Friday, 22 August 2014

The History of a Charming Hospital

Among the NHS buildings around the site of Lauriston Building, a notable Victorian structure which still survives in use today, is that of Chalmers Hospital. The Edinburgh plumber and burgess George Chalmers (1773-1836) left the residue of his estate (worth £27,000) for the foundation of an infirmary in his will. At the time of his death, this money was not sufficient to build a hospital, therefore it was invested in government stock until 1854 when it had accrued enough for the hospital plans. Construction of the hospital began in 1860 and it opened on 22 February 1864 without ceremony. As originally designed, the Chalmers Sick and Hurt Hospital consisted of 48 beds in four wards, two of which were fee paying and two of which were for non-paying patients. Nurses’ quarters were only added in 1887. A programme of modernisation was carried out in the early 20th Century using money subscribed from the funds of the hospital faculty, in commemoration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. These included electric lighting, a new operating theatre, new surgical staff and an anaesthetist. The renowned surgeon Sir Harold Stiles was appointed during this period.

The hospital was not used for war patients during the First World War. However, in 1939 Chalmers Hospital was requisitioned by the government for civilian casualties of World War II, though in the event it was used for many service personnel also. In 1948, with the formation of the NHS, Chalmers Hospital came under its control and the practice of having fee paying patients ended. In 1951, the hospital became an annexe of the Hospital for Diseases of Women in the adjacent Archibald Place.

The hospital finally closed in 2008 and a major redevelopment of the site began. Much of the rear was demolished and replaced with a new structure designed to meet the needs of 21st century patients - however, the front and many original features have been renovated. It re-opened as a Sexual Health Centre in 2011 and continues to serve the community it was built for over 150 years ago, at the bequest of a plumber from the Canongate.

The images show a rear view of Chalmers Hospital and gardens from approximately the late 19th century (ref. LHB4/4/7/2) and a photograph of the front of the hospital from the late 1970s (ref. LHB4/4/7/15). In the later view, Lauriston Building and the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion are visible in the background.

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