Proposed Iron Hospital – Western District of Stirling

Our document of the month for October is a bit of a mystery. It is the plan of a proposed iron hospital to be constructed at the direction of the Western District Committee of Stirling County Council dated March 1893. It has been stamped and signed by the Board of Supervision.

The plan was discovered whilst appraising the papers of the Western District Clerk Archie Forbes. Unfortunately there were no accompanying papers concerning the background to the project to enable staff to determine exactly where the hospital was to be situated or why it was proposed initally.

Who were the Board of Supervision?

The Board of Supervision for the Relief of the Poor was a body set up in 1845 under the provisions of the Poor Law (Scotland) Act of that year. The Board was established to oversee the operation of the Poor Law in Scotland and the parochial boards that administrated it locally. They also had a role in helping establish and direct the Scottish parochial medical service, that provided some health care within the parishes.

Why was it proposed to build the hospital?

It is most likely that the proposal to build a hospital stemmed from the need to control an outbreak of disease and provide a treatment centre away from highly populated urban areas to reduce further risk of infection. The plan shows that the hospital was to have 8 beds with an additional laundry block split into two areas given as ‘infected side’ and ‘disinfected side’.

Other iron and wood hospitals built around 1900 appear to have been built for the purpose of isolation. This is further confirmed by the architects appointed to design the building: Speirs and Co. According the Dictionary of Scottish Architects, Speirs and Co were a design and build firm who ‘mainly provided partly prefabricated timber framed buildings, some clad in corrugated iron’ and the company had previously been involved in the construction of isolation hospitals in other areas of Scotland. From 1888-1898, they had been responsible for designing the Infectious Disease Hospital in Drumshoreland, the Inverary Isolation Hospital, Mid Argyll Hospital at Lochgilphead, and the Glenorchy Isolation Hospital.

 

Where exactly was the hospital?

There is no concrete evidence in other records to tell us the proposed site for the building. Stirling County Council minutes indicate that there were sporadic outbreaks of disease around the time of the proposed hospital. Outbreaks included swine fever in Dunmore and Denny in 1892, anthrax in Haining Valley in 1893, and rabies in the Campsies in 1893.

However, the cases in Dunmore, Denny and Haining Valley, were in the area administered by the Eastern District Committee of the County Council and the outbreak of rabies in the Campsies was controlled by monitoring dogs in the area.

In September 1893, proposals by the Central District Committee of the County Council to construct a new hospital near Bannockburn were accepted which lead to construction of a 16 bed fever hospital. This hospital was gradually extended through the 20th century but was closed in 2012 after the opening of the new hospital in Larbert. The location and dates, however, rule this site out as the potential location of the proposed iron hospital.

Was the hospital ever built?

The most likely answer is no. The Board of Supervision ceased to exist in terms of the Local Government (Scotland) Act of 1894. Its functions were taken over by the Local Government Board for Scotland and this may have led to certain proposed constructions being shelved. The survival of this beautiful plan gives an interesting insight into planning for local health care in the late 19th century.

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