Town’s wealthy cajoled into supporting hospital

In the late summer of 1889, exactly 130 years ago, a new Falkirk institution opened its doors for the first time.

By Ian Scott
Friday, 13th September 2019, 11:32 am
Miss Joss with some of her staff in 1889.
Miss Joss with some of her staff in 1889.

Called at the time ‘‘Falkirk Cottage Hospital’’ it was the town and district’s first place where the sick and injured could find a measure of care, however basic.

The hospital was the brainchild of Mrs Harriette Gibson of Hatherley, Arnothill, who was one of those Victorian ladies pained by the suffering of the ‘‘working poor’’ beset by illness or injury especially of the breadwinner.

She and others of like mind began making regular visits to the homes of the less fortunate and, once established, the group was able to employ a full-time nurse to add medical skills and Miss Annie Joss of Edinburgh was appointed to the position.

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Mrs Gibson continued to cajole her wealthy friends to put their hands in their pockets to support her next initiative.

She organised the purchase of Salton Park Cottage in Thornhill Road for £275 and asked William Black, Falkirk’s leading architect, to design a two-storey building which was erected behind the cottage.

It had 16 beds in two wards – for men and women – and Miss Joss was appointed as the first matron.

The hospital was officially opened on July 27, 1889, by Sir Thomas Dawson Brodie of Carron Company and three days later the first patient, Patrick Tully, an iron moulder, was admitted with a serious burn which was treated with Carron Oil, a lotion invented at the works some years before.

All of the costs were paid by subscriptions from firms and individuals as well as by donations, legacies and gifts of all kinds and Miss Joss had two nurses and two ‘‘domestics servants’’ as well as the support of local doctors who made regular visits.

Very soon they were overwhelmed by the demand even though the three Is – insane, infectious and incurable – were specifically excluded.

The majority of those who did receive treatment suffered from fractures or burns as well as conditions arising from malnutrition and poor housing.

For most it was decent food, warmth and care that brought recovery – the actual treatments were simple, like beef tea, bone lint, castor oil, mustard poultices, boracic acid and a dose of salts.

Some were lucky enough to get a glass of brandy and among the numerous gifts handed in were large quantities of ‘‘tobacco for the men’’.

Demand was so great that two further buildings were added in 1900 and 1906 by which time there were 40 beds, six nurses, a children’s’ ward and a new state-of-the-art operating theatre in what was by then called ‘‘Falkirk Infirmary’’. When war broke out in 1914 “62 operations were performed on soldiers to fit them for active service and 50 to enable men to enlist”.

Nearly 200 territorials with hammer toes, hernia, flat feet, haemorrhoids, varicose veins, etc., were also treated as in-patients.

Over the next few years 1800 wounded soldiers were admitted including a number of Belgians injured in the early years of the war whose plight provoked a special wave of sympathy along with many gifts.

After the war, demand continued to rise and it was obvious the facilities at Thornhill Road were inadequate.

In 1925 a campaign was launched to raise the money for a new hospital at Gartcows with the whole community banding together to create Falkirk and District Royal Infirmary which opened in January 1932.

The old infirmary survived for a number of years as a model lodging house before being demolished in the 1980s and replaced by modern flats.