One Man's Story

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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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During the mid 1950’s I had the privilege to become involved in the running of the Girl Guide Brownie Pack within Mearnskirk Hospital. Starting as a Guide Ranger, I was appointed the Tawny Owl to assist in the running of the pack held in Pavilion One of the hospital.

At that time much of the hospital was given over to the treatment of infectious diseases, mainly tuberculosis and polio. Many of the persons suffering from these diseases were children and in an effort alleviate the rigours of their treatments and their lengthy absence from their families and home lives, certain activities were designed. Amongst those activities was the formation of dedicated Boy Scout and Girl Guide groups within the wards.

Pavilion One of the hospital held up to twenty girls aged between six months and sixteen years. All these girls suffered from orthopaedic tuberculosis and were severely restricted in bodily movement. Part of the then treatment for this condition was the encasing of the affected parts in plaster body casts which the child had to endure for months, if not sometimes years.

br1As if this physical imprisonment was not enough hardship to bear, another of the curative remedies practised was the exposure to the fresh, clean air of the Mearns. Most days the children were wheeled out onto the verandas of the pavilions regardless of the weather.   

Hail, rain, snow or sunshine it didn’t matter, out they went with only one recognition of their situation being the addition of a waterproof covering over their beds in really bad weather.

The children came from all parts of Scotland.   A baby from Campbeltown,  a ten year old from Shettleston, a five year old from Uist and one from Govan.  Many of the parents who came from outside the city tried to get a job either in the hospital or in the vicinity so as to be near their child.

Visiting regulations were very strict. No person under the age of 15 years was allowed into the hospital as a visitor and visiting hours were Saturday and Sunday afternoons only.

br2School was held as normal, five days a week, from 10 am till 3 pm.  The teacher had children who could sit at a table doing their lessons and the bed bound had a specially adapted board mounted across their bed to use as a desk.   They all sat exams just the same as normal school children. There was a piano in the ward and the teacher would arrange a musical lesson.

Every week, Scout, Guide, Cub and Brownie meetings were held within the wards.  Brownies were in the afternoon so school finished an hour earlier on that day much to the delight of the girls.   All had uniforms or part uniform, e.g. a Brownie who was encased in plaster would wear her Brownie tie and badge.

The group was expected to operate much as a normal pack would do, taking into account the drawbacks in mobility of the participants. Games were designed which could be conducted from bed  to bed and were much enjoyed by all. Tasks were allotted whereby girls could earn badges much the same as their active sisters outside hospital. All these extra curricular activities were enthusiastically enjoyed by not only the patients but staff and helpers also, and it was worth all the effort entailed to see the positive effects on the children’s morale.


Every year the Glasgow Taxi Owners Association (as they still do today), took a group of children to Troon.   When the taxis arrived at Mearnskirk, the children complete with plaster casts were carried into the cabs, usually three children and one adult per cab and off we went to Troon.  This was the first time out of the hospital environment since their admittance to hospital and they loved every minute of their temporary freedom.  The cabbies were extremely generous and gave everyone bags of sweets and small presents.  The adults usually rescued most of the sweets to share with the children left behind in the ward.

Each Christmas the actors in the Glasgow pantomimes came to the children’s ward and gave them a Christmas Party.   Jimmy Logan, Stanley Baxter, Jack Milroy and Ricky Fulton were among some of the actors.   They would arrive complete with Christmas tree and decorations for the wards. Once these were in place the party would begin and every child received a present from them personally.   One year the ward was closed to outside agencies owing to an outbreak of a rampant childhood bug, so no Christmas Party.   The ward was not re-opened until February and almost immediately the Stars arrived for the party suitably bearing all the trappings of Christmas cheer.   That year Christmas came to Mearnskirk Hospital in February.

Times and treatments may have changed but many a child will remember the happy times they spent in Mearnskirk Hospital owing to the efforts of volunteers and staff in injecting a little childhood normality into their otherwise arduous and trying lives.

Fiona Bittle



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Lieutenant Cyril Lovitt  R.N.V.R. was torpedoed near Murmansk on 29th April 1945 while serving on H.M.S.Goodall, the last Royal Navy warship to be lost in the European theatre of operations during World War ll.

He was transferred to Mearnskirk Hospital in late May, one of 33,790 service personnel who were treated in the hospital between 1940 and 1946. Now living in Western Australia he has kindly written this account of his experience.


Cyril’s Story

oms2To begin at the beginning, H.M.S. Goodall was a destroyer escort built at Boston in America and one of those handed over to the British Navy under the lend lease arrangement. There were 76 of them and we called them frigates of the Captain Class.

