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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION


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George Rountree was a patient in Mearnskirk Hospital

from September 1936 until February 1937.

He was six years old.


This is his story.


Mearnskirk Hospital opened in 1930 and specialised in treating sufferers of the infectious disease tuberculosis (TB), known then as consumption. The hospital, which was sited in the countryside away from the pollution of the city, was built on the the land of the old estate of Southfield. This land lay to the west of the original Glasgow to Kilmarnock road which ran via Clarkston, and was overlooked by the church from which it takes its name. Laid out in an apparently random fashion surrounded by areas of grass and well tended flower beds, the wards were long narrow single storey buildings known as Pavilions.






An aerial view of

Mearnskirk Hospital









After passing through the main gate the driveway ran past the administration block then descended on a gentle slope through woodland for a short distance to a level area. Near the bottom of the slope another drive led off at a sharp angle to the right, and here, a little way along were Pavilions 1 and 2 on opposite sides of the drive. New arrivals were taken there for screening, presumably to determine their treatment requirements, and girls and boys were separated in the buildings. Most of it was closed and demolished in 1992 to be replaced today by a private housing development.





The main gates as they were  originally. They were widened later.

Note the Glasgow Coat of Arms between the pillars.







The reason for being at Mearnskirk was because during my early years I had suffered persistent chest illnesses and was in poor physical condition. The family doctor, Dr. Cummings, suspected that I had TB and put forward my name to the local health board for a place in the hospital to have checks carried out and, if required, the appropriate treatment administered. The hospital tests proved that I didn't have the disease, but it was decided I should remain there to benefit from the therapeutic regime prescribed for those patients recovering from the disease.


First Impressions

I have no recollection of apprehensiveness on the day of admission or even being aware of where we were going. The day began with a trip by tram. Alighting in Hope Street, we walked along St. Vincent Street past George Square to the rear of the City Chambers building in either Montrose Street or John Street, where, I believe, the office of the Medical Officer of Health was situated. Memory holds a faint impression of seeing the stone arches over John Street. When the preliminaries were over I was taken away from my mother and put in a room along with a few other children. Presently we were moved outside and, accompanied by a woman attendant, we boarded a dark green ambulance with leather covered longitudinal bench seats. At first there was much crying at being separated from a parent, but for me the novelty of travel in a vehicle other than a tramcar or bus gradually took over. The windows were small slits too high up to see out of properly, but with the exception of one girl who wet the seat in her distress, we gradually settled down and took an interest in each other.

For the first week I was confined to bed in Pavilion 1. Bladder relief involved asking for the 'slipper', a euphemism for a china utensil, shaped something like an enclosed sauce boat with a handle at one end and a spout opening at the other. Events recalled from the first few days are discovering a taste for stewed sausages with mashed potatoes, and a male nurse on night duty who was very understanding with small boys who were missing their parents (with no hidden meaning there). Particularly recalled is the first visit by my father. He worked as a maintenance fitter with the Govan Shafting & Engineering Company in Helen Street, and had to work much overtime servicing and repairing the machinery when it was shut down during evenings and at weekends. The only official weekly visiting period seemed to be on Sunday afternoons. But it may have been that, although there was an infrequent bus service at other than visiting time, the then remote location was the true cause of the apparently restricted visiting hours. Because of his working commitment, only Saturday afternoon was convenient for him, and to do this special permission had to be obtained from the hospital authorities. The first time he came I was still in Pavilion 1 and I recall this visit with particular clarity.






George confined to bed in Mearnskirk






Pavilions 1 and 2 were divided into rooms or cubicles that were part glass walled above waist height, each of which accommodated two juvenile patients, which made them bright and airy with good visibility all round. My bed position provided a good if distant view of the main, descending avenue, so that I was able to watch passing hospital traffic. Dad was a keen cyclist and there had been a suggestion that, weather permitting, he would come on his bike. The road to the hospital from Govan being mostly uphill, it would have taken about three-quarters of an hour to cover the seven or eight miles.  I experienced the thrill of seeing him through the trees, free-wheeling down the hill and turning into the drive. It seems that he was the only one who found it necessary to come at that time for I cannot recall any other visitors coming then. He came regularly on Saturdays during the five months and only came by bus if the weather was unsuitable. The only disagreeable recollection of this period was a constant feeling of homesickness. For decades after this time my mother used to tell of the first time she came to visit. My first words to her were 'Take me home and poultice me', indicating that I was prepared to endure the torture of the poultice in order to get back home.


