Greenock’s lost hospitals

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Greenock in the mid-eighteenth century, depicted on Roy’s map of the Highlands. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The dark, austere tower block that is Inverclyde Hospital opened in 1979. It superseded the Greenock Royal Infirmary, Eye Infirmary, Gateside Hospital, Duncan Macpherson and Broadstone Jubilee Hospitals which were all disposed of by the local Health Board in 1982. It was built just to the north of Larkfield Hospital, and that too was later replaced by the present Larkfield Unit. Later the last of Greenock’s pre-war hospitals, the Rankin Memorial, also closed and has since been demolished. This post gives a brief account of Greenock’s past hospitals, mostly demolished but a couple still stand in other use. Information on the lunatic asylum, poorhouses, and hospitals nearby can be found on the Inverclyde page of this website. Grateful thanks must go to the McLean Museum and Inverclyde Archives for kindly allowing me to use images from their online collections website (which I highly recommend).

Inverclyde Royal Hospital, with the Larkfield Unit in front, photographed in 2007. © Copyright Thomas Nugent and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Though Inverclyde hospital is perhaps not the most heart-warming in terms of architectural delight, Greenock can nevertheless be proud of its historic hospitals and of the people who built, funded, staffed and administered them. The earliest of these now-lost hospitals was the Royal Infirmary in Inverkip Street.

Postcard of the infirmary, probably early 20th century. Reproduced by permission of the McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Inverclyde Council

A dispensary had been established for the sick poor in 1801, but an outbreak of fever in 1806, the source of which was thought to be the crew of a Russian prize-vessel brought into the harbour that year, demonstrated the limitations of the dispensary and the necessity for a hospital. Plans for establishing an infirmary were put in train in 1807, the foundation stone was laid in 1808, and the building opened on 14 June 1809 – the dispensary becoming part of the new infirmary. In most instances the first generation of voluntary hospitals built in Scottish towns were designed by local architects. Greenock was no exception, although John Aird,  who furnished the plans, was the local harbour engineer rather than an architect per se and it appears to be the only known building that he designed.

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Greenock, from John Wood’s plan of the town of 1825, showing the new streets laid out for development in grids around the old town. These were said to be ‘filling up with rapidity’ at the time of Wood’s survey, although neither Macfarlane’s map of 1842, or the first edition OS map of 1857, bear this out. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

The original infirmary was a good size for the time and the size of the town, providing 32 beds. Sir John Shaw Stewart, Lord of the Manor, gave the site, originally on the outskirts of the town, and the building costs amounted to around £1,815. It operated as a voluntary hospital funded by subscriptions, and was intended for cases of fever as well as general medical or surgical cases. Additional ground was given in 1815 to provide a larger airing ground or garden.

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Wood’s Map

The image above shows a detail of Wood’s map, the infirmary is marked by the letter ‘n’ and is towards the bottom left of the map. To its north ‘o’ marks the United Session Church and ‘p’  is the Greenock brewery. Further to the east ‘r’ marks the relief chapel and ‘s’ the tabernacle. On the right hand side are the bridewell –  ‘x’ and the Renfrewshire bank – ‘y’. At the top ‘c’ is the gaelic chapel. All this can be seen much more clearly on the National Library Maps collection site, which also has a link to the description of Greenock that accompanied Wood’s Atlas.

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Detail from Andrew Macfarlane’s map of Greenock of 1842. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.
Extract from the OS Town Plan, 1857. The small building to the south was the wash house and dead house. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

Outbreaks of fever (i.e. an infectious disease) remained common in this harbour town, and were often severe. In 1829 the hospital was stretched beyond its capacity during an epidemic, resulting in the erection of a temporary fever hospital and plans made to extend the building. Two wings were added in 1830. By the mid-1840s the capacity of the infirmary had been increased to around 100 beds. An extraordinary number for the building depicted in the 1857 OS map (above).

Late-nineteenth century lantern slide of Greenock Infirmary and Duncan Street cemetery. Reproduced by permission of the McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Inverclyde Council

Additions were made in 1847 (James Dempster architect), and in 1869 the infirmary was enlarged (James Salmon & Son, architect). Further additions in 1938-43 by W. J. B. Wright included a nurses’ home.

Extract from the 2nd-edition OS map, surveyed 1896. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

One of the specialisms that developed at the infirmary was the treatment of diseases of the eye. In 1865 James Ferguson, merchant of Inverkip, had bequeathed £6,000 to provide an eye hospital but legal action ensued and it was not until 1879 that the trustees rented a consulting room in Greenock Infirmary and in the following year appointed an oculist. At last the Eye Infirmary was built in 1893 on Nelson Street.

