Thursday 12 June 2014

William Cunliffe Brooks (1819 - 1900) and the Saga of the Aboyne Isolation Hospital

Aboyne Hospital
If you walk down Bellwood Road, Aboyne or, if you visit the NHS Grampian website, you will find Aboyne Hospital, which today is a community hospital serving the population of Aboyne and the surrounding area.  Apart from GP surgery, its services are mostly provided for the pregnant and the elderly.  The NHS Grampian website describes the history of the hospital as follows.  “This hospital originally opened in 1898 when there was a shortage of hospital beds in the Deeside area.”  This statement is true enough, as far as it goes, but it masks a dramatic story involving a clash of wills between major local personalities and a confrontation between old power and influence, based on land ownership and new power, arising from democratic representation.  The story is laced with personal abuse, spin, pressure and outright lies.  It took place in a world where antibiotics had not been discovered and infectious disease took a regular toll of lives.  Aboyne eventually got its isolation hospital but in the process a darker side of the personality of Sir William Brooks, the owner of much of Aboyne at the time, was fully displayed.

Infectious disease in 19th Century Scotland
Fatal diseases such as Smallpox and Typhoid have always been present in both rural and urban populations in Scotland but the lower population densities and minimal population movements before the 18th century limited their impact.  However, the industrial revolution, which is generally said to have begun about 1760, resulted in increasing movement of people from the countryside to the growing industrial towns and cities, mostly in the central belt, in search of work.  Living conditions for the workers in the burgeoning conurbations, such as Glasgow, Greenock and Dundee, were appalling.  Overcrowding, poor sanitation and waste disposal and dirty drinking water supplies were the norm.  Diseases, which we now know are caused by microbes, were rife and epidemics were frequent.  Towns and cities which were also ports suffered further due to the introduction of disease by sailors who had travelled to foreign parts.

In Scotland between 1835 and 1845 the average death rate in 331 rural parishes was 20.3/1000, while in the 14 principal towns and cities the average death rate was 26.7/1000.  The higher mortality rate in urban areas was largely accounted for by major diseases, such as cholera, tuberculosis and typhoid fever.  It is estimated that in 1832, 50% of those who caught cholera died from it.
In the early- to mid-19th century, the cause of these diseases was heavily debated, there being two competing hypotheses.  One, Miasmatism, held that disease was due to foul air being breathed by unaffected persons, the other, Contagion, held that actual contact, direct or indirect, with an infected person was necessary to cause disease.  Until the work of Pasteur and Koch in the 1860s and 1870s established beyond doubt that the contagion hypothesis was correct, the miasmatists held sway and influenced public policy initiatives designed to counteract infectious disease.  These measures, which aimed to reduce or eliminate foul air, mostly involved the improvement of drinking water supplies, sewage and rubbish disposal.  They had a substantial impact in reducing disease incidence.

The verification of the contagion hypothesis led to the development of new immunisations to protect against specific diseases.  Although cowpox was first used to protect against smallpox by Jenner in 1796, immunisations for further diseases were not developed until the second half of the 19th century by Pasteur, Koch and others.  Even so, it was many years before immunisation came into general use as a public health measure.  In the meantime the most effective strategy to prevent disease spreading from infected to uninfected persons was to keep them in isolation, either at home, in special wards in hospital or in special hospitals designed to isolate disease sufferers until they either died or recovered.  The first permanent fever hospital was built in Glasgow in 1865 and legislation contained in the Public Health (Scotland) Act of 1867 created a basis for fever hospitals to be established throughout the country. This Act also allowed the appointment of Medical Officers of Health, whose responsibilities included isolation of disease sufferers and public health measures designed to reduce the rate of infection.  Most fever hospitals were sited where they could serve large conurbations, since that is where the disease problems were most pressing.  However, overall provision of accommodation was slow and this was especially so in rural areas.

Local Government in 19th Century Scotland
Until 1890 public administration at county level in Scotland was the function of a variety of bodies, including the Commissioners of Supply.  This body was originally established in the late 17th century to collect land tax but subsequently acquired other roles.  Commissioners of Supply, who were unelected, consisted of main landowners liable to pay land tax.  However, the situation changed in 1890 following the passing of the Local Government Act (Scotland) 1889.  This established partly-elected County Councils, which took over a number of administrative roles, including those formerly carried out by the Commissioners of Supply.  County Councillors were chosen by election in rural areas, the remainder being co-opted by Town Councils.  Large counties, such as Aberdeenshire were divided into Districts and each district had a committee containing the local county councillors, a representative from each parochial board and a representative from each burgh.  District committees were largely independent of their parent county council.  While county councils were formally responsible for carrying out the requirements of the Public Health Acts, decisions concerning local matters were effectively delegated to district committees.

