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Loch-Head House - Hydropathics

Loch-head was a Mansion situated near Westburn Park. It was said to be the 1st Hydropathic Establishment in Scotland and featured Turkish and Medicated Baths. By the 1890s the building was occupied by the George Washington Wilson optical lantern slide export department. The building was demolished in 1932, and the grounds became part of Westburn Park

Late 18th and early 19th-century maps show Mr Gumock's and Mr Johnston's Bleaching Fields at Lochhead House  and Lochhead Lodge on this site which was west of the Bark Mill and its bleaching green. Lochhead House was renamed Park House. Park House was used during the 2nd World War to provide shelter for people whose homes had been bombed. Immediately north of Lochhead House was Lochhead Hydropathic Establishment although nothing remains of these buildings. (Ach - Knocket Doon)

In 1851 the Reverend Alexander Munro bought the mansion and grounds at Lochhead,  and opened the Hydropathic Establishment there  There were however at least 4 buildings named Lochhead in this area between the 18th and 20th centuries.  In 1873 Lochhead House [north of the current site], with 3 acres of ground, was purchased for £2250, to serve as a convalescent hospital.  It was demolished by 1923 to incorporate the area in Westburn Park.


Rev Alexander Munro

Born at Skene on 6 April 1846, Alexander was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School, and then at the University of Aberdeen in Arts 1862-1865; graduating M.B.C.M., in 1870 and M.D. in 1872.His career took him to Waverley and Cluny Hydros before moving after 1874 to Bradford where he died in February 1894.

In 1851 the Reverend Alexander Munro bought the mansion and grounds at Lochhead, about a mile to the north-east of Aberdeen, and opened a Hydropathic Establishment there. At the same time, he was also Congregational Minister of the small chapel at Skene, some six miles away. He was widely known as Dr Munro though his qualification came, in fact, from a hydropathic college in the United States. Although previously he had successfully completed the required course for medical students at the University of Aberdeen, he was not allowed to graduate as he was already practising as a hydropathist. 


Lochhead started in a small way with fairly primitive facilities. Showers were taken in a small hut near the house and 'the stronger patients were expected to pump the water from a stream nearby to a tank on the roof'.  The facilities were gradually improved and in 1857 Munro sold the establishment to a new partner, Dr William Meikle, while continuing to 'conduct' its daily running as superintendent. Meikle died the following year but in 1861 his Executors sold the hydro to a younger brother, Dr  Thomas Henry Meikle, then aged only 27 years old. He retained it for 7 yrs, while Munro himself left round about 1863.  It is possible that when T H Meikle first built the Turkish Baths at Lochhead he intended them to be run as a separate (albeit related) establishment; some of the first advertisements for the 15 to 25ft high Turkish Bath made no mention of treatments available at the Hydro and Munro's name was omitted. After a few months, however, a new set of advertisements showed more clearly that they were part of the Hydro, and Munro's name re-appeared. The Hydropathic Establishment clearly benefited from the addition of the Turkish Bath which aimed to be  'a model of comfort and elegance'. Furthermore, as a result of  further investment  by the Meikle Brothers, the house could now accommodate 40 patients at 2 guineas per week.

The Lochhead Turkish Baths

Dr Thomas Henry Meikle, 1834-1914 - Dr Meikle bought Lochhead Hydropathic Establishment from the Trustees of his late brother William in 1861 and immediately built Turkish Baths in the grounds. He left Lochhead 7 yrs later and, at the age of 34, founded a new hydro, Crieff, at Strathearn.  The new Turkish baths at the Lochhead Hydropathic Establishment were installed some time in 1860, almost 10 years after the hydro was opened.

The new Turkish Baths were designed by the architect,  Mr W H Hay, and Munro's unorthodox medical qualification did not stop the well-known physician and classical scholar, Francis Adams, from visiting them and describing them as 'elegant'.  Patients at Lochhead used the Turkish Baths in the mornings and then they were opened at 2 and 4 o'clock each day to the general public, though not of course, given Munro's other calling, on Sundays. The standard charge was 2s.6d. and the baths were reserved for women on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. They were also available for 2 hours in the evening 'For the Working Classes (who require to provide themselves with a Sheet and Towel)' at the lower charge of 1 shilling, with two evenings again being reserved for women. Shampooing was also available at 6d and, for the working classes, at 3d, though after a couple of months this latter charge was raised to 4d.  Externally, the Turkish Baths were built in oriental style although Hay himself would have preferred a more 'thoroughly English' approach.

