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Memories of Ruchill Hospital as demolition team moves in

The demolition of Ruchill Hospital will be completed within the next six weeks.

Ruchill Hospital ward
© Dr Dermot Kennedy

The hospital was home to patients with infectious diseases from scarlet fever and measles to tuberculosis and Aids.

It opened in 1900 and since then the iconic red brick buildings of Ruchill Hospital have become synonymous with the skyline of the north of Glasgow.

But now the Grade C listed buildings are being demolished with only the clock tower to remain.

Demolition experts Reigart moved into the site, owned by Scottish Enterprise, last week and all buildings will be knocked down and cleared over the next six weeks.

Despite the demolition, memories of the hospital and the work that it done will still remain.

Dermot Kennedy was a doctor at the hospital from 1970 until it closed in 1998.

He started as a medical registrar and then became a senior consultant in infectious diseases. He is in the middle of writing a book about the history of the hospital.

Dermot Kennedy

Dr Dermot Kennedy

Before the demolition process began he had one last opportunity to walk around the grounds.

“It was extraordinarily expensive to build,” said Dr Kennedy as he looked at the derelict buildings.

“It was £250,000 and it took five years to construct it. The reason was because it is on a hill and they had to move enormous amounts of earth.

“There were 24,000 cartloads of earth moved into the Ruchill Park next door and they made a hill, they call it Ben Whitton after the chief then of the parks department.

“They stuck a flag post on it and that was the highest point in Glasgow until the Red Road flats went up.

He added: “There were 16 pavilions of two wards. They had this veranda as the idea was that as the patients began to recover all of the verandas are south facing so you would move patients there during the day to get the benefit of the sunshine.

“As you know sunshine is very common in Glasgow, you grab it while you can.”

Balcony

Ruchill was Glasgow’s second fever hospital and opened to meet the demands on Belvidere in the east of the city.

Its main function was the isolation of patients and Dr Kennedy explained that nobody was allowed in or out.

“There was something like 250 staff who were compulsory residents.

“They were allowed out for an afternoon a week so they made their own social life.

“Its secondary function would have been treatment, which is very different from now.”

When the hospital first opened many of the patients were children and they had diseases such as scarlet fever, measles, whooping cough and diphtheria.

The hospital was also there through the influenza pandemic in 1918 and outbreaks of meningitis, tuberculosis, polio and latterly, Aids.

GraphCreated by Dr Dermot Kennedy

“I first came to the hospital in 1970,” said Dr Kennedy.

“I hadn’t particularly had a notion of doing infectious diseases until someone told me there was a post vacant. I just loved it as soon as I started.

“There was always something different, there was always something exotic round the corner. Because of antibiotic treatment you often got your patients better.”

Walking around the grounds he can remember what each of the wards was used for.

“There was a particular dread about working at that ward,” he said, pointing at one of the buildings which housed tuberculosis patients.

“It was the only ward where they rotated the staff because the children got swelling of the brain and that led to these incessant high-pitched screams.

“It was like the spooky ward, ward maids used to tell me they used to run past it because they didn’t want to hear this awful noise.”

He added: “Ward four in the 1950s and 60s became the polio ward. It was polio that led to the fever hospitals having what was the very first intensive care units.

“First of all the iron lung and then the patient-triggered ventilators were developed for polio in the 1950s and of course we now associate them with intensive care units.

“Ward six is also very interesting because it was the surgical ward. One of the treatments of lung TB was to collapse the lung and then to cut out sections of lung, so the birth of cardiothoracic surgery in the west of Scotland was in ward six here in Ruchill.”

Scottish Enterprise acquired the Ruchill Hospital from the NHS in 1999.

They previously demolished 12 wards and the other four, along with the sanatorium and nurses’ accommodation, will be demolished in the next six weeks.

Past efforts to save the Ruchill hospital buildings by Glasgow City Council and members of the public have been in vain and now the only option is to demolish.

Vandals have been a problem on the site and the underground tunnels which connected the buildings had to be collapsed.

The door of the water tower also had to be welded shut as well as security screens put up to stop people getting in and stealing any scrap metal and slate from the roofs.

The future of the land is still uncertain but some of the chimneys and windows have been salvaged and Scottish Enterprise is encouraging future developers to use these in their plans.

Dr Kennedy understands why the buildings have to be knocked down.

He said: “When you see the state that it’s in, it’s long overdue. There is no question about it, I have got a tremendous nostalgia for this place, for what it was.

“It had a very important function for the city of Glasgow and for the people of Glasgow.

“The water tower is a real landmark in the north side of Glasgow and I always thought it was better that Stobhill’s tower. I am very pleased that it’s still going to be there.”

Allan McQuade, director of Business Infrastructure at Scottish Enterprise, said: “We will continue to work closely with the Scottish Government and local authority to explore all viable options for the Ruchill site.

“Despite ongoing maintenance over the last decade, the structures continue to deteriorate with pace. We have made every effort to market the site with its existing buildings, but regrettably the only feasible route forward is for demolition of some of listed structures.

"Work is now underway to implement a programme of works which includes retention of the Grade A listed Water Tower a Grade B listed staircase and prepare the site for future development.”

Video by Grieg Gallagher

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