The Deeside District Committee - Proposal for an Isolation Hospital
It was in this context that the Deeside District Committee of Aberdeen County Council met in the Huntley Arms, Aboyne under the chairmanship of Lt Col FN Innes of Learney, on Saturday, 9th February 1895, to consider a report from the Public Health Sub-Committee.  Dr Watt, the Medical Officer of Health for Aberdeenshire had proposed a detailed plan for a cottage hospital with three beds at Braemar and a central isolation hospital for Deeside at Aboyne.  He had produced a detailed plan of the proposed Aboyne hospital.  It consisted of an administrative block and two pavilions and could be constructed in two phases, the whole scheme costing £1200.  A site of ½ to 1 acre would be needed.  Clearly this plan would need the cooperation of one of the major landowners in Aboyne, of whom, like the rest of Scotland, there were only penny numbers.  At a subsequent meeting Dr Watt requested authority to appoint a nurse temporarily, specifically to deal with infectious diseases, as there had been an outbreak of diphtheria in Deeside District.  The request was approved, subject to patients making a personal contribution, if they had the means to do so.  “Free at the point of delivery” would not be standard health policy for another fifty years!

The prevalence of infectious disease in Aberdeenshire at this time can be illustrated by reference to Dr Watt’s annual report presented in May 1896.  There had been 983 notifiable cases of which 546 were scarlet fever, 118 diphtheria, 109 enteric fever (typhoid fever), 97 erysipelas (Staphylococcal skin infection) and 110 measles, 108 of which had occurred in the Aberdeen District.

Further meetings of the Deeside District Committee were held throughout the spring and summer of 1895 at which a major item of business was the proposed isolation hospital.  Dr Watt identified a suitable site at Bellwood at the east end of the village, near to the slaughterhouse and the curling ponds.  He reported to the Deeside District Committee that the cost of laying out the ground would be £300 and a 12-14 bed hospital on the site could be constructed for £1500-£1600.  A special committee was then set up to evaluate the proposal and to report back.
The Bellwood site belonged to Lord Huntly and the trustees of Lord Huntly offered 1 ½ acres at a feu duty of £10/acre.   The special committee thus reported back to the Deeside District Committee that this site should be chosen for the isolation hospital on the terms offered and the main committee agreed.  Its proposal was then presented to the County Council and the Local Government Board and their consent was obtained in June 1896.  At further meetings of the Deeside District Committee two plans for the building were considered and the decision was finally taken in December 1896 to proceed with the smaller, cheaper scheme at a total cost of £2060, with running costs estimated at £250/year.  It was a further 3 ½ months before the contracts for construction of the Aboyne Isolation Hospital were signed.  Construction began immediately.

Sir William Cunliffe Brooks objects to the plans
At this time, the Deeside District Committee must have been feeling quite pleased with its achievements.  It had responded positively to an identified need for an isolation hospital on Deeside, produced a viable plan and had that plan approved at a national and county level, acquired a suitable site, approved a building plan and appointed contractors.  However, the tranquillity of the Committee’s proceedings were about to be disrupted.  At the meeting of the Deeside District Committee held, as always, in the Huntley Arms, on 26th June 1897, a petition was submitted, signed by Sir William Cunliffe Brooks and 149 other inhabitants of Aboyne and the surrounding area, praying that the erection of the isolation hospital should not be proceeded with on the Bellwood site.  Sir William was the largest landowner in the Aboyne area at the time and not a man to be lightly brushed aside. However, Lt Col Innes, Chairman of the Deeside District Committee was himself a landowner in the neighbouring village of Torphins and, being a former officer in the Royal Horse Artillery, he stood his ground. After reading out the petition he noted that, while it was the right of all free-born Britons to petition, this matter “was not a matter of yesterday”.  The subject was first taken up at the end of 1894.  Dr Watt’s report was adopted unanimously.  The Committee then considered plans and sites.  In March 1895 they had expressions of interest from two landowners but only one led to the offer of a site.  Particulars of that site were then forwarded to the Local Government Board and approved by them, then sent to the County Council authorities in Aberdeen and approved by them.  The whole process had taken two years and had been conducted in public meetings which had been reported in the press.  In towns such as Turriff, Ellon and Alford isolation hospitals had been built even nearer to the general population that that proposed for Aboyne.  The Deeside Committee was properly constituted and had proceeded in a proper manner.  He concluded that the Committee did not have the power to rescind its decision and that the only way another site could be considered would be if an alternative, which met their needs, was provided and that they should be indemnified against all costs so far committed.  The committee then formally backed all the actions of the Chairman and the views of the Chairman and Committee were then formally recorded in a resolution.