LOCH-HEAD (One Mile from Aberdeen,) Conducted by ALEXANDER MUNRO, M.D. ASPACIOUS TURKISH BATH, Sixty Feet long, just completed. Other Baths on most approved plans. The Air is bracing, and the House, which is surrounded by Pleasure Grounds, accommodates above Forty Patients. Terms - Two Guineas per Week.
Open to the Public at 2 and 4 o'clock pm, Bath, 2s 6d ; Shampooing, 6d.
LADIES, On Tuesday and Thursday ;
GENTLEMEN, On Monday, Wednesday, 'Friday, and Saturday.
Open to the Working Classes at 6 and 8 o'clock pm, Bath, Is ; Shampooing, 4d.
FEMALES, On Monday and Wednesday ;
MALES, On Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
Those attending the Bath from 6 to 8 o’clock have to provide a Sheet and a Towel.

In a lecture at the Liverpool Architectural Society, W H Hay described the Turkish Bath he had just designed for the very middle class Lochhead Hydropathic Establishment near Aberdeen. His brief was ‘to produce a certain accommodation at the very smallest outlay’ and his plan was ‘based upon the baths of ancient Rome’.

I have adopted the Turkish or Oriental style of architecture with a touch of Eastern grandeur, so that the Turkish Baths might not be altogether a misnomer to the uninitiated; nevertheless, there is a very large demand made upon the practical skill and experience of an architect in the erection of works of this kind. But I was employed to design Turkish baths, and Turkish baths they must be; to arrange the interior as I pleased; but the bulbous domes and gilded minarets must appear in all the cheapest and most showy style, so that the Oriental character might be realised as freshly as from a perusal of Lalla Rookh.  I should be inclined, however, to recommend a thoroughly English style of architecture as decidedly preferable to this.

The Internal Design
Leading off the 18 ft square entrance hall, lit through pieces of coloured glass set in a dome,  were small alcoves for undressing, screened off with curtains and furnished with seats and couches. The cooling-room, also furnished with couches, was the same size as the entrance hall, but without a dome. The two hot rooms, kept at 100°F and 150°F, were fitted with seats and shampooing tables. In the last room, together with a variety of douches, there was a needle shower,  'a niche provided and completely surrounded with a coil of pipe, perforated and made to play upon the bather like a horizontal shower of rain.' According to Hay, the baths  'give great satisfaction, and yield a large and lucrative percentage.'


Reproduced from Malcolm Schifrin's Victorian Turkish Baths

The Strathearn Hydropathic Establishment Company Ltd was incorporated in Edinburgh as a Limited Company on 23rd April 1867. The Strathearn Hydropathic Hotel was built in the next year and proved to be in a prime position to take advantage of the flourishing Hydropathic movement. The 1st Physician and Manager was Dr. Thomas H. Meikle, who had agreed to transfer the goodwill of the Loch-Head Hydropathic Establishment, Aberdeen, built-up over the previous 16 years to the newly established Hydro in Crieff. A very strict and even austere atmosphere prevailed in the early years, with guests expected to attend meals punctually, with tardiness came the prospect of a contribution to the "fine-box". However the hotel was obviously successful, and managed to pay a dividend of 7% or better for nearly the whole of the period up until 1914, with the occasional bad year. From 1876 the austerity of the hotel was balanced by the building of a recreation room, gymnasium, billiard room and bowling alley for guests to use. There were also frequent entertainments put on in the evening. One visitor in 1881 remarked upon the musical performances, mock trials and elections and tableux vivants that he witnessed and took part in during his stay.  Dr Meikle obviously contributed to this success, as by 1874 his salary had increased to £500 P.A. with free board and lodging.  Although the Hydropathic movement generally waned in Scotland in the years before and after the 1st World War, Crieff continued to thrive. Between 1919 and 1939 it paid a dividend between 7% and 9% annually as other hotels struggled in years of depression and recession (only Peebles could match it out of the Scottish hydrotherapy hotels).  During this time the managing family (the Leckies, descendents of Dr Meikle) bought more shares to retain greater control of the affairs of the company. In August 1968 there was a change of name as approved by Special Resolution, to Strathearn Hydro Limited. The company became the Crieff Hydro Limited on 2nd July 1985, and the hotel similarly became known as the Crieff Hydro.The Hydro was based very much on the belief that guests should not only be able to enjoy the many Victorian water cures on offer but should also be provided with spiritual sustenance. In fact, the Hydro retains strong links with the Church of Scotland through its Smieton and Paton Funds, whereby eligible members of the clergy can enjoy a stay at the Hydro at subsidised rates. The strong temperance ethics of the Hydropathic movement were much evidence until very recently, and it wasn't until as late as 1983 that the Hydro ceased to be dry. The Hydro still retains a strong family tradition, with the current Managing Director a descendent of the original founder Dr. Meikle


