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Blade 13

In Sickness and Health

In 1645, a maidservant working in the household of Mr Walker of Chapel Wynd received a sad gift. Her aunt, who lived in Leith, had recently died, and had left her worldly possessions to her only living relative. That legacy consisted of a trunk of clothes, which was delivered to the grieving niece. Unfortunately, fleas lurked in the folds of cloth. Worse still, they were fleas from black rats, and they were carrying disease and disaster. Bubonic Plague arrived in Peterhead, bringing death and devastation.

Mr Walker’s household were among the first to succumb. As the sickness spread, so did the terror. God’s wrath had fallen on Peterhead, and the population were hysterical with fear. At first, people carried the sick to the tollbooth. This was too close to the settlement for comfort, and was burned to the ground to purify the site and remove it as a source of infection. Eight huts were hastily built on the Ive, just outside town, creating Peterhead’s first Isolation Hospital. Alas, nursing care was not provided. Plague sufferers were carried to the huts and abandoned to their fate. Death was inevitable. Most victims died within hours of symptoms appearing, and their suffering was terrible.

The plague eventually ran its course and life in town returned to normal, but nobody went near the huts on the Ive, some open ground on the outskirts of town, close to the Gadle Braes. A century passed, and still the area was avoided. Eventually, the town council sought advice from eminent doctors in Edinburgh, who declared it safe to clear the huts and create a public park, for all to enjoy. In 1933, this land was used to build housing for Peterhead’s growing population.

The first true fever hospital in the town opened in 1865, in response to a cholera outbreak in parts of Britain. Any seafarer arriving in the port who was suspected of having the disease would not be allowed to enter the port. Instead, they would be taken by small boat to Almanythie Creek, opposite the hospital. This building was replaced in 1880, with the new Fever Hospital on the site of the plague huts. It was demolished to make way for housing. The current hospital was built on a new site. Building work began in 1905, and the cost was £4,000.