William Cunliffe Brooks was a relative newcomer to Deeside, unlike other local landowners, such as the Farquharsons, and the Gordons, whose families had had a presence in Aberdeenshire for centuries.  Brooks was a Lancastrian who had become wealthy through the family banking business in Manchester.  His connection with Aberdeenshire seems to have been created by the marriage of his daughter, Amy, to Charles Gordon, 11th Marquis of Huntley, in 1869.  Charles Gordon was an inveterate and unsuccessful gambler, who had inherited financial problems.  His gambling made those problems worse.  William Brooks provided a much-needed income in 1871 when he took a lease to the newly-created sporting estate of Glen Tanar, four miles south west of Aboyne, from his son-in-law.  Charles Gordon’s financial difficulties continued and the now Sir William Brooks stepped in again in 1888, purchasing Aboyne Castle – traditional home of the Huntlys (but allowing his daughter and son-in-law to continue living there), for £62,000.  In 1890, as the end of his lease to Glen Tanar approached, Sir William Brooks also purchased this estate for £120,000.

Why did Sir William not object to the hospital proposal at an earlier stage?  After all, the process had been conducted in public meetings, all decisions taken unanimously and the proceedings reported in the local newspaper.  It was later shown that Sir William had been formally asked by letter in 1895 if he would offer a site for the hospital but he formally declined, so it is incontrovertible that the matter had been brought to his attention.  However, it should be remembered that Sir William was getting on in years (he was 74 in 1895) and while he was no longer an MP for a Cheshire constituency, he was still working hard on the development of his Glen Tanar estate.  It seems more than likely he had forgotten about the matter and that he simply did not realise that when a site was chosen it might have implications for him.  It was only later, after the construction contracts had been signed, that he woke up to the possibility that his own considerable land assets in the area might suffer some impact.  The sudden presentation of a petition by Sir William and 149 other residents, when no objection had been previously made, suggests that Sir William used his influence with tenants, employees and those dependent on him for trade to generate the petition in short order.

As an interesting aside, there had been a previous proposal to build a hospital in Aboyne.  A Mrs Pickering, possibly a summer visitor, had offered funds for the erection of a convalescent home and hospital in Aboyne in 1890.  Instead of welcoming this generous gesture, the populace organised a public meeting to air their concerns.  There was great wariness about such a development, since it might be used for infectious diseases, which was perceived as potentially threatening Aboyne's attraction as a tourist destination.  Dr Keith, the local GP, clearly anxious to have such a facility, tried to reassure the meeting that the proposed hospital would not be used for treating infections, but the meeting was not to be persuaded.  Alexander Gray, the village blacksmith put the following motion to the meeting, "That this meeting expresses its deep sense of the great generosity of Mrs Pickering in providing funds for the erection of a convalescent home and hospital in Aboyne: but considering the great disadvantage and danger that may accrue to Aboyne as a health resort from certain kinds of diseases being admitted there, recommends the greatest strictness in drawing up regulations for the admission of patients, and appoints the following committee to correspond with Mrs Pickering with a view to conveying to her the opinions of the community, and to take any other steps they may deem advisable in the matter, viz, the Town Council, the parish minister, and the public schoolmaster.”  Note that Dr Keith was not included.  The motion was carried unanimously. Mrs Pickering then seems to have lost interest in the project as a result of this public wariness and the hospital was not built. However, it seems possible that when William Cunliffe Brooks instigated his petition against the siting of the proposed Isolation Hospital in 1897, he did not need to twist arms since a similar view had been generally expressed, without his intervention, only seven years previously.

