestic work. One extra gardener for the summer-period. Proposals to place caravan at EF to aid staff recruitment. Rent of staff housing reduced by 15% to attract more staff


Butcher-shop redesigned to meet new standards (Hygiene and Food Act). Staff dining

room. Asbestos gradually causing problems (there was a renewed scare in 1995-6). Spastic camp in June; x-ray film processing unit to be installed in East Fortune hospital. Patient visits permitted.


Introduction of smokeless fuel (Clean Air Act, 1956). Voluntary groups invited to hospital. Closure of East Fortune railway station and effect on staff (increase in cost of hospital transport). Voluntary help in East Fortune hospital – British Red Cross: visiting, canteen, picture library and library books. WVS: Library and East Lothian Association for Mental Welfare visits.

July: 107 MD beds. Death due to food suffocation. 63 low-grade male and 46 low grade children + organic illness. Accompanied walks, recreation and tearoom, label work for the Simpson Label Company (but proved too far out). Dormobile replaced by new passenger vehicle. Six student nurses from Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh for six weeks.

Staff: one matron, two assistant matrons, 16 charge nurses (full-time), 12 staff nurses (+ 5 part-time), 5 enrolled nurses (+ 4 part-time), 6 pupil nurses, 27 nursing auxiliaries (+ 43 part-time)


Physiotherapy offering services free of charge (one day/week). Proposals were made for nursing training (SEN) in East Fortune. The kitchen completely modernised. Seconded nurses for RLE are withdrawn from April (this scheme ran since October 1951). Re-staffing is a serious problem and agency nurses are used due to the shortage. There were waiting lists for male and female patients (mainly due to an increase in administration of geriatric patients). A shower for the boiler-staff is approved as well as the training school for SENs (for two years). East Fortune hospital has 300 beds (25 general medical, 50 geriatric and chronic sick, 25 convalescences (post-operational), 25 TB, 50 (non-TB) chest (the last four groups spread over 3 male and 3 female wards and 1 mixed ward), 45 MD children and 80 male mentally subnormal adults. Additional facilities include a dormitory for nurses, a lecture-room and a demonstration room. The Open Day (30th May) raised £750. The proposed dayroom between ward 4 and 5 is approved and bacteriology services are taken over by the Western General. Beds are reallocated for general medical patients during peak admission periods


The last mental health patients move out and are transferred to Haddington. East Fortune houses only long-term geriatric care patients


Most geriatric patients are transferred or discharged. All wards except ward-1 and ward-2 are closed. The hospital and grounds gradually run down


In the summer of this year East Fortune hospital will be closed. The remaining patients in ward-1 and ward-2 are likely to be transferred to Roodlands hospital in Haddington. Lands and buildings including the East Fortune farm steading are up for sale

This material has been reproduced by kind permission of the authors Marjo van Wessel, BA, RGN, Dip H&SW and Cornelis van Wessel, BSc, BA (Hons). It was originally placed on the Fortune Aid Exchange website in 1997


  • Morgan, WL ‘East Fortune Hospital’ Fortune (the East Fortune hospital magazine), 10 December, 1954, pp2-8
  • Murray, WA (1982) A Life Worth Living Croal, Haddington.
  • Edinburgh University main library, Special Collections: Minutes of South East of Scotland Regional Hospital Board (NHS) (1949-76)
  • Bunyan, IT, Storer, JD and Thompson, CL (1983) East Fortune: Museum of Flight and History of the Airfield, Royal Scottish Museum Information Series