Fighting fever at Falkirk’s Lochgreen Hospital

Lochgreen Hospital at the top of Slamannan Road as it was in 1997 when it closed
Lochgreen Hospital at the top of Slamannan Road as it was in 1997 when it closed

In 1947 my six-year-old brother was diagnosed with diphtheria and whipped away up the hill to what was then the burgh or ‘high’ hospital at the top of Slamannan Road.

Although vaccination for this dangerous, infectious disease had been introduced in 1940, there were still many cases and Falkirk sufferers spent many weeks away from home and school in case they spread the infection.

“Don’t suck a penny” was the advice we were all given, which my brother had obviously ignored. We weren’t allowed to visit him but things like sweets and other goodies could be left at the gate. He recovered and is still hale and hearty, however, the hospital closed in 1997 and was demolished shortly after.

The site is now filled with handsome houses and only the old administration block survives. The hospital served the community for 150 years and was built to combat the deadly Victorian diseases in the overcrowded buildings of industrial towns like Falkirk.

Contaminated water supplies brought cholera in 1832, but it was the continuous presence of typhus spread by a louse that provoked action. In 1843 a local doctor reported that the many lodging houses were the worst: “We have fever cases in the same bed; one person is seized, another dies or is removed, another is received into the same house and bed.”

An outbreak of fever among the workers on the Midland Junction Railway in 1847 prompted the Parochial Board to build a small Fever Hospital far away from the town centre on the ancient common lands of the burgh. The ratepayers protested at the costs involved and in the end the building was a cheap structure of wood and slate.

Nothing more was done until the 1860s when another serious outbreak led to the building being partially replaced with a more permanent brick structure. With only two wards – male and female – infectious and non-infectious patients shared the same accommodation. It was a pathetic response to a desperate situation but nothing more was done for another 20 years.

Visitors complained of the dilapidated facilities and the strain on the poorly trained staff but nobody seemed to bother, especially as better water supplies and new housing gradually reduced the fevers. In time new infections like TB, scarlet fever and diphtheria replaced them and the strain on the accommodation increased.

There was even a short outbreak of smallpox and this alarmed even the stingy ratepayers of the burgh.

In 1881 the old buildings were replaced by much more substantial stone structures like the surviving admin block. Over the next 50 years the hospital treated thousands of patients and a variety of new buildings spread out across the site as new treatments were developed.

Elsewhere, medical experts struggled to develop vaccines and antibiotics which would eventually make such places redundant and by the post war period success was close at hand. Lochgreen gradually changed its purpose and became, in the end and for many years, a geriatric hospital providing medical care for the elderly.

The decision to close in 1997 was not popular and there were protests and petitions, but in the end the government gave the go ahead and another chapter in Falkirk’s story came to an end.