11th Marquis of Huntly on the horns of a dilemma
Charles Gordon, 11th Marquis of Huntly and Sir William’s son-in-law, suddenly found himself in a difficult position.  He was a member of the Deeside District Committee and so had been a party to the discussions and decisions concerning the hospital and its siting.  Further, he had feued the hospital site at Bellwood.  He must have believed that his father-in-law was comfortable with the proposal.
Sir William Brooks, like many other landowners, was paternalistic towards his employees and tenants and generous in his support of local charitable causes but he was also demanding, autocratic and used to calling the shots.  He must have expected that his intervention in the matter of the siting of the Aboyne hospital would quickly lead to a change of plan but, when it did not, he mounted an intense, unremitting and, in many ways, dishonest campaign against the Deeside District Committee.  The details of Sir William’s actions give a fascinating insight into his personality.

Sir William stimulates a newspaper campaign
Ironically, for one who later claimed not to read the local newspaper, Sir William was quick to use this organ to publicise his campaign and to elicit support for his position through its editorial comments.  On Wednesday, 30th June 1897, only two days after the report of Sir William’s petition and the response of the Deeside District Committee, a letter appeared in the Aberdeen Journal from “Inhabitant” making the case for a change of site for the proposed hospital, based mainly on the grounds of health risk and damage to the growing health and tourism economy of the village.  This was the first of many letters from readers, writing under pseudonyms, all supporting Sir William’s position, which appeared over the coming weeks.  It is a reasonable supposition that if Sir William was not the actual author of these letters, he at least caused them to be written and submitted.

The next day, Thursday 1st June, 1897, Sir William published a letter from himself to the Chairman of the Deeside District Committee on the front page of the Aberdeen Journal, so it appears likely that he paid for it as an advertisement.  “5 Grosvenor Square, London, 29th June, 1897.  Dear Sir,---Referring to the public meeting of your Committee on the 26th inst., I remark that, until a short time ago (when I attended a meeting at Aboyne to assist in the preparations for the jubilee celebrations), I never knew that it was the intention of your Committee to erect, there, a Hospital for the reception of contagious disease.  Immediately, I remonstrated with your Committee; and the inhabitants of Aboyne unanimously petitioned against what they considered an injury to their property, at their thriving health resort.  I entirely sympathise with them – the injury to my considerable property, also there, would be great.  It is an outrage on decency that a Hospital for infectious diseases should be forced upon us – erected in our midst, against our unanimous remonstrance, whilst suitable, convenient, neighbouring sites can be obtained, where such a Hospital could be (as it should be) isolated.  If a change be made to the site at Dess, which has been offered to the Committee, (and which has been approved by them) as being in every way suitable, I offer to pay all the expenses which have been incurred.  Yours true, Wm. Cunliffe Brooks.”

By making this correspondence public before the Committee had had an opportunity to consider it, he was clearly trying to pressurise them into reconsidering their position by mobilising public opinion against the proposed site.  The letter demonstrates that Sir William was quite prepared to bend the truth and even to tell outright lies in support of his position.  It was clearly not the case that the inhabitants of Aboyne “unanimously” petitioned against the hospital site, whether or not those who added their names to the petition were induced to do so by Sir William.  Further, it was a ludicrous claim that the hospital was being forced upon the population, when the decision had been taken after due consultation, within a clear legal and democratic framework.  Also, the alleged approval by the Committee of the site at Dess, which lay some miles to the east of Aboyne, was a figment of Sir William’s imagination.  At least one aspect of Sir William’s opposition became clear as a result of the publication of his letter.  His personal concern was not an increased risk of infection to the general population, nor potential damage to the economy of Aboyne, but his perception that his considerable landholdings in the area might be devalued.

