Falkirk Royal was truly ‘by the people, for the people’

Last week I told the story of Falkirk’s first infirmary in Thornhill Road which by the early 1920s was unable to respond to the huge increase in demand.

By Ian Scott
Saturday, 21st September 2019, 1:59 pm
Opening day in January 1932.
Opening day in January 1932.

A new infirmary was the only answer and on April 27, 1925, over a thousand people crammed into Falkirk Town Hall for the launch of the ‘‘Great Appeal’’.

Unlike the first hospital which had depended largely on the wealth of the middle class community, the new campaign was the responsibility of everyone.

There followed an astonishing five year spell in which every method of fund-raising was employed, and hardly an organisation or individual failed to participate.

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If they attended a play or pantomime, part of the receipts went to the fund.

The same applied to football matches and dances, school concerts and bus trips, picnics and whist drives.

There were collecting boxes everywhere – outside hospital wards, in public buildings, in private houses, in shops and business premises.

The impression which comes through from newspaper articles, concert programmes and souvenirs is of a great and happy collaboration of all the people of the district in securing ‘‘their’ infirmary.

Every square yard of the site, every brick of the buildings, every stick of furniture and equipment and every penny of wages and salaries would be provided by the people.

A glance through the Falkirk Herald in 1926 and 27 reveals a frenzy of fund-raising activity.

One might for example, enjoy ‘‘The Merchant of Venice’’ at the Dobbie Hall, ‘‘Floradora’’ in the Grand Theatre, or ‘‘She Stoops to Conquer’’ in the Town Hall.

There was a ‘‘fancy fair’’ and ‘‘six penny bazaar’’ in the YMCA hut; Mr Martin’s Orchestra Dance in the Gymnasium, Camelon; ‘‘Music in the Garden’’ at Arnothill; a ‘‘Vocal Recital’’ in the Masonic Temple and a ‘‘Palais de Danse’’ in the Temperance Cafe.

For sporting types there were football, cricket and tennis competitions as well as the chance to see a ‘‘Great Boxing Gala’’ in Jim Paterson’s new and commodious Pavilion to see ‘‘a four round contest between Spowart’s midgets’’ along with Falkirk’s own ‘‘Fatty Wells, Young Connell and Butcher Anderson’’. There were road races, grand penny trails, watch-winding competitions, highland gatherings, popular lectures, community singing, open days at mansion houses, jumble sales and silver paper collections.

There were official ‘‘Infirmary Weeks’’ with great carnivals of students in fancy dress and decorated floats parading through the streets of the town. The list was endless.

A small book was produced entitled ‘‘Seventy Three Ways in Which You Can Help Your Infirmary’’ and it included as number 32: ‘‘Strap onto your dog a collecting box and teach him to make collections – but not in public thoroughfares without a special permit.’’

By the time the Duchess of Montrose cut the first sod at Gartcows in November 1926 the fund had reached £90,000.

The modern building designed by William Gibson, whose mother was the founder of the old infirmary, provided for 120 beds paid for by the community and a maternity ward funded by the Government.

By 1930 the building was ready for inspection and nearly 8000 visitors did just that.

The patients moved in at the beginning of 1931 and a year later Prince George declared the building open in front of 20,000 people.

It had cost £120,000 – nearly £3 million by today’s standards – and was opened free of debt.

For over 70 years hundreds of staff treated thousands of patients and, although the Larbert hospital was necessary to keep up with demand and modern developments, the old place at Gartcows, the ‘‘people’s hospital’’ will never be forgotten.