Children’s Home Hospital (1903-1994)

Illustrated Essays

“Often a child made a dramatic recovery on the back of good food, fresh air & loving care” Margaret McIntyre, who worked at Strathblane Children’s Home Hospital for two periods between 1958 and its closure in 1994. 

Penelope Ker

 The rapid industrialisation of Glasgow during the 19th century and chronic overcrowding in slum housing left children prey to various diseases. The desperate need for specialist care for such children was partly met by liberal-minded volunteers such as Miss Penelope Ker of Napier Lodge in Strathblane, the daughter of a wealthy accountant. Despite being profoundly deaf, she played a key role in the Queen Margaret Settlement in Anderston, created in 1897 to promote the welfare of poorer people, particularly women and children. She also founded the city’s first Invalid Children’s School.  

Along with her friend Marion Rutherford, she decided to open a small hospital for children, especially those suffering from tuberculosis of the bones and joints for whom there was little provision. Many sufferers of this form of TB were slum children who often could be completely cured with a nutritious diet, careful nursing and plenty of fresh air.  

Their first venture opened in Aberfoyle in 1903 and was based in a cottage lent to Penelope Ker. By 1910 there were 20 children plus staff in three cottages. The Scottish Education Department supplied a teacher and in 1912 an HM Inspector reported: “The children are bright and frank and answer questions with readiness and intelligence. An unmistakable air of happiness pervades the school.” 

Patient List Extract from 1912 Report 

By this time it was clear that the lease on the cottages in Aberfoyle would not be renewed and following some vigorous fund-raising, Miss Ker and her committee were able to announce in 1912: “After several disappointments, the Committee are glad to report that a suitable site for the new Hospital has been secured, and that the erection will be begun forthwith. The new site is upon a plot of ground about one acre and a quarter in extent on the south side of the Blane Valley, immediately above Strathblane Village. A feu contract has been completed between a number of gentlemen acting as Trustees for the Hospital and the Trustees of the Craigend Estate… The situation, which gives beautiful views of the Blane Valley and the Campsie Fells, is very open and exposed to the sun and wind on all sides.” 

“Sketch of New Building at Strathblane” from the 1912 Annual Report

It was to be called The Children’s Home Hospital, Strathblane: ‘home’ because to affect a cure many of the young patients needed to spend months, even years there, and ‘hospital’ because they required expert nursing care. Initially, the visiting arrangements seemed brutal. In 1905 parents were able to visit only once every three months. By the time the young patients moved to the new building in Strathblane on 5 May 1913, parents were allowed in once a month but only on Saturday afternoons. 

On 20 June 1913 more than 200 guests assembled at the end of Milndavie Road to watch the Marchioness of Tullibardine officially open the new hospital. The Milngavie Herald of 27 June reported: “The building itself is of one storey, with a wide verandah extending the whole length of the south front. The central part contains children’s and nurses’ day-rooms, kitchen and matron’s room. Extending equally on each side of this central block are two wards, each with accommodation for 12 beds.” Parish ministers the Rev William Moyes and the Rev Theodor Johnson of the United Free Church conducted a service of dedication. 

A series of photographs held