2018 is a very special year for the Western General Hospital as it celebrates its 150th anniversary! In this blog our Access Officer Louise looks at the origins of this century and a half old hospital.
The Western General has its roots in the 18th century. St Cuthbert’s Poorhouse opened in 1761 to serve the parish, however by 1865, alongside a growing dissatisfaction with the general standard of poor relief in the country, the poorhouses of the City, the Canongate, and St Cuthbert’s, were reviewed by the City’s Medical Officer. Sir Henry Littlejohn found the poorhouses of the city to be in a derelict state and proposed a controversial plan to merge the existing poorhouses to create a new and larger building. His plans were rejected and an argument for a separate poorhouse for St Cuthbert's found support. The result was the opening of the Craigleith Hospital and Poorhouse in 1868.
|Craigleith Hospital and its grounds (GD28/8/1)|
The building served the poor of the local parish for over four decades until 1914 when the outbreak of the First World War saw it transformed into the 2nd Scottish General Hospital. The poorhouse patients were subsequently transferred to Craiglockhart Hospital, and Craigleith became dedicated to caring for sick and wounded British service men. To cope with its new role as a Military Hospital the building saw a number of transformations and extensions with the building of a large operating theatre and recreational hut.
|Craigleith Operating Theatre c.1914-1918 (GD28/8/1)|
After the war ended Craigleith returned to its role as a Poor Law Hospital in 1919 and it is between then and 1939 that the origins of the Western General Hospital began. In 1928 Craigleith started being used for general hospital purposes, and after the passing of the Local Government (Scotland) Act in 1929 the Parish Councils were abolished. The hospital was then taken over by the Public Health Committee on 16 May 1930. Craigleith, Pilton and Seafield Hospitals were then renamed to Western General, Northern General, and Eastern General Hospitals in 1932 under the new banner of Municipal General Hospitals.
Preparations were then made to expand the hospital as it began to admit medical and surgical patients, as well as children. New departments were opened for a variety of different treatments including massage, dentistry, and urology, the entire drainage system was renewed, and in stark contrast to its days as a Poor Law Hospitals, patients who were able to were expected to pay for their time in the hospital.
|Annual Report of the Public Health Departments and various Sub-Department for the year 1932 (GD28/7/2)|
Since its beginnings as a Poor Law Hospital, the Western General has survived two world wars, enjoyed the benefits that were brought by the introduction of the National Health Service, and developed into a hospital that now hosts a number of specialist units. In the coming months we will be bringing your more blogs relating to the the history and achievements of the hospital.
To mark the anniversary here in LHSA we are working on a collection of oral histories from staff who have worked at the Western General Hospital. Our archivist Louise Williams has already recorded a number of interviews and a team of enthusiastic volunteers have been tasked with cataloguing and part transcribing the recordings. For more information on this check out our last blog! You will also hear more from our volunteers and the project in the coming months, but in the meantime take a look at what other 150th celebrations are happening by visiting: https://westerngeneral150.blog/