In his letter of 29th June, Sir William appeared to be ready to meet one of the Deeside District Committee’s principal requirements, ie that they be indemnified against all additional costs incurred.  He never repeated this offer and never allowed it to be written down in a legally-binding format.  Indeed, soon (9th July) he rushed into print again in the Aberdeen Journal, making clear that he would not be bound by an uncapped liability.  His letter to the Chairman of the Deeside District Committee, was published on the front page.  It rejected the terms on which the Committee were prepared to consider alternative sites with the simple sentence “You demand too much.”  This proved to be a fatal miscalculation by Sir William.  He treated the matter of costs as one which could be resolved by haggling and completely failed to understand that the Committee were legally bound by their decision and that they could only reconsider the location of the hospital site under the security of an unrestricted indemnity.  Sir William doggedly stuck to his guns, repeatedly refusing to give the necessary undertaking.  All this time, the construction of the hospital at Bellwood continued and the potential costs of changing sites mounted inexorably.  Sir William seemed blind to the consequences of his intransigence.  He was in danger of painting himself into a corner.
The frequency with which Sir William, or those acting on his behalf, wrote to the press, shows that the hospital site had become an all-consuming matter, requiring his almost constant attention.  An eloquent, scaremongering but unsigned letter appeared in print on 10th July, suggesting that Aboyne would become synonymous with contagious disease and lose any claim to be a health resort.  It also alleged that the purpose of the conditions imposed by the Deeside District Committee was as a tactic, designed to ensure that the site could not be changed.  The editorial stance of the Aberdeen Journal continued to be solidly on the side of Sir William but, on this occasion, the editor was moved to remark acidly that “Truth” does not send his name along with his letter!

Sir William ramps up the pressure on the Deeside District Committee
On 12th July Sir William, accompanied by strong editorial backing from the Aberdeen Journal, announced that he was prepared to pay £1000 if the Committee would move the hospital site away from Aboyne.  It should be born in mind that £1000 was a considerable sum, more than £100,000 in 2013 money and amounted to about 50% of the capital cost of the hospital.  Sir William’s doggedness was beginning to look irrational but his blatant and unremitting spinning of his stance and the solid editorial support that he was receiving was starting to unnerve the Deeside District Committee.  Perhaps they were concerned that Sir William was winning the battle for public opinion?  Two days later, Mr WE Nicol, a member of the Committee, was moved to enter the correspondence columns of the Aberdeen Journal, presumably with the support of his chairman.  The first part of the letter laid out clearly the constraints within which the Committee was bound to operate.  “Sir, - Your article of yesterday on the Aboyne Hospital must be convincing to those who are not aware of the facts.  Sir WC Brooks’ offer is no doubt a generous one, but cannot be of any use to the District Committee; to erect the hospital on another site may cost more or may cost less than the sum offered, but the committee cannot speculate with ratepayers’ money.”  He then turned to the use of misinformation by the opponents.  “The hospital on the proposed site, being perfectly isolated, could do the village no harm, but the objectors who are agitating against it are doing much mischief by trying to convince the public that dangers would arise.”

Sir William's attacks become more personal
Publicity supporting the Deeside District Committee only spurred Sir William on to even greater efforts.  He appeared increasingly to personalise his attacks and to show a streak of self-pity.  Another pseudonymous letter, this time from “Inhabitant”, criticised Mr Nicol for writing in the terms he did and lauded the generosity and public spiritedness of Brooks.  It suggests to Mr Nicol that he should himself offer a site close to his residence, if there was no risk from the hospital.  WE Nicol was the owner of Ballogie House and land bordering the river Dee close to Aboyne. 

Sir William, under his own name, then accused the Deeside District Committee of “making a blunder” in a letter published on 17th July. He urged the Committee to use the £1000 to escape from the blunder.  The editorial stance of the Aberdeen Journal started to change about this time.  In a long article on 15th July, summarising the situation, the paper still supported Sir William’s position but had clearly become more balanced.  Perhaps they were becoming increasingly concerned that they might suffer if they were seen to be supporting a cause, whose principal sponsor was adopting an increasingly vituperative tone and might be at risk of losing?

The Deeside District Committee held a special meeting on Friday, 22nd July, rather than the usual Saturday, perhaps to ensure that important personalities, including the Marquis of Huntley, Sir John Clark of Tillypronie and Sir Allan Mackenzie of Glen Muick, could be present.  The meeting must have been very tense, since important Deeside personages were progressively lining up on opposite sides of the argument.  It must have been particularly uncomfortable for Charles Gordon, Marquis of Huntley, stuck on the horns of a dilemma, since his father-in-law was deepening and intensifying the dispute, yet Charles Gordon had himself approved the siting of the hospital at Desswood, on land that he owned.  He must have longed for a solution which was acceptable to Sir William but which was consistent with the position he had taken on the Deeside District Committee.  Sir William Brooks, who was present at the meeting, reiterated his offer of £1000 compensation, but pointedly refused to pay more.  He also criticised his son-in-law (ouch!) for not passing on the information that the Desswood site was to be offered for the isolation hospital.