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Extract from the 2nd-edition OS map, revised in 1912, showing the eye infirmary to the west of the County Court and prison. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland 

The Eye Infirmary was designed by James B. Stewart with funds donated by Mr Anderson Rodger, a Port Glasgow ship builder. It also catered for ear, nose and throat patients until 1921. It is a handsome building, and survives, latterly as the Ardgowan Hospice.

Opening ceremony of the Eye Infirmary on Nelson Street, Greenock on the 19th August 1893. Reproduced by permission of the McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Inverclyde Council
Atmospheric colour slide of the Eye Infirmary taken in 1971 by Eugene Jean Méhat (1920-2000). Reproduced by permission of the McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Inverclyde Council
 Ardgowan Hospice photographed in 2007 © Copyright Thomas Nugent and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Public Health legislation in the late nineteenth century eventually made the provision of municipal hospitals for infectious diseases compulsory. For Greenock this resulted in the erection of Gateside Hospital, otherwise known as the Greenock and District Combination Hospital for infectious diseases. Built well outside the town, it was designed by Alexander Cullen of Hamilton and opened in 1908.

Extract from the 2nd-edition OS map, revised 1912. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

With the decline in need for hospitals for infectious diseases Gateside took on orthopaedic surgery, paediatric medicine and general medicine, before finally closing in 1979, superseded by Inverclyde Hospital.

Postcard of the combination hospital, Greenock. Possibly the most surprising hospital to find a postcard of, made even more bizarre with the MacGregor tartan and lucky heather. 
A photograph of the nurses with Miss Gay, Matron to the left of Dr Phillips, taking tea in front of the hospital. A poignant scene, given the year 1913. Reproduced by permission of the McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Inverclyde Council

The photograph above shows the matron Miss Margaret Russell Gay, seated to the left of Dr Phillips. She was matron at Gateside for over 25 years, having been appointed when the hospital first opened. From Greenock, she trained at Greenock Royal Infirmary, and before taking up her appointment at Gateside was matron at Largs hospital. She also spent time in America as a private nurse, and was in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake. She died in 1941 aged about 70.

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Extract from the 2nd-edition OS map revised in 1938. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

A Children’s Convalescent Home was built c.1900 on the edge of the smart western suburb of Greenock, on the corner of South and Forsyth Streets. It was opened by Mrs Andrew Carnegie – who had gifted £500 towards the home – in October 1902. It was still running during the Second World War. The building survives, now as private housing.

During the inter-war years Greenock’s hospital services increased greatly, but just before the end of the First World War, in 1917, Togo House was presented to the burgh of Greenock by Baillie Daniel Orr for use as a maternity hospital. This house was presumably on the site of present-day Togo Place, just off Dempster Road near the corner with Ann Street.  It only had space for six patients, but in 1925 plans were approved to build a single-storey extension that would provide a proper maternity ward with 18 beds, and turn the house itself over to office and administrative use.

It was during this period that a convalescent home was built in association with the Royal Infirmary at Larkfield. Designed by Abercrombie & Maitland, it opened on 21 December 1929. At the opening ceremony, a Birmingham-made ceremonial silver key in a gold-coloured casket was presented to Miss Maggie Donald Rankin. The casket and key are now in the McLean Museum and Inverclyde Archives. Miss Rankin and her brother, Mathew, were major benefactors of Greenock. Mathew Rankin was partner in the local firm Rankin and Blackmore, engineers.

Extract from the 2nd-edition OS map, revised in 1938. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

The home provided two, ten‑bed wards and eighteen private rooms. By 1943 it had become an auxiliary hospital treating all medical cases. It has considerable historic importance in terms of the development of hospital planning after the Second World War for having the first experimental ward designed by the Nuffield Provincial Hospitals Trust, built in 1951-6, and followed by one in Belfast at Musgrave Park built in 1956-9. The Trust began to develop a new type of ward unit in the early years after the war, looking abroad for inspiration where the old Nightingale style wards had made way for groups of patients’ rooms on one side of a corridor with ancillary facilities on the other – bathrooms, treatment rooms, sluice rooms etc. The Trust studied the daily routine of nurses and aimed to devise a new layout that would reduce the amount of walking for nurses, improve privacy for patients but not lose the necessary level of supervision of patients by the nursing staff. The ward unit that they came up with still provided a basic 32 beds (about the size of the largest Nightingale ward) but arranged with a combination of four-bed bays and single rooms on either side of a central corridor. (An illustration can be seen on the University of Cambridge School of Architecture website, and a plan is reproduced in Jonathan Hughes’ article in Medical History.)

