2015 - A fond farewell to five great city institutions
Over the years dating as far back as 1874, Glaswegians have been well served by the renowned Western Infirmary, Victoria Infirmary, Southern General, Mansionhouse Unit, and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children at Yorkhill.
These buildings – and the staff who worked in them – have been at the centre of a rich social history reflecting the growth and development of this great city and its people. The staff in these hospitals were in the vanguard of pioneering medicine and this proud legacy to Glasgow has now been captured in a series of four commemorative brochures.
There is a limited print run of these wonderfully collectable coffee table brochures but if you’re not lucky enough to get one of the printed copies, then you can download a PDF edition via the links below, and enjoy a look back in time to bygone eras.
On this pages is a glimpse into the history of the five hospitals.
Click the images below to view the PDF versions.
Royal Hospital For Sick Children
- By the mid 19th century many European cities had recognised the need for separate children’s hospitals. In 1861 Glasgow was one of the few without and yet no where was the need greater.
- Half of all those who died in Glasgow at this time were children under the age of five.
- The city’s first children’s hospital opened in 1882 on the north slope of Garnethill at the corner of Scott Street and Buccleugh Street.
- The first Lady Superintendent (in effect Matron) was Mrs Louisa Harbin who had worked previously at Great Ormond Street, London.
- Educating mothers became a priority in 1910 when physician Barclay Ness noted “that by far the most common cause of illness is the ignorance of the mother”.
- By the early 20th century the hospital had outgrown the Garnethill building. Seventy cots could no longer cope with the needs of a population of two million. In 1907 there were between 100 and 200 patients on the two month waiting list.
- The Royal Hospital for Sick Children on the Yorkhill site opened in July 1914...10,000 people came to see the official opening of the new hospital.
The Southern General Hospital
- Before being named the Southern General, this institution was known as the Merryflats.
- It was a poorhouse and an asylum.
- Residents who were too sick to work lay in bed while ‘inmates’ had to work as volunteer nurses.
- Merryflats evolved from its role as a poorhouse to care for a large number of long term chronically ill patients including children with severe learning difficulties and adults with tuberculosis.
- In 1922 Merryflats’ name was changed to the Southern General Hospital in a move intended to signal a drive to upgrade and improve the facilities.
- Amongst the distinguished people joining the staff of the SGH, was William Arthur Mackey, who went on to become professor of Surgery at Glasgow University.
- By 1943, the Southern’s maternity unit was amongst the busiest in the country delivering 1623 babies in a year...12 per cent of all maternity unit births in Glasgow although the unit had only seven per cent of the beds.
The Victoria Infirmary
- The Victoria Infirmary was built to respond to the needs of a rapidly growing population during the industrial revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
- The health of the population was awful with child death rates high and adult lifespan short.
- President of Glasgow Southern Medical Society, Dr Ebenezer Duncan, was the driver behind the plans to give Glasgow a much needed new hospital.
- Fund raising to build the hospital was a real challenge until 1887 when Queen Victoria gave the hospital her backing on learning that it would be named in her honour...with that Royal approval the fund raising became distinctly easier.
- Life on the wards was regimented with strict rules for patients...if you broke them you were ejected.
- OH Mavor, a consultant at the Victoria, was better known as dramatist James Bridie (founder of the Citizens’ theatre).
- On 5 July 1948 the Victoria became part on the NHS and earned its place in the hearts of the local population as‘The Vicky’.
- In 1971, the Victoria Infirmary opened the ground-breaking Victoria Geriatric Unit which was later renamed the Mansionhouse Unit and was known locally as the “Langside Hilton”!
The Western Infirmary
- The original Western Infirmary was a beautiful building designed by architects, John Burnet, Son and Campbell, the foundation stone for which was
laid, with full Masonic honours, in August 1871.
- The hospital opened three years later.
- The Western was built as a university teaching hospital and also served the needs of the general public.
- This was a revolutionary era in surgery...by 1890, sometimes in the presence of hundreds of Glasgow university students in the operating theatres, surgeons at the Western conducted 877 operations.
- Matron Miss Clyde held office for 22 years from the time of the opening of the hospital and was responsible for nurse training.
- One of her protégé pupils eventually was to succeed her.. Miss Helen Gregory became matron in 1906.
- Sir William Macewen was one of a proud generation of medics who have earned a place in medical history. His reputation was known worldwide as a pioneering surgeon and he was first to complete the successful surgical removal of the lung.