New Surroundings

X-rays were taken and examinations carried out during the first week, then I was transferred to Pavilion 8 located near the Kirk with its small, distinctive and well remembered tower. The regime in operation here seemed less strict than during a stay previously in the Victoria Infirmary. It was less oppressive than would have been expected at a time when much stricter discipline was enforced on children generally than they are subjected to today. Most patients were of school age or younger. Only a few were younger than me and there were even one or two babies, so this situation was the best possible environment for any child, as was no doubt the intention. Although no names or faces can be recalled, the other patients around my age were generally good company.


With the exception of Pavilions 1 and 2, all the Pavilions had open wards in which each pair of beds had a French window with a fanlight between them. I was confined to bed for at first and on days when the weather was suitable the French windows on the south facing side were opened up and as many beds as could be accommodated were pulled out for the children to benefit from the sunshine. As it was early October when I came there, this occurred only once or twice before it became too cold. After a few days I was allowed out of bed, and was soon invited by the other boys to join them in their activities.




Note the ‘V’shape of the two Pavilions with the administrative offices in the centre.

   The children are in their beds outside on the   veranda







Each Pavilion was divided into two wings laid out in a shallow boomerang 'V' form, with a block in the centre in which were the immediate medical facilities, nurses’ quarters, toilets and bathrooms. There were also the cleaner’s facilities, a boiler house and kitchen and an Aladdin's cave of a room full of toys. The latter was of course the first place to be explored. It was a long narrow room lined with stout shelves full of toys of the period to suit all juvenile ages.  Among the items were a rocking horse, teddy bears, small wooden building bricks (no plastic of any kind in those days), tiddlywinks, snakes and ladders, ludo, and other board games. Outdoor pursuits catered for ranged from balls for football, cricket, tennis (and tabletop), and sets of boxing gloves for juveniles and many other playthings of the more enduring kind. Those items and the seasonal aspects of the rural setting have left memories of interesting encounters and experiences. One boy said he came from Anniesland, a name that puzzled and fascinated me. I thought it meant Annie’s landing and later quizzed my visitors, much to their amusement, as to which close Annie lived in, expecting they would know which landing her house was on.






Playtime







The main meals were probably prepared at a central hospital kitchen and delivered in bulk to Pavilion kitchens for distribution to patients by the ward maids. Breakfasts and suppers were provided from the Pavilion kitchens.Early one dark morning, I was supposed to be helping the ward maid who was preparing breakfast when she burned a batch of slices of toast under the grill. Gathering up the half-a-dozen smoking slices from the large grill pan, she moved to a coal bunker near where I was standing, lowered the front flap and threw them in. As she did so I was amazed to see a number of previously burned slices lying inside. The sight of so much bread going to waste made a deep impression on me. Although my father was never out of work during my lifetime until he retired, our lifestyle at home was conducted in a fairly economical way and waste on this scale would never have been tolerated. I remember having to resist the urge to climb into the bunker to recover the discarded slices, and scrape off the charring as my mother would have done, something I still do even today.


It would be expected that with youngsters in our age range a certain amount of rowdiness would occur, and perhaps it did outwith my perception. Maybe I was among children from a background different from the one I was used to, although the most likely reason was the fact that we were in hospital being treated for a debilitating and life-threatening illness. Most groups of youngsters like this would have had one or two with forceful personalities, who would try to dominate and perhaps bully some of the others, but this did not seem to happen. Perhaps the supervision was greater than I recall, but a possible reason for the low incidence of bad behaviour was the threat of the syringe. This was a seemingly enormous, vicious looking hypodermic instrument, which was produced at bed time and administered in an apparently random way to some of the older boys. The victims didn't appear to know about it in advance. They had to lie face down on their beds in full view of the ward to receive their injection in the backside, which never failed to cause a howling match, so it must have been really painful. I never actually saw anyone getting the injection, because after the first time I saw what was happening I hid under the bed whenever it appeared in case it was my turn, but do remember once being threatened with it as part of a group if we didn't behave ourselves after some minor rowdiness.