Larkfield Hospital closed in 1979. That same year the new Inverclyde Royal Hospital was opened, built just to the north-west. The Larkfield unit for geriatric patients has since been built on the site.

Two more hospitals were built in Greenock in the later 1930s. The Ear, Nose & Throat Hospital in Eldon Street was built in 1937 by James Miller. It originally had accommodation for 20 beds and an out‑patients’ department. Eear nose and throat patients were initially taken into the Royal Infirmary and then moved out to the Eye Infirmary when it opened in 1894. In 1921 the old prison buildings in Nelson Street were acquired as a temporary measure until the new hospital was provided in Eldon Street. The Eldon Street hospital was demolished some time after 1990 and has been replaced by blocks of flats.

Housing has also been built on the site of the Rankin Memorial Hospital. This hospital opened on 17 August 1938 replacing the Togo House Maternity Hospital and the children’s hospital at Shaw Place (about the latter, I have found no information). Maggie Donald Rankin donated £41,000 to build and equip the new combined hospital.

Extract from the 2nd-edition OS map, revised in 1938. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The architect was James Watson Ritchie, for H.M. Office of Works. It was designed as a long low, two‑storey building in three sections with maternity to the west and children to the east of the central administration section. All the blocks were rough‑cast. There was accommodation for 28 women and 28 children, and the 13 1/2-acre site was laid out by Greenock Corporation Parks Department.

A ceremonial silver key, made by Hendry & Co. of Birmingham, England, was presented to Miss Rankin on the opening of the hospital by the Burgh of Greenock Corporation. Like the other key presented to her on the opening of Larkfield Hospital, it has been preserved in the McLean Museum and Inverclyde Archives.

Following transfer to the National Health Service in 1948 plans were drawn up for extensions and a nurses’ home, and a special baby-care unit designed in 1979 by Ross, Doak and Whitelaw.  The Rankin closed in 1994. (There was also a Rankine Memorial Hospital, established around 1901, in Yichang, China, named after Dr David Rankine, its founder. The nursing staff were deaconesses from the Church of Scotland.)

Sources: Greenock Royal Infirmary: Dictionary of Scottish Architects: The New Statistical Account of Scotland: Renfrew, Argyle… 1845, pp 474-6. Gateside Hospital: Common Services Agency, Glasgow, plans collection: Glasgow Herald, 29 Dec 1941, p.6. Greenock Eye Infirmary: F. Walker, South Clyde Estuary, Edinburgh, 1986. Togo House Maternity Hospital: Glasgow Herald, 20 May 1925, p.6. Ear, Nose & Throat Hospital: Architect & Building News, 1937. Rankin Memorial Hospital:  McLean Museum and Inverclyde ArchivesDictionary of Scottish ArchitectsThe Builder, 23 Jan 1948, p.125; 27 Feb 1948, p.264; 11 Jan 1952, p.101; 30 April 1934, p.786: The Scotsman, 18 Aug 1938, p.6: Aberdeen Journal, 2 May 1907, p.3 for the Chinese Rankin Memorial Hospital.

10 thoughts on “Greenock’s lost hospitals

  1. Trying to locate a Hospital in Greenock from 1898 which looks like Hill street.
    I visited there recently but there is no sign of a Hospital and the road just tapers out Nr Roxburgh Street,
    I am researching my Family tree and the Birth of a relation Margaret McDougall on the 2nd November 1898.
    Can you help as I cannot find any information on this Hospital at all and neither could the Council Building in Greenock.
    Thanks in advance.

  2. Togo House wasn’t opened in 1898. More likely your relative was born at home on Hill St. There were birthing houses then but no actual maternity hospitals.

  3. Thank you Cathie for replying to the enquiry from Lewis Gordon Macdougall. Most women gave birth at home at that time, although there were a few maternity hospitals in larger cities, including Glasgow. There were often maternity wards in poorhouse infirmaries too. They were mostly for the poor or destitute.

  4. Is anything known about 70 Ann Street Greenock. It is the place of birth of my grandfather but it is not where they lived. Was it perhaps a ‘birthing house’ or maternity hospital

    Thank you

  5. I don’t know how I got on to this site, but as a former nurse who trained at Greenock Royal Infirmary on Duncan Street from 1959-62, I was fascinated by some of the old pictures. Although I am not originally from Greenock, I became a local during my 3 years training there. The picture of the building looking down on the old cemetery was the nurses residence. The two small windows at the end were nurses rooms. My room was the window on the left of the picture. Brought back a lot of lovely memories

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