The Deeside District Committee sticks to its guns - but seeks a compromise
Lt Col Innes, who chaired the meeting, defended the actions of the Committee and challenged some of Sir William’s wilder claims, such as that opposition in the area had been “unanimous”.  Not sparing his fellow Committee member, the Marquis of Huntley, he reminded the meeting that Huntley and others had not signed the petition. Huntley spoke at the meeting and tried valiantly to find the middle ground.  He believed that the Committee and its Chairman had acted properly but since there was a significant body of opinion in the area against the Desswood site, he thought that the Committee should consider those objections.  He did not oppose the present site but tried to find an alternative which would be acceptable to the critics by suggesting a site that he owned at Dess, some miles east of Aboyne, which was adjacent to only a small local population.  However, this site had never been formally evaluated by the Committee and now there was local objection to it, in the form of a petition organised by Captain Davidson, the owner of the Dess estate.  Huntley now suggested a new site near Aboyne, which was half a mile east of the present site and where there was no other residence within 700 yards in any direction.  The Committee agreed that this new site should be inspected by Mr Jenkins, the hospital architect and Dr Watt, the county medical officer.  While defending their actions, the Committee were keen to find a mutually-acceptable solution and they appointed a sub-committee with powers to negotiate with the objectors.  Everyone, it seemed, wanted a compromise solution, even the Aberdeen Journal, whose editorial stance was almost visibly softening.  But the air of optimism conveniently overlooked the realities of the situation.  Sir William would not give an unconditional indemnity, no alternative site had been formally approved and the contractors continued their labours at the Bellwood site.  Time waits for no man!

Sir John Clark infuriates Sir William and the opportunity for compromise evaporates
Further meetings of the Deeside District Committee were held to consider alternative sites and at the meeting of 7th August 1897 Dr Watt reported that the compromise site was acceptable subject to certain conditions.  While civil engineers reported that an enhanced water supply would be needed, Sir William had already indicated that he was prepared to see extra water abstracted from a supply on his land.  But tensions were still running high and Sir John Clark made the incendiary accusation that the petition was due to one man who had pressurised the people of Aboyne into signing.  Sir William must have been incensed and another pseudonymous correspondent, this time “Resident”, immediately took up cudgels on Sir William’s behalf. “Sir – I beg to resent as an individual the gross insult to the community of Aboyne contained in the closing sentences of Sir John Clark’s speech, or personal explanation, at the meeting of the Deeside District Committee on Saturday.  Sir John was pleased to designate the petition of the ratepayers as the outcome of “natural prejudices founded on ignorance and misinformation.”  Sober-minded people, however, know that there are certain kinds of men who use rich adjectives in speaking of any ideas or opinions which may differ from their own,….Sir John Clark when he proclaimed in substance at the meeting on Saturday that the great bulk of the Aboyne ratepayers are a set of ignorant prejudiced fools, in that they signed a petition at the behest of an “individual” under “extraordinary pressure”.” 

The air of guarded optimism which had been building up started to evaporate.  Sir William was now utterly entrenched in an obdurate refusal to meet the additional costs of an alternative site, without limit and the Local Government Board confirmed, by letter, that they could take no action in the matter unless those costs were guaranteed.  The Marquis of Huntley, dismayed by the latest turn of events, tried to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.  He intervened directly with the Local Government Board, urging the desirability of the new site upon them and suggesting that the Brooks offer of £1000 should be sufficient to cover the additional costs and pointing out that the approved site was near the slaughterhouse, but they were unmoved.  It was now the end of August and the new hospital was ready for roofing.  By this time there was virtually open warfare on the Deeside District Committee.  The tissue of unanimity covering the reality of division finally blew away.  A resolution to adhere to the present site was carried by four votes to three, with Lord Huntley, Sir Allan Mackenzie and Mr F Sandison (tenant of the Huntley Arms, then owned by Sir William Brooks) opposing.  As far as the Committee was concerned, consideration of alternative sites was now closed.
Sir William refused to admit defeat.  Indeed, the formal resolution to retain the original site unleashed a blizzard of further correspondence from “Old Aboyne Visitor”, Inhabitant”, “An Old Resident”, “H B Upcher” and Brooks in his own name.  The themes were the same, praise for Brooks for his generosity and public works, self-pity that the authorities did not properly recognise Brooks’ contributions, fearmongering and abuse of the Committee, this time its Chairman, Lt Col Innes, who was accused of browbeating public opinion.

