As the 19th century wore on ‘gentlemen and ladies’ in Falkirk began to acknowledge that their wealth brought with it a duty to help ameliorate the condition of the poorest in society, and by the 1880s their efforts turned most often to the plight of the sick-poor. Foremost among them was Mrs Harriete Gibson, wife of the owner of Salton Ironworks, who was herself a regular visitor to the homes of the sick in the town. In 1884 she appealed for help in the Falkirk Herald:
“Let us hope that another year will not pass without our making an effort to have some place, though it were only one room with a few beds, where accidents could be attended to without causing the poor sufferer the added pain incurred by a journey from Edinburgh to Glasgow”.
Several years passed before the proposal was taken up in earnest but eventually an appeal was launched and by the end of 1887 over £1,300 had been collected or pledged. The following year the town’s leading architect William Black was asked to design a new hospital with twelve beds around an existing cottage on a site in Thornhill Road. There was a furious response from local property owners but the project went ahead and by the summer of 1889 the hospital was ready. On Saturday 27th July before a ‘large and brilliant gathering’ Mr Thomas Dawson Brodie declared the new Falkirk Cottage Hospital open.
Mrs Gibson and the Cottage Hospital
Twenty-four patients were treated in that first year and, as support from doctors and the public increased, the numbers seeking admission multiplied so rapidly that within a few years an extension was required. In 1900 and again in 1906 successful appeals to the public allowed new buildings and more and more beds to be provided, so that almost 1000 ‘indoor and out-patients’ were treated each year and over 600 operations performed in the splendid new operating room. In 1904 the name was changed to Falkirk Infirmary and during World War I a number of men were treated to allow them to enlist and many wounded soldiers were brought to the town for treatment.
The Infirmary around 1910
The phenomenal growth in demand continued after the war and the Infirmary found it increasingly difficult to cope. By 1922 nearly 1000 patients had been treated with twice as many outpatients and 900 operations. The experts advised a new hospital in a new site and so began an incredible decade of fundraising involving people of every rank in the community. The present site at Gartcows was purchased for around £6000 and on 27th April 1925 over a thousand people crammed the Town Hall for the official launch of the Great Appeal.
It was the prelude to an astonishing five year spell in which every conceivable method of fund-raising was employed, and hardly an organisation or individual failed to participate whether wittingly or not. By the time the Duchess of Montrose cut the first sod of Gartcows in November 1926 the fund had reached nearly £90,000, well within sight of the target. In the Autumn of 1928 the new Infirmary appeal was brought to an end by a ‘Grand Bazaar’ which raised nearly £10,000. By the end of 1930 the new building was ready for inspection and in two weeks in December nearly 8000 visitors did just that.
The opening of the new infirmary: 18th January 1932
The patients moved to the new Infirmary at the beginning of 1931 and a year later Prince George officially declared the building open in front of 20,000 people. It had cost in total £120,000 – nearly £3 million by today’s standards – and was opened free of debt. There were 85 beds, served by 45 nursing staff – five years later it was 200 beds and 75 nursing staff. And the astonishing growth went on and on.
The post war period brought the end of the voluntary principle and the Infirmary passed into the ownership and control of the state. The growth in demand continued and brought in 1966 the opening of the revolutionary ‘Falkirk Ward’ system. These state-of-the-art operating suites were the first of their kind and brought considerable publicity to the town. The following years brought a new accident and emergency unit, a new maternity unit and the Forth Valley College of Nursing and Midwifery.
Despite all these expensive additions there was an ever present feeling that Falkirk and Stirling would be better served by a completely new hospital. Such ideas caused considerable upset in both areas but in due course plans were announced for just such a project. By 2011 the new state-of-the-art £300 million Forth Valley Royal Hospital was completed on the site of the old RSNH in Larbert. It was officially opened by the Queen in July and patients and staff were transferred from Stirling and Falkirk. A ‘community hospital’ was proposed for the site at Gartcows and despite a local campaign the iconic front buildings of the old infirmary with its clock, name and royal coat-of arms was demolished in March 2012.
Ian Scott (2012)
For further information see: Ian Scott : “Falkirk and District Royal Infirmary: a triumph of co-operation” NHS Forth Valley (2011)