Through 1944 and the early part of 1945, we were part of the Liverpool Escort Force on convoy duty in the North Atlantic. In April 1945 we joined Escort Group 19 and were sent as a support group to the convoy JW 66, the last Russian bound convoy of WW II bound for Murmansk where we arrived on 25 April 1945.  We sailed as escort to the Convoy RA 66 on 29 April 1945.

It was unreal because by that time the war in Europe was virtually over. Hitler committed suicide on 30 April and the war in Europe ended on 7 May.

We were warned that there were seventeen U boats off the Kola Inlet waiting for us. We were unlucky because as we sailed out ahead of the main convoy with the task of clearing up the U boats we were attacked and torpedoes hit us in the bows and blew off the forepart of the ship back as far as the mast. At action stations there were a large number of officers and men on the bridge: only two of us survived.  As Gunnery Control Officer I was stationed on a wooden platform at the back of the bridge and was catapulted to the after deck and sustained a fractured pelvis.

oms3A very brave Corvette, H.M.S. Honeysuckle, nudged his bows into our stern and I was hauled across from the Goodall. I was very lucky because I did not go into the sea. Had I done so I would not be writing this.  Of the crew of about 140 only 38 survived.

Together with about a dozen shipmates, I spent a few weeks in an auxiliary hospital in Vaenga, near Murmansk.  The picture below is taken in the sick bay of HMS Queen en route back to Glasgow. I’m the one in the bed on the right:


I was transferred to Glasgow in Convoy arriving late in May and was taken to Mearnskirk Hospital. I remember feeling a great relief to be in a pleasant, bright and cheerful ward on land. All the nurses were so pleasant and cheerful, even the Matron was bright and pleasant although she kept the nurses fully occupied.  I remember she even had them cleaning the windows. I was told that they had been warned to expect a severely injured patient, but I must admit I did not feel anything other than relief at being so tenderly cared for.


There was considerable concern about my feet which were apparently very dirty.  I suppose this was not very surprising because I had been looked after by seasoned SBAs for the past month and they were more concerned with treating my wounds than washing my feet . I remember one tall nurse from the Highlands expressed some disappointment when she first saw me standing up, thinking that I was much taller than I am.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to an Orthopaedic Surgeon who manipulated my right hip. When I was first injured my right leg was 4 inches shorter than the left.  Although this had been largely corrected and I  had travelled to Scotland in a Thomas Splint, the surgeon explained that I could never raise my leg sufficiently to ride a bicycle so my hip was duly manipulated and I finished up with plaster boots held apart by a metal bar. The nurses I remember were invited to gather round and inspect this handiwork.

Another member of staff I remember with gratitude was a very pleasant young physiotherapist.  She was a lovely fair haired girl with freckles and she had the job of getting me to walk again. After about a month lying on my back the muscles in my right leg had wasted very considerably.  She was so patient and had me walking, I am sure in record time.  She was very anxious that I should do some constructive work and taught me to make a belt of macrame using twine. I made two in fact and my wife still has them both. Then she had the idea that some of the men, my shipmates, could learn from my "expertise" and also make belts.  I am not sure whether they did or not, but they did come into the ward to watch me at work.

oms7Some of my ward mates took me into Glasgow in a wheel chair for a drink at one of the pubs or maybe it wasn't Glasgow but somewhere close by. (Ed. note : We think this would be the Malletsheugh Inn, “the local” for the soldiers and sailors at Mearnskirk)

There was a young Fleet Air Arm pilot whose surname  was Crawford  who was a member of the Crawford's Biscuit family. He had osteomyelitis and was put  to bed in a whole body plaster cast every night.  He made good progress because before the end of that summer we were playing tenikoits on the lovely lawn outside the ward.  It was a good summer and we were allowed to have our beds in the sun.  We had only a sort of nightshirt to wear so when we took that off we were naked and I remember the nurses would tell us to pull up the sheet and make ourselves "respectable ".

There was also a WREN who managed the slops.  She seemed to take quite an interest in me offering to get me a new cap as mine had been lost with all the rest of my gear when the Goodall went down.  We had a mild flirtation.

oms8I had visits from the *Captain’s family looking for some crumb of comfort which I was unable to provide. I know he was alive on what was left of the bridge but he was trapped under a mass of metalwork.

They offered to move me to a hospital nearer my home in North London but, perhaps rather selfishly, I declined. I was far too happy where I was.

I left Mearnskirk in July or August of 1945 to resume what was left of my naval career, finishing my service at H.M.S. Royal Arthur in Wiltshire.

*Lt Cdr. James Vaudalle Fulton R.N.V.R, a native of Greenock.


Cyril Lovitt
Western Australia



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