Hermitage House

Hermitage House

In 1838 Robert Fulton Alexander, a merchant in Glasgow, bought the land on which Hermitage House was built and it is likely that the house was constructed shortly after.

The Alexander family continued their ownership of the property until 1876, when John and James Cramb, two sons of retired leather merchant David Cramb, already resident in the town, bought the house and grounds for £11,000.

The final member of the Cramb family, Susannah, passed away in May 1911 and the trustees of her estate, doubtless acting in accordance with her wishes, enabled the Town Council to purchase the house and grounds quickly for the very reasonable sum of £3,750. The grounds were then developed into Hermitage Park, a public park for the residents of Helensburgh to enjoy.

However it was agreed in 1912 that the ground floor of the building could be used as a museum to house what were called the ‘Dunbartonshire exhibits’.

During WWI the house was used as an auxiliary hospital by the British Red Cross.

After the war the house served as an annex for Hermitage School until new buildings were completed in 1926. The house was demolished in 1963 and a park shelter now stands on the site.

Hermitage Auxiliary Hospital Staff

During the Great War when Hermitage House acted as a British Red Cross auxiliary hospital, a number of medical staff were responsible for the daily running of the establishment.

Dr W. Semple Young and Dr James McEwan, Helensburgh, were the surgeons in charge. Dr Young was the Medical Officer for the hospital. He was born in Wigtownshire on 19 June 1864 and graduated from Glasgow University.

The Matron was Miss Keillor, who was assisted by Commandants, Miss Sewell and Miss Gardner, who were in charge of a staff of six nurses. Miss Nicholl was Assistant Commandant. There were two quartermasters, Miss Bonnar and Miss Rankin. The nurses and cooks were selected in rotation from the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD).

The nurses and cooks who worked in the hospital from its inception are as follows:-

Nurses – Misses F. Bonnar, A. Blackie, M. Cunliffe, E. Cuthbert, G. Harrison, H. Hamilton, C. Lewis, L. F. Macphee, Rita MacBain, H. MacLellan, M. MacBrayne, V. MacBrayne, E. MacNab, B. Paterson, D. Robb, Mrs Greta Raeburn, Misses J. Rodger, B. Robinson, M. Sidebottom, F. Smith, L. Toward, and H. Whimster.

Cooks – Misses M. R. Russell, Marion Kidston, May Lyle, M. McCrossan, F. S. Macphee, B. Robertson, and G. Young;

The men’s VAD detachment received a thorough training in first aid and the transport of the wounded. By January 1915, 75 per cent of the original members had joined up, however, following a stirring appeal and recruiting campaign, the membership rose to 80. When the Hermitage Hospital was opened their services used for the transport of the wounded from Stobhill. They also carried on as orderlies in their spare time at work in the hospital. Along with these volunteers, Mr Lewis was the general hospital orderly.


An album of photographs relating to the auxiliary hospital was donated to Argyll and Bute Library Service. The photographer was Edward Graham who was born in 1875, the eighth child of Edward and Agnes Graham. He was employed in Helensburgh for thirty years as the town’s lamplighter but during the daylight hours he was also employed semi-professionally as a photographer. He took photographs of the staff and patients at Hermitage during WWI. These photographs were printed as postcards and soldiers sent them to loved ones to reassure them of their wellbeing and some were even sent back to the hospital to staff from former patients.

Edward had fourteen children with his wife Margaret and some of his descendants still live in Helensburgh.

Medical staff and patients outside Hermitage House, Helensburgh
Nursing staff outside Hermitage House
Medical staff at Hermitage House
Postcard to Matron Keillor from a former patient. "So long, Matron, for just now as I expect to leave for Australia this week & many thanks for the fine time you gave me at Helensburgh".