Sir William resorts to the law
While conducting his unrelenting campaign in the media and from the floor at the Deeside District committee, Sir William had also been active on the legal front.  He organised an appeal to the County Council of Aberdeen against the proceedings of the Deeside District Committee, which was submitted on 17th July 1897.  “We the ratepayers of the district over which the Deeside District Committee exercises the power of local authority under “The Public Health Acts”…..appeal to the County Council of Aberdeen against the resolution and proceedings of the Deeside District Committee relative to the erection of a Hospital……at a site on the east side of the Village of Aboyne and to the north-east of the Aboyne Mill Lade…..”  In addition to himself, Sir William had recruited the local ministers of the Church of Scotland, the Free Church and the Catholic Church, the Provost of Aboyne and five prominent village tradesmen and artisans to sponsor the appeal.  If Sir William was hoping for a quick hearing, he was to be disappointed for the matter took three months to be formally considered by Aberdeen County Council.

Before the hearing of the petition by the County Council, the Deeside District Committee set out its position in writing.  They had taken legal opinion on the status of the appeal and their advisers were clear that it would probably fail, since it had not been made timeously.  However, the Deeside District Committee did not miss an opportunity to point out the essential dishonesty of the campaign against their decision.  “The appellants, it is stated, other than perhaps Sir William Brooks, who has declared that he did not read public reports of meetings unless his special attention was called to them, were aware of the selection of the site at Aboyne but it never seemed to have occurred to any of them, or to their special representatives on the District Committee, to make any objection until Sir William Brooks stirred them up to join with him in this crusade.  Regarding the merits, the District Committee state that the reasons of appeal submitted are tainted throughout by unreasonable, unfounded and unsupported averments which hardly deserve the serious consideration of the County Council.” …”The designation of Aboyne as the “fever village”…is the work of the appellants and their friends.  Their words and actions have been directed to raising a groundless alarm.”

The petition was heard by the County Council on 22nd October.  Mr AM Gordon of Newton, Convener, opened by regretting the upset to Sir William Brooks but the County Council was charged with administering the Local Government Act and that was the only basis on which they could proceed. The agent for the District Committee, Mr Lumsden, was then called to speak.  His basic point was that the appeal was not timeous and should be dismissed on those grounds.  He further stated that the proceedings of the District Committee had been proper and that since the works were effectively complete the appeal had become meaningless.  The Marquis of Huntley then spoke.  He claimed that since the building of a hospital was not obligatory the District Committee could have stopped the work. Mr Lumsden dismissed the opinion of the Marquis of Huntley.  It was open to the ratepayers to seek an interdict if they felt on 17 July that the Committee erred in refusing to stop the work.  They did not do so.  The motion to reject the appeal was adopted unanimously.

Sir William's last throw of the dice
This decision should have drawn a veil over the matter, but it did not.  Even before the meeting to consider the petition, Sir William Brooks had written to the County Council with yet another new offer, clearly anticipating rejection of the petition.  His accusations were becoming increasingly erratic.  He now accused the Council of deliberate delay to achieve a fait accompli and called into question the personal integrity of the chairman.  He continued in typically melodramatic fashion.  “The Deeside District Committee may be in a legally unassailable position; but there is a moral future for them; and when the ills that are apprehended occur, there will be unpleasant reflections for those who attempt to ride rough shod over those who, after all, are the most concerned in the matter……  It will be with no enviable feeling that the man who has availed himself of a strict but unnecessary letter of the law may hear the piteous plaints of the orphan and the widow who consider that their scanty income has been diminished…”   The new offer was also typical of Brooks’ style.  “Upon the site, with all that thereon is, being assigned to me, I would relieve the Committee of all feu-duty on the site, and would return to them the entire amount of the building work upon the site, and I would give them £1000 to go away from Aboyne.”  The letter appears to have reached the Convener of the County Council, Mr Gordon, during the meeting.  He handed Brooks’ letter to Lt Col Innes and urged him to consider it even though, he admitted, there was no legal obligation to do so.