Then - as now - a major preoccupation of all ranks of society, but particularly for those who had the means, temperament and time to pay for their health. Poverty forced acceptance of disease and ill health; prosperity made for more curative and remedial options. Hydropathy was based on a series of water treatments: showers, baths sheets and rubbing or massage, drawn together in a supervised and individually tailored regime that emphasized exercise, good diet and no alcohol.  Although the use of cold water in, for example, the treatment of fever had a long pedigree in Britain, hydropathy as a general system for the treatment of a wide range of conditions originated in the 1830s on the Continent in Austria at a centre in Silesia (Graefenberg) where Priessnitz had developed a very successful practice. News percolated to Britain of this new system, dubbed the cold-water cure, and aroused very considerable interest both amongst uncured patients and medical men who were dissatisfied with the existing therapeutic armoury and were looking for new options. By the early 1840s there was a flow of British visitors to Austria, either as patients or observers.  They reported back with enthusiasm, many having claimed cures for themselves of long-standing complaints. The hydropathic cause was greatly promoted by Captain Claridge, whose search for health on the Continent had taken him to Graefenberg in 1841 for a lengthy stay.

Cured of his rheumatism, he set about promoting Hydropathy in Britain, at London in 1842, and then further afield in the following year with lecture tours in Ireland and Scotland in 1843. Hydropathic practices began to appear, and cure centres were established: in England these were mostly initially in and around London, with Dr Paterson's Glenburn House at Rothesay in 1843 the first north of the Border. A decade later the provision of residential hydropathic treatment in Britain had become dominated by the large establishments in England of Malvern, Ilkley and Matlock, with Scotland trailing well behind. But the movement in Scotland changed gear in the 1860s with the foundation of Bridge of Allan, Crieff and Forres, and further underwent marked expansion in the later 1870s where there was what some called a 'hydropathic mania'.  Almost inevitably a financial crisis followed in the early 1880s, and consolidation rather than new ventures was the rule thereafter. What stands out is how strong, and how permanent the movement was by the later nineteenth century in Scotland as against the rest of the United Kingdom. In 1900 Scotland could boast some 15 hydros, England had 50, of which most were but high-class hotels lacking any real tradition of treatment, but Ireland only two. "The Scots, who are pretty cautious in their undertakings have plunged in a surprising manner into enterprises connected with Hydropathic Establishments' remarked William Chambers in 1877

Deeside Hydropathic at Murtle, 5 miles to the west of Aberdeen City Centre, was built for the Rev Dr Alexander Stewart in 1899. He had founded a similar establishment in 1874 at Heathcot, Kincardinshire, and the growth of business there led to the selection of this new site close to Murtle Station on the Deeside Railway. It was also seen as a convenient centre for visiting the Deeside area. The extensive grounds included a croquet lawn, bowling green and tennis courts, while the Deeside Golf Club was only a mile away. The building itself had 92 bedrooms, there were Turkish, Russian, vapour, electric and spray baths. Since hydropathy was a medical treatment consisting of the external and internal application of water, the proximity of an artesian well supplying abundant pure water was also a feature. After the 1st World War, the building was sold and converted into Tor-Na-Dee Sanatorium in August 1918, specialising in the treatment of Tuberculosis. More recently it has been used as a convalescent hospital, but it is now being re-developed for housing. Dr Stewart was born in 1835 in Coupar, Angus and studied at Glasgow University and did the medical course at Aberdeen University. At his death in 1909, he was Minister of John Street Congregational Church in Aberdeen, having been ordained there in 1864.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013