Celebrating 150 Years since the opening of Dingleton Hospital

Praised worldwide as a progressive provider of mental health care, Dingleton Hospital in Melrose was certainly ahead of its time.

By Kevin Janiak
Monday, 1st August 2022, 12:28 pm
Updated Monday, 1st August 2022, 12:37 pm
Dingleton Hospital built a reputation for leading the way in mental health care.
Dingleton Hospital built a reputation for leading the way in mental health care.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the psychiatric hospital’s opening in 1872, as well as 21 years since the facility finally closed its doors for the final time.

Now, a celebration is planned to mark the anniversary, with former patients and staff invited to join in by meeting at Melrose’s former railway station at 1pm on Saturday, August 20, for a walk up Dingleton Hill and a guided tour of the hospital’s grounds.

Originally known as Roxburgh District Asylum, the facility was first opened on May 14, 1872.

That day saw 124 patients march up Dingleton Hill from Melrose railway station, having travelled by train, via Edinburgh, from Millholme House, a pauper lunatic asylum in Musselburgh, which had been declared unfit for habitation.

Somehow, the 62 women and 62 men found the energy to climb 160ft of ascent, despite physical and mental frailties and probable malnourishment, to become the first in-patients at the hospital.

Dingleton Hospital built an international reputation during the latter half of the 20th century, attracting people from all over the world to visit, work and train there.

From humble beginnings, the hospital grew in confidence and stature, becoming the first mental hospital in the UK, and possibly in Europe, to open all its locked doors in 1949.

In the 1950s, the hospital integrated with the local community through open social events.

A pioneering psychiatrist, Dr Maxwell Jones, introduced a therapeutic community model to the hospital in the 1960s, which was seen as transformative in its day.

Dingleton also introduced community psychiatry, long before it was recognised nationally as best practice.

Generations of local families worked and trained there, as did estates staff who maintained the hospital infrastructure, the kitchens, the laundry, the boiler room, and the grounds, up until its closure in 2001.

Now, the 150 Committee, which is organising this celebration, hopes many former staff and patients will come to celebrate this iconic hospital, to share memories and renew friendships on August 20.

Chair of that committee, Karin Jones, said: “The walk up to the hospital grounds is really to replicate that first journey made by its first patients. However, those not planning to walk up can meet at the hospital’s main gates on Chiefswood Road from 2pm, where a guided tour of the grounds will take place, supported by the Dingleton Residents Association, as the original buildings were redeveloped as apartments.

“Afterwards, we will meet at The Ship Inn, Melrose Square, at 4pm for a light buffet. There will be a display of Dingleton memorabilia, hospital artefacts, old photographs, and original film of events, such as staff sports days.”

Tickets are on sale now, costing £6 per person, including a light buffet at the Ship Inn and a small donation to the Borders NHS charity, the Difference.

To book, email [email protected], or visit the group’s Facebook page.