Craiglockhart, Slateford, Midlothian

April 3, 2014

According to the headed notepaper, that was the postal address of the struggling hydropathic establishment commandeered by the British Army in 1916 for the treatment of officers with shellshock, or neurasthenia, as it was called then. So, not even officially in Edinburgh at the time. It has taken me until my third visit to the city to trek out to the grim-looking building where Wilfred Owen was sent in 1917, where he met Siegfried Sassoon, and was encouraged to work on his war poems.

The place, its grim work, and the historic encounter was vividly brought to life by Pat Barker in her excellent Regeneration trilogy. The horrors, not only of shellshock, but also of its barbaric treatment at the time, are described in detail, as are the efforts of Dr Rivers to develop a more humane and effective treatment. I find Barker’s portrayal of Rivers particularly fascinating, and my visit to Craiglockhart has renewed my interest in finding out more about him and his work. One has to remember that the treatment available at the hospital was only for officers; enlisted men were rather more likely to find themselves charged with cowardice in the face of the enemy, court-martialled and shot.

The hospital is now part of Napier University, which has grafted a modern edifice onto the back of the building, but the front elevation, the terrace and the grassy slope down to a lawned area, seen in those photographs from a century ago, are still very much recognisable. The university library hosts a small exhibition dedicated to the war poets in what was the entrance foyer to the building. The curator is very knowledgeable and helpful and the exhibition was fascinating. There is an excellent collection of literary texts and historical works connected with Craiglockhart Hospital and patients who stayed during the First World War, much interesting ephemera, such as copies of The Hydra, the hospital magazine, which Owen edited during his time there, and letters from officers under treatment. I was very moved by the sense of shame that many experienced as a result of their illness. There are also photos and objects and other memorabilia from the time.

It’s worth a visit if you are nearby; take the 23 bus from the centre of the city to its southern terminus. I came away with a much clearer sense of place, and the effect of being there, on those patients nearly a century ago.

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One Response to “Craiglockhart, Slateford, Midlothian”


  1. […] I pair Owen with Sassoon, in lots of different ways. Sassoon was Owen’s mentor at Craiglockhart, and in so many ways the pupil outshone the master. That’s not what I’m really […]

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