The Royal Alexandra Infirmary was built to designs by T. G. Abercrombie and was, as the recent Pevsner Guide noted, the largest and most prestigious of his Paisley buildings. It was replaced by the present Royal Alexandra Hospital in the 1980s, and whilst some of the former infirmary buildings have been converted to new uses, large parts of this fine building are in a ruinous state.
The foundation stone was laid on 15 May 1897. The building was richly endowed by the trustees of William B. Barbour who gifted £15,000 to the building fund, and by the local mill owner, Peter Coats, who additionally gifted the nurses’ home. The Clark family were also particularly generous in their financial support. In all the new buildings were to cost some £73,000, providing 150 beds and ten rooms for private patients. The plan of the infirmary is of particular interest from its incorporation of circular wards in a three storey block to the north. Another distinctive feature were the ward pavilions to the south which terminated in semi‑circular open verandas or balconies.
Whilst T. G. Abercrombie’s monumental building has been superseded, it too superseded an earlier infirmary in Paisley. In 1788 a public dispensary was founded in the town from which a House of Recovery was established in 1795. A variety of hospital buildings grew on the site at the west end of Abbey Bridge. Fever wards were provided and for a time cholera was treated here.
In 1878 grounds adjacent to the house were acquired by the parish council which built an epidemic hospital on the site for 60 patients although it was managed by the infirmary. By that time there were already calls to move the infirmary to Calside, but sufficient funds were not forthcoming.
In 1886 a convalescent home was opened in West Kilbride. The question of moving to a new site was raised again by the Revd Dr Brown, he urged the benefits of a more open site, where ‘the sound of green leaves, the song of birds, and the freshness of the country might float into the rooms’. [Glasgow Herald, 10 Feb 1894 p.9]
Still nothing was done. Various sums were offered to kickstart a building fund: Dr Fraser offered £1,000 with the condition that he would double if if a new building were erected. William Barbour added £500 to the fund. But the directors dragged their heels. Finally, in 1894 the trustees of William Barbour announced their intention of donating £15,000 to build a new hospital.
The old hospital was overcrowded, out-dated and its proximity to the fever hospital was not a point in its favour. There was not even an operating theatre, operations were carried out at the patients’ bed – merely with a curtain drawn around it. Following W. Barbour’s generous donation, a site was offered for the new hospital at Calside comprising Egypt Park and Blackland Place.
The first part of the new complex to be built was the nurses’ home, which had been funded entirely by Peter Coats. Occupying the north-west corner of the site, it was formally opened in July 1896. Now converted into flats, the three-storey building is constructed of red sandstone from Locherbriggs quarries in Scottish Baronial style.
The front entrance was set in an open porch with a broad arched opening topped by a balcony. Originally the ground floor comprised the probationer nurses’ dining-room and kitchen, cloak rooms and seven bedrooms, while on the first and second floors were a sitting and writing rooms as well as more bedrooms. It was ‘sumptuously furnished’ and provided accommodation for about 40 nurses. [Glasgow Herald, 4 July 1896, p.8]
A gate lodge with dispensary were built on Neilston Road in 1898-1900 (pictured below), and further ancillary buildings were constructed on the south-east corner of the site.
The Infirmary closed in 1987 when the new hospital was opened in Craw Road. Part of the main range of the old Infirmary was then used as a care home, the rest was converted into flats in about 1995. The former nurses’ home was converted into flats in 2005-6 by Aitken Turnbull Architecture. After the care home closed in about 2008, this part of the former Infirmary began to deteriorate and was placed on the Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland in 2010.
Inadequately secured by its owners the unoccupied parts of the old hospital have attracted the attention of urbexers, so many photographs of the derelict building can be found online. However, these areas have also suffered badly from vandals who are the main cause of the building’s rapid decline. This is such a fine building. It should be saved, sympathetically restored and converted to housing, and treasured for its fine architecture and the skill of the masons and builders who erected it. [Selected Sources: D. Dow, Paisley Hospitals, Glasgow, 1988: records at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archives: Paisley Library, plans: Pevsner Guide, Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire, 2016. See also Renfrewshire for other hospitals in and around Paisley.]