Statement of Special Interest
The Murray Royal Asylum was designed in 1821 by William Burn and extended in 1833 by Burn and again by Andrew Heiton Junior in 1888. Situated on a hill to the east of Perth city, the asylum is the earliest surviving asylum building in Scotland and one of the few remaining from this period in the UK. Based on the 1816-18 Wakefield Asylum design, the building is notable for its retention of its H-plan form, with few additions or extensions since 1888. Externally, the building is generally plain in its design, with the exception of the Doric porch to the entrance. Internally, there is a significant amount of 19th century decorative detail, including a well-detailed former ballroom, former library, timber verandahs and a number of timber fire surrounds.
There has been alteration to the interior internally: there was an internal chapel which no longer survives and the circa 1820s staircase in the central octagon was removed in 1864 and a glass cupola added. However, a great deal of the remaining decoration and room layout is considered to be early and late 19th century. This is extremely unusual in a building of this type, where normally much more alteration is common.
The Main Building at Murray Royal was designed in 1821 and opened in 1828. It is the earliest surviving asylum building in Scotland. There were other, earlier asylums built: Montrose was the first in 1782, followed by Aberdeen (1800), Glasgow (1807), Dundee (1812) and Edinburgh (1813). These buildings have all been demolished.
The Murray Royal hospital was founded from a bequest by a local man, James Murray. It is not clear what his motivation was for the bequest, apart from providing compassionate care and good surroundings for the mentally ill.
When originally built, the Murray Royal asylum consisted of a central octagonal section with a staircase and apartments for the superintendent and matron; there were two separate wings for male and female patients, long galleries and large dining rooms and bedrooms. On the John Wood Map of 1832, the building is depicted with a central octagonal section and two wings, radiating north east and south west. In 1833, Burn extended the building to provide further accommodation; although the attic and upper floor was damaged by fire in 1837 this was repaired by 1838. The 1st Edition Ordnance Survey Map of 1866 depicts a roughly H-plan building extending to the north west and these are the wings presumed to have been added. This included further large common rooms.
There have been a few external additions to the main building over the course of the 20th century, but the original 3-storey range, central cupola, 1833 and 1888 wings have not been significantly compromised by these additions. This lack of alteration to the exterior is notable for a building of this type and date.
The original Burn plan form of 1821 was modelled on the West Riding Pauper Asylum in Wakefield by Watson & Pritchett in 1816-18. This was H-plan, with a central range, containing apartments for the matron and superintendent. At each end, there were octagonal towers, with a spiral staircase in the middle and with wings radiating out with gallery and rooms for the patients. At Perth, Burn has adapted this plan to contain one central octagon with 2 radiating wings. Burn gave his plan to the Trustees in 1821, having visited a number of similar institutions in England, but the Trustees did not approve them until 1822. The plan form is contemporary with the early developments in asylum planning. Internally, the long corridors with rooms off was used at Robert Hooke's Bedlam in London in 1676 and remained the basic pattern for patient accommodation in this type of hospital until the latter part of the 19th century. Although there was some alteration to the size of the rooms during the course of the 19th century, the basic layout of these is likely to retain the original 1821-7 scheme.
The Asylum bought the neighbouring Pitcullen House (see separate listing,) in 1849 which was used as a residence for the superintendent. From the beginning, the Murray Royal catered for both pauper and richer patients, but in the mid 19th century, the pauper patients were moved to a new asylum in Perthshire. The Murray Royal was then modified internally, with the main staircase being removed and better furnishings put in. In 1888, further wings were added to the building at the north west by the local architect, Andrew Heiton Junior. These can be seen on the 1901 Ordnance Survey Map.
Care for the mentally ill altered a great deal over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries. Before this, people with mental health problems were generally concealed from society, sometimes in prisons, and confined often in harsh conditions. Some were looked after in private 'mad-houses', which were unregulated and where the care varied widely. The earliest general infirmaries also had a few cells kept aside for the confinement of 'lunatics', sometimes in damp basements, but the doctors complained that the noise from these people disturbed the other patients and separate buildings were proposed.
The first major reform for caring for these patients came from France, particularly Phillipe Pinel (1745-1826) who advocated care and compassion for these patients, rather than confinement and chains. These ideas spread to Scotland and the first asylums here promoted the idea of compassionate care.
The plan forms for these large buildings varied, but the most influential was William Stark's Lunatic Asylum of Glasgow (1807) This was built on a radial, panopticon plan, with a central observation section and four radiating wings, where patients could be observed. The patients were rigidly classified into male/ female, rich/poor, curable/incurable, etc. and this classification continued into the 19th century.
By the end of the 19th century, attitudes were changing and it was considered better to accommodate patients in smaller houses. A pair of villas was erected at the hospital in 1904. The separate chapel also dates to this time. Over the course of the 20th century, other buildings were added to the complex, the majority of which have since been demolished. The new Murray Royal Hospital was built in 2010-12 and the original buildings are now unoccupied.
The majority of early asylum buildings have been demolished as larger institutions were built to replace them in the mid 19th century, and these in turn were often demolished in the 20th century, as care has turned away from large institutions, focussing on smaller units of care.
William Burn (1780-1870) was one of Scotland's foremost architects in the 19th century. He began his career by designing public buildings, and includes the design of other important asylums in Scotland, including Royal Edinburgh and Crichton Royal, the typology for which he is responsible for developing in the Scottish context. He is often associated with country house design at which he was very successful and he had a long list of clients, both in Scotland and England. His buildings range from the Greek Revival style to the Scottish Baronial.
Listed Building Record updated following a review of the former Murray Royal Asylum site, (2014).
Category changed from B to A, (2014).
Previously listed with Chapel. Statutory Address amended, (2014).
John Wood (1823), Plan of the City of Perth from an Actual Survey, Edinburgh: J. Wood.
Ordnance Survey, (Surveyed 1860, Published 1866), 25 inches to a mile, 1st Ed, London: Ordnance Survey.
Colvin, H. (1995) A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, London: Yale University Press, p182-4.
Richardson, H. ed, (1998) English Hospitals, 1660-1948, Swindon: Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England.
Haynes, N. (2000), Perth and Kinross, An Architectural Guide, Edinburgh, The Rutland Press, p43.
Gifford, J. (2007), Perth and Kinross The Buildings of Scotland, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, p651-2.
Building Up Our Health, (2010), Edinburgh: Historic Scotland.
Dictionary of Scottish Architects, http://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk/building_full.php?id=205710 (accessed 20-03-14).
Darragh, A. (2011), Prison or Palace, Haven or Hell. An Architectural and Social Study of the Development of Public Lunatic Asylums in Scotland 1731-1930. PHd Thesis, St Andrews University.
Draft Heritage Assessment (unpublished) for Austin-Smith: Lord LLP, 296 St Vincent Street, Glasgow.
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Printed: 20/04/2019 17:16