When you think of war you think of conflict, dispute and hostility. It is difficult to imagine positivity, creativity or love. Delving into the life of one particular patient of Bangour Village Hospital has proven otherwise.
In 1906, Bangour Village Hospital was first opened as a psychiatric hospital. During the emergence of the first world war, it was evident that there was nowhere near enough provisions in place for military casualties. As a result of this, Bangour hospital was taken over by the War Office and was known as the Edinburgh War Hospital from 1918-1922. Laden with almost 3000 patients, the hospital was constantly expanding to keep up with demand and to this day 15 of the buildings remain listed and abandoned. Much like Hartwood Hospital, Bangour had a community structure and was self-sustaining but on a larger scale. It included a shop, power station, a kitchen, a laundry and even a bakery.
During the first world war, an English man named Ivor Gurney was one that managed to keep creativity and love afloat during such a dark time. Despite his several mental health issues, Gurney was only admitted to the hospital after a gassing incident. During his time at Bangour, he fell madly in love with a voluntary aid detachment nurse, Annie Nelson Drummond (born in Armadale), perhaps as a result of his way with words and her nurturing and caring manner. Ivor Gurney was a well known war poet in his time and while on the front line, managed to write and publish works as well as compose music. After his treatment at the hospital, the pipe dream love affair tragically ended and Gurney then spent his remaining years spiralling, but continued to create poetry and music (some examples can be found on https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/ivor-gurney). Some even claim that he was eventually convinced that he was Shakespeare himself, writing poems and songs about his lost love in the ward and his time spent on the front line.
Ivor was institutionalised for the remainder of his life due to his mental state and his family officially declared him “insane”. Some researchers have thought that shell shock was a major factor in Ivor’s demise, but this can be argued as he always portrayed signs of mental illness and “insanity” before the war.
After the war, Bangour hospital resumed its role of being West Lothian’s psychiatric hospital until 1939 where it was claimed once more by the War Office.
Walking through the abandoned hospital village is a chilling experience – everything still, grey and marked with “DANGER KEEP OUT” – however, the sense of what was once a warm, thriving and caring community remains. In modern day, we have a perception of what these institutions were and how they were run. The treatment of mental health issues remains questionable and unethical but amongst the remains of these buildings, we can begin to imagine and understand the thousands of lives that passed through here at the darkest of times, and there is every possibility that there was a flicker of light somewhere for everyone.
Art was created here. Relationships blossomed here. Soldiers were mended here. All of this on top of a community all striving for one thing – caring for others. Not everything is as grey and still as it seems.