Sir William Brooks re-submitted this final offer to the Deeside District Committee in a new letter and it was considered at their meeting held on Saturday 6th November 1897.  This letter made the amazing claim that because Brooks had spent a lot of money on Aboyne and given the village a supply of water from his estate “…you should have specially consulted me, to know whether I should approve of an Infectious Hospital being brought into the water area of Aboyne.”  Even now he saw himself as being somehow positioned above the emerging democratic structures of local government and he still laced his arguments with hyperbole at every opportunity. The Committee consulted their legal advisers, who reported on the legal aspects of the Brooks offer.  They complained that Brooks would not deal with them on straight business lines and on the basis of proper legal agreements.  “…the document in question is not a legal tender to them (Committee)”.  They advised that the Committee should only deal with legal obligations and not perceived moral ones, since the Brooks letter did not provide an alternative site, nor a guarantee to meet all additional costs, which was the only basis on which the Committee could proceed.  Any unmet additional cost might fall on the ratepayers or the members of the Committee personally.  The Chairman then moved that the actions of the Hospital Sub-Committee be approved and that they were unable to accept the latest offer from Brooks.  Lord Huntley moved an amendment that the offer made by Brooks should be accepted.  The vote was four for the amendment and eight for the motion and the opposition to the isolation hospital, now awaiting occupation at Bellwood, was finally at an end.

Was Sir William Cunliffe Brooks becoming ill?
At about this time (1898) Lord Huntley noticed that Sir William’s personality was changing.  He was becoming more depressive and more cantankerous, falling out with people with little cause.  Perhaps he was starting to suffer some age-related mental or neurological condition, which was at least partly responsible for his erratic and irrational behaviour concerning the siting of the isolation hospital?  After all, Sir William was a highly intelligent man who had been a barrister before he became a banker.  It is difficult to believe that in his prime he would have peddled demonstrable half-truths and untruths, as he did during the hospital dispute.  Nor is he likely to have failed to understand that his unwillingness fully to indemnify the county council for additional costs, if the hospital site were to be changed, would inevitably prevent alternative locations being considered.  Sir William died on 9th June 1900 after a short illness which, at the time was attributed to getting hot and then cold at a bonfire celebration in Aboyne of a British victory in the Boer War.  However, reference to his death registration tells a fuller story.  In the three days that Sir William was confined to his bed before he died, he was attended by Dr Alexander Keith, the Aboyne GP, who was also the informant.  Dr Keith gave the cause of death as “Diabetes many years, Cardiac Asthenia 24 hours”.  It appears likely that the immediate cause of death was heart failure but that the condition may have been caused by long-standing and untreated type-2 diabetes.  The diabetes may well have had other insidious effects on Sir Williams health.  Although it is unwise to carry speculation much further, it is now known, for example, that type-2 diabetes is an independent risk factor for both Alzheimer’s Dementia and Vascular Dementia.

The Aboyne Isolation Hospital opens without fanfare
The hospital seems to have been opened in August 1898 under the charge of matron Miss M McKerron, without the fanfare that would normally accompany such occasions.  It clearly met a need because even Lord Huntly raised the question later that year as to whether the Deeside District Committee should be building further accommodation.  Perhaps the passage of time had allowed Lord Huntly to return to discharging his role as public representative, without having to consider familial obligations to Sir William Brooks.  The hospital was a reality, serving a real need and demonstrably without endangering public health.  Its turbulent genesis would now blur into obscurity with the passage of time.

Don Fox
20130421, 20150127


  1. I trust my previous comment was noted ??

  2. If my first comment was not recorded!! ? Your WCB blog is most interesting. I am interested in the "saint" Lesmo - an anchoritic hermit - un-confirmed. What do you know about WCB's decision to have his chapel dedicated to Lesmo who is not a recognised "saint" Catholic or reformed church. Also you refer to a photo album from George Truefitt. Can you say more?

  3. 6/6/21
    I was reviewing my work on St Lesmo and the Glen Tanar chapel. I see that I added a blog in May 2019. Are you willing to engage in a friendly discussion about the Glen Tanar chapel - there are some interesting "unknowns"! If you would prefer not to be bothered, let me know.