History of Mearnskirk Hospital

History of Mearnskirk Hospital

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hmk1Tuberculosis was rife in the first half of the 20th century.  It was particularly bad in cities where there was overcrowding and poor nutrition  - poverty much more extreme than we know today.

In 1913 the Corporation of the City of Glasgow bought Southfield House and its policies, along with the four neighbouring farms of Hazelden Head, Westfield, Eastfield and Langrig. Their intention was to convert the mansion into a country home for ‘pre-tuberculous’ children i.e. children who were not thriving in the crowded and sometimes unsanitary conditions in the city.  Building operations were delayed by the First World War, by the end of which the house had deteriorated to such an extent that it had to be demolished.  

Sufield (Southfield) is shown on Joan Blaeu’s map published in Amsterdam in 1654. This was based on Timothy Pont’s late 16th century map.  

Construction of the hospital began in 1921, but it nearly didn’t happen.  Sir Alexander Macgregor, the Medical Officer of Health for the City of Glasgow, wrote in his memoirs that, “The hospital narrowly escaped being postponed indefinitely under the national economy measures following the First World War. One morning a Senior Secretary in the Scottish Board of Health telephoned me to ask if the work at Mearnskirk had actually started.  I told him that the contracts had been accepted and that it was due to start very soon.  ‘Can you get a cart load of bricks on the site tomorrow morning and let me know so that I can inform the Treasury that the work has begun?  Otherwise it will not be allowed to proceed.’  The architect at once arranged for a cartload of bricks and a squad of men to dig foundations.”  

The hospital could accommodate up to 500 children requiring orthopaedic treatment and the pavilions were built in such a way that they benefited fully from the sunshine. The first patient to be admitted was six year old George McEwan who was in a group of children transferred from Robroyston Hospital on  9th May 1930.  He stepped from the ambulance proudly carrying a large box of cigarettes for Dr Wilson,  the first Physician Superintendent, from the staff of Robroyston!



hmk2At the outbreak of war in September  1939, almost 300 children suffering from tuberculosis were evacuated from Mearnskirk Hospital to The Garrison Hospital in Millport. Between 1939 and 1946 Mearnskirk Hospital was used as an Emergency Medical Service Hospital and later as a Naval Auxiliary Hospital. A hutted annexe was constructed between September 1939 and April 1940 adding 600 beds to the existing 500 bed complement.  30,799 service personnel and 1,810 civilian casualties were treated between 1940 and 1946 in the hospital.

On September 18th 1940 a  stick of bombs fell in the vicinity of  Yorkhill Quay and a fire broke out on HMS Sussex which had just loaded ammunition on board. There was great concern that the nearby Hospital for Sick Children  might be blown up and so 300 patients and staff were transferred  to Mearnskirk Hospital. The first ambulances arrived at 8am and the children had all had breakfast by 10am.


Post War Development

In addition to the  Emergency Medical Service role, from 1940, the hospital devoted four pavilions to the treatment of adults with tubercular disease as the incidence of this disease had increased in the civilian population. The nature of the service at Mearnskirk changed with the introduction of adult patients and also the opening of the Thoracic Unit in 1946 and the Ear, Nose and Throat unit in 1948.  During the 1947 polio epidemic 123 patients, mainly children, were admitted to the hospital for treatment.   A hydrotherapy pool was installed, called an under water exercise pool – an innovation  for a physiotherapy department at that time.  As children were often in hospital for a prolonged period, this necessitated  education being provided and Mearnskirk had its own schoolrooms.

hmk3The Orthopaedic Department was set up in 1950 under the care of  Kenneth Guest. This unit treated all forms of orthopaedic conditions in the region and Kenneth Guest organized several clinics in the area , including one for sufferers of cerebral palsy.

The Cardio-Thoracic Unit also opened in 1950 and was under the care of surgeons R.S.Barclay and Tom Welsh and the physicians John Stevenson and John M.Reid. The unit carried out the investigation and treatment of most patients with cardiac or lung disease in the West of Scotland.  In this it formed a close association with the Royal Hospital for Sick Children at Yorkhill. In 1955 as a measure of the esteem in which the Mearnskirk Cardio Thoracic Unit was held, the Society of Thoracic Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland  held their annual meeting at the hospital.

Children  often received family visits only at weekends due to transport and financial constraints. The Newton Mearns community was actively involved in visiting the hospital. One of the most frequent visitors was Mrs Jane Moore who visited on Thursdays for thirty years.  She became known as ‘Mrs Thursday’ and when she died in 1980 a tribute to her service was published in The Glasgow Herald.

Mr Alfred Ellsworth, pictured enjoying an ice cream with friends, was a frequent visitor to the hospital. It is said that he never came empty handed. He was awarded the M.B.E. in 1958 for his philanthropic work.


Many stars of film and theatre came to Mearnskirk to entertain the patients amongst whom were Judy Garland, Roy Rogers, Danny Kaye, Terry Thomas, Eddie Calvert, Ann Shelton and Dorothy Lamour (pictured above).

On the occasion of her marriage in 1947, the present Queen gifted a children’s play area, the Princess Elizabeth Playground, to the hospital.


More Recent Developments

Healthcare needs changed over the years. Child healthcare improved and there were advances in medicine which meant that a children’s hospital at Mearnskirk was no longer required and in 1959 it became a General Hospital. In 1980, the cardiothoracic unit transferred to the Western Infirmary and as other services were centralised, Mearnskirk ceased to be an in-patient hospital.  For a time, outpatient clinics were held in some of the pavilions but further centralisation in the 1990’s led to a decision to close the hospital and sell the majority of the grounds for development.

The nurses’ homes were retained and converted into flats, now named Southwood Place. The construction firm, John Dickie Homes, won a Civic Trust award in 1999 for this development, . Two other buildings were retained. The Administration Building of the former hospital is now Hazeldene Nursery, opened in 1997 and operated   by East Renfrewshire Council. The other building now houses Mearnskirk House, a long term care unit . The rest of the area was developed for housing and  a total of 261 houses and 107 flats have been built on the Mearnskirk site.


The Peter Pan Statue

hmk6It had been the wish of Dr. Wilson, the first Physician Superintendent to replace the cement statues which he had erected in the grounds with a bronze statue of Peter Pan but in wartime bronze was scarce. Just before Dr Wilson died, Alfred Ellsworth promised him “You will get your Peter Pan”. Alfred Ellsworth raised the funds for the statue and it  was unveiled on 3rd July 1949 as a memorial to Dr  Wilson.  The sculptor was Alex Proudfoot R.S.A.

It stands today in front of Mearnskirk House, the continuing care unit, but in a truncated form. The bronze panels on the base, depicting the Peter Pan characters disappeared following the closure of the hospital in the 1980s. The second of the four panels illustrating J.M. Barrie’s story was recovered in 2007 and has been installed at the front entrance to Hazeldene Nursery, the old Administration Building. For the full story click here.




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