Demand forced Falkirk Infirmary to grow

Inside one of the wards of the old infirmary
Inside one of the wards of the old infirmary

Every time I visit the new Forth Valley Royal Hospital I am amazed by its size, complexity, the standard of the equipment, range of specialities and number of staff. How on earth it is all kept going in harmony is beyond me.

A far cry from when it all started for Falkirk in Thornhill Road on July 30, 1889 when young Patrick Tully, a 17-year-old boy moulder from Carron, was wheeled into the spanking new Cottage Hospital to be greeted by Miss Joss the Matron, her two nurses and two ‘domestic servants’.

A local doctor was summoned and Patrick’s burnt right foot was dressed with Carron Oil, a concoction invented at the works for just such an emergency. Patrick was the first patient of 33 treated in that first year in the little 14-bed building built by public subscription and maintained for the next 40 years by donations, legacies and subscriptions.

The hospital stood across the road from Victoria Park and the patients were mostly injured workers from foundries, mines and brickworks along with folk who suffered from the effects of malnutrition, poor housing and lack of medical care.

Those not included were the three ‘Is’ – the infectious, incurable or insane – but the demand from those who were eligible grew at an alarming rate. Mrs Harriet Gibson of Hatherley, the driving force behind the whole venture, masterminded the fundraising which added two large extension buildings in 1900 and 1906, increasing the number of beds to 40. By then over 350 indoor and 200 outdoor patients were being treated and the numbers kept on rising, but the care on offer was still pretty basic.

The surroundings were warm and clean, the food good and plentiful and the ‘medicines’ old fashioned but effective. Bone lint, beef tea, castor oil, boracic acid, zinc oxide and a good old dose of salts were regulars, though many complicated operations were also performed in what was described as a state-of-the-art theatre.

Dr Alfred Griffiths, a skilled surgeon, led a team of doctors with regular visits from top Glasgow and Edinburgh surgeons when things got especially tricky.

The outbreak of war in 1914 brought another big surge in demand as hundreds of men were treated to make them fit for active service while many wounded soldiers arrived from the Western Front. When peace returned the accommodation at what was now called Falkirk and District Infirmary could no longer cope with the demand and managers decided to find a new site for a larger general hospital.

For the next 10 years only small sums were spent on Thornhill Road while most of the funds were set aside for the new place at Gartcows. A huge campaign to raise the necessary finance was launched which dominated all aspects of public life in Falkirk district, while the staff in the old infirmary battled on coping as best they could with more and more patients with fewer and fewer resources.

By 1931 the new infirmary was ready to receive its first patients and the story of Thornhill came slowly to an end. The buildings became a model lodging house and continued in this role well into modern times. They were demolished in the 1980s, replaced by a modern block of flats.