The only case of actual physical punishment I witnessed happened in the following way. Among a handful of infants in cots, in which they were normally left to themselves for much of the day, which must have been pretty boring for them, there was a fair-haired sturdy looking youngster of about two years of age. His cot was in a position near a window, and he was able to play with the two strands of cord for opening and closing the fanlight. To provide a grip for pulling, each cord had a small wooden plug acting as a weight inside a decorative lace cover on its end, and standing at the end of his cot, the wee lad had been having a great time amusing himself swinging the weighted end around which made gentle thudding noises. None of the ward staff took any notice, until there was a crash and the sound of breaking glass after it had been thrown more violently than before. The atmosphere in the Pavilion altered immediately from the normal state of calm to one charged with apprehension. It was as if we all were guilty and expected retribution. Soon after this a doctor accompanied by the ward sister came marching solemnly along the ward to the culprit's cot, and with great ceremony administered a few slaps on the child’s bottom. This event illustrates very well how much peoples' attitude to such an episode has changed over the years. To-day such chastisement would be unthinkable.


Christmas in Hospital

Two events of that period which stand out more clearly than any of the others, are the Christmas celebrations and later a particularly heavy fall of snow. Despite it being the season of long dark nights and cold weather we were warm, cheerful and happy, the windows with the curtains drawn giving a sense almost of home. For me this feeling intensified to the point of ecstasy as Christmas approached. The celebrations generated a festive atmosphere which, though probably confined to one day, seemed to last all week. That impression no doubt arose from anticipation, and recollection of the main day is of an ongoing party, with much movement as people visited us from other wards, while the fitter older boys in our ward visited those nearby. The Pavilion was decorated with bunting, streamers and balloons, and there was a tree that probably came from the hospital grounds. The highlight of course was the keenly anticipated visit by Santa Claus, but in more recent times I have wondered about the absence of visitors. There were none. It seems that Christmas must have fallen on a midweek day that year, and either the ‘no visitors except on a Sunday’ rule was maintained, which seems distinctly odd compared with today’s enlightened attitude to hospital visiting, or there was no bus service on that day.

 

At one point we were called on to be quiet and listen, and when we did so the sound of a bell was heard, distant at first but coming closer. Everyone was in a perfect fever of anticipation, and here he was, a truly genuine Santa arriving ringing a large hand-bell, and carrying a large sack of presents as we had been promised. This one, probably a member of the hospital staff and quite likely to have been a doctor, seems to have successfully carried out the age old deception, because no hint of it reached our ears from older patients who must have seen through the disguise. He was soon busy handing out gifts to everyone, staff included. It was revealed later by parents, that the children’s presents had been left behind during visiting time the previous weekend.


My present stands out for two reasons; it was an item that could not have been better chosen for me or worse for the situation I was in. It was a train and rails set, but one quite different from those of today. It was a cheap tinplate clockwork powered set of the time, not made by Hornby. A great benefit here was that each boy's present could be shared and enjoyed by all, the enjoyment multiplied in the sharing, although the drawback was that popular fragile toys were soon broken. On the next visiting day, when my parents asked to see the train set, I had to tell them there was nothing of it left except some broken rails. Naturally they were rather miffed about it.


A highlight of the Christmas party was that during the celebrations I managed to achieve short-lived stardom as a comedian of the unconscious kind. It happened that I was once again in the kitchen when two strange boys appeared, strange in that they were unknown to me but were probably older able bodied patients recruited from another ward to help. They brought in a large, apparently heavy cylindrical object of dark metal that stood on an end, carrying it between them by handles that stuck out from the sides. What impressed me at the time was that they handled it as if it was hot, and it looked much like a stove or the kind of container in which hot food might have been transported. Curious to know what was inside I cheekily asked, to be told brusquely and with seeming condescension that it was ice-cream.


Thinking that here was great news to pass on, I ran back to the ward and into the centre of the celebrations shouting in my excitement, 'They've brought us hot ice-cream'. For a moment there was silence and puzzled looks, then the ward sister went away to solve this paradox. Returning moments later, red faced with suppressed mirth, she explained that it really was ice cream but in a keep-cool container, whereupon everyone had a good laugh. From having been related to visitors later by nurses, that story followed me for a great number of years, and mention of it even up to fifty years later would bring a smile to my mother's face. Needless to say the 'hot' ice cream was enjoyed by all.


