18 March, Catherine Walker : The War Poets Collection at Craiglockhart


The War Poets Collection is a small special collection of books, journals, photographs, letters and film established by Edinburgh Napier University and housed within their Craiglockhart Campus. Professor William Turmeau founded the collection in 1988, when he was University Principal, following a British Council temporary exhibition on the war poets of the Great War. Craiglockhart Campus has a unique history – first opening as a Hydropathic in 1880, being requisitioned for use as a war hospital for shell-shocked officers during the Great War and subsequently becoming the Convent of the Sacred Heart and a Roman Catholic Teacher training college from 1920 to the mid 1980s. Craiglockhart War Hospital’s most famous patients were the poets, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, who met at Craiglockhart during the summer of 1917.

From modest beginnings, the collection has expanded greatly over the years, especially after the publication of Pat Barker’s novel, Regeneration, which raised awareness of the treatment of shell shock and led to a significant widening of the collection policy! An upgraded exhibition area was created in November 2005 costing £125k. The University received financial support from the National Heritage Lottery Fund, various Trusts and interested individual donors. The new exhibition was officially
opened by Alistair Darling MP and the BBC correspondent, Allan Little.

The earliest item in the War Poets Collection was published in 1840 and pre-dates any building on the site, as it was written by one of the famous Munro dynasty. Professors Alexander Monro (Primus, Secundus and Tertius) were all Professors of Anatomy at the University of Edinburgh. Professor Monro (Secundus) originally purchased 271 acres of land at Craiglockhart, which he used for gardening, until
the family eventually sold the land on to be used to build one of a range of Hydropathics developed across Scotland in mid-Victorian times. Designed by Peddie and Kinnear, the
building, which is now Grade B-listed, contained 150 bedrooms with baths, a
Turkish bath, a smoking room and other rooms for relaxation and
wine-drinking. The gas for lighting and heating was switched off at 10.30
nightly! The enterprise was not hugely successful, being sold by the
original owner to James Bell from Dunblane. Henry Carmichael came to Craiglockhart with James Bell, as Head Gardener, and the family, with their 15 children provided a common thread for the next fifty years, living in the cottages by Lockharton Tower. Sadly, when
their sons were affected by the traumas of war, they were unable to enjoy the wartime treatments, as they were not officers.

After the Battle of the Somme, on whose first day in 1916 an amazing almost 20,000
Britons died, the building was requisitioned as a War Hospital, and its
existence is commemorated in the forms of the Admissions and Discharge Register, its
magazine The Hydra, letters, photos and information about the staff and
patients. In June 1917 Wilfred Owen was transferred from the Royal Victoria
Hospital Netley suffering from neurasthenia or shell shock, and was treated
by Dr Arthur Brock with ergotherapy or occupying him on things with which
he was already familiar. Thus he was tasked with writing poetry, with
teaching at Tynecastle School and with editing The Hydra.

Arthur Brock hailed from Kirkliston and, influenced by polymath Patrick
Geddes, believed in keeping everyone busy. Over 1800 officers were treated
at Craiglockhart and its Borders satellites at Lennel, Bowhill and Eccles. Owen edited six of
The Hydra's twelve issues, and having arrived “slightly ill” found himself
getting "dangerously well". The name Hydra was to suggest the many-headed
monster of mythology and was a pun on the hydra. The Hydra was printed fortnightly by a local firm, Pillans and Wilson, and cost 6d. The aim was to inform relatives and
patients alike about the hospital's activities. George Henry Bonner succeeded
Owen as editor, and a new cover was designed by Adrian Berrington, who
became a professor of town planning in Canada after the war.

The majority of the officers held the rank of Second Lieutenants and some had been awarded Military Cross, as Owen and Sassoon, and one officer even had a Victoria Cross.
Siegfried Sassoon arrived in July 1917, staying 127 days, as he had protested
against the continuance of the war because he had neurasthenia. It was his anger at losing so many of his friends that had prompted his heroics in the trenches but his connections and bravery made dealing with his rebellion sensitive. Fellow poet Robert Graves got him treated first at the Fourth London General Hospital before being admitted to Craiglockhart. There he was taken care of by Dr William Halse Rivers, a father-figure who became a friend but Sassoon didn't like the regime, calling the Hospital "Dottyville" while Owen's term of endearment was "this excellent concentration camp". Graves
visited but was not treated at Craiglockhart which he said would have
destroyed his creativity: in 1929 he and Sassoon fell out over his
reference in Goodbye To All That to Sassoon's mother attending a séance to
contact his dead brother, Hamo.

 

The Collection now comprises of more than 600 items, including:

  • First edition books and volumes of poetry by Sassoon, Owen and selected contemporary poets but not the original manuscripts since these are too expensive to acquire or no longer available.
  • Biographies and published letters
  • Photographs and memorabilia pertaining to the war poets and the history of the Craiglockhart building
  • Anthologies of poetry and prose
  • Critical works
  • Information regarding the lands and building of Craiglockhart, encompassing various periods in its history
  • Information regarding individuals who had connections with Craiglockhart.

Poems written by Wilfred Owen at Craiglockhart including Dulce et Decorum Est and Anthem for Doomed Youth were published posthumously, for the poet became well enough to
return to the front where he died seven days before the end of the war.

After peace was declared, Joseph Bell now aged 79 no longer wanted to run a
Hydropathic, so the building was sold to Mother Walsh who converted it into
the Convent of the Society of The Sacred Heart and St Andrews College of
teacher-training, in which role it continued until acquisition by Edinburgh
Napier in 1984. Now the Craiglockhart Campus housing Edinburgh Napier's Business School has as its landmark the "titanium egg" of the Lindsay Stewart Lecture-Theatre, and the aim is that the War Poets Collection should seek to commemorate anyone who in whatever
way played a part in the story of the Craiglockhart War Hospital.