A Blizzard

The snowstorm was a heavy overnight fall of about eight inches which arrived in late January, along with a strong north east wind which piled it up in drifts and gave us a great deal of fun. 'Us' being the fittest of the recuperating patients able to take advantage of it and excluding the staff of course, who were likely to have been greatly inconvenienced by it. On the main road above the hospital there was a gateway entrance into the hospital grounds near the church, situated about half way between it and the main hospital entrance. The hospital superintendent Dr. John Wilson lived in a house close by in Mearns Road and probably exercising his authority, he was in the habit of using this entrance as a short-cut.


On passing through the entrance, this roadway, track more likely, descended to the right in a diagonal cut down the slope to the main area of the grounds proper in the vicinity of Pavilion 9. It was probably a service access road intended to be used by the hospital works department which looked after the grounds. The wind blowing from the east had piled the snow up in this sheltered location. The morning in question was pitch-dark at the early hour we were up and about. As it began to clear, we could see the lights of a car stationary at the top of the slope of the service road, and were wondering why it wasn't moving. Breakfast was being served and the sky beginning to lighten when the car did start to move, but only in stages. We could see in the light of the head-lamps that the Dr Wilson had to clear a path down the hill through knee deep snow with a shovel, go back to the car and drive down the cleared stretch then stop to clear another stretch. This went on until full daylight when he finally reached the bottom of the slope, but it was approaching mid-morning before he got as far as the driveway near the Pavilions. Clearing had already been done on the main hospital roads here, and when the car passed by we had a close up view of the snow plastered up over the bonnet. How strange that such an unimportant event should remain so clear in my mind after seventy-five years, while others of much greater importance do not.


Another effect of the storm was that on the next visiting day the visitors complained that it wasn't worth their while coming as the fitter patients were too busy playing in the snow to have much time for them. In my case, my parents had observed the change in me from being a sickly weakling who had to be cosseted and shielded from damp and cold weather, to a healthy active wee boy running about in deep snow and freezing temperatures and thriving on it. Once the initial greetings were over and we had inspected whatever had been brought for us, with the inevitable thoughtlessness of the young we were off enjoying ourselves, leaving our visitors to talk among themselves. Fifty-four years later, an elderly relative remarked by chance on that very point, for she was one of the visitors, and remembered it well.


Hospital School

Other recollections of the period are more relevant to being in hospital recovering from a series of debilitating illnesses, for recover I certainly had. My considered opinion now is that it was a few weeks spent recuperating while the rest was a long holiday from school, but not completely without learning however as there was some attempt to organise a class. A teacher gave lessons at intervals to a large group whose ages ranged from five to fourteen but I cannot remember learning anything during these sessions. All they seemed to do was take up valuable time and prevent us doing other more interesting things.






 Not my Favourite Activity







 

A Visit to the X-ray Department

This event stands out as a fairly strong memory.  It involved a short journey in an ambulance to the main medical block, then being settled by a technician on the bed of the machine, a seemingly massive unit of the time. After being laid out on it, a deep and sonorous male voice came from an unseen source saying 'Hold your breath', followed by the loud click of an electric switch carrying a high voltage, accompanied by an even louder buzz lasting a second or two. Although the operator was out of sight, there is no recollection of any protective screening that is now mandatory with x-ray installations. This was done two or three times lying in different positions, then it was back to the ward.


The Almoner

Almoners in hospitals of that time, known in more recent times as a medical social workers, were women who helped people with money and family problems. I do not know where the fund came from but it was probably operated by a charity. Young patients who came from poor homes, whose parents or guardians couldn't afford the few pence needed for essentials, benefited from being given items such as night attire, soap and a face cloth etc.


Reverie

My musical preference is classical, mainly orchestral music of the Romantic era and listening to certain pieces of music still summons up very poignant memories of my time in Mearnskirk all those years ago. One might ask where would there have been the opportunity, quite apart from a six-year-old’s inclination, to listen to highbrow music in a children’s hospital in the 1930s. Well, there certainly was wireless but how it was provided I have no idea. It can be set down with absolute certainty that hearing certain pieces of piano music by Debussy, in particular The Girl With The Flaxen Hair or Clair De Lune, instantly carries me back to an occasion of a few moments standing outside the Pavilion on a clear cold evening of bright moonlight. This was during a brief period of peace and quiet away from the activities of the ward, looking at the stars and watching the lights of a vehicle passing along Mearns Road above. It was only decades later that the significance of the latter title became apparent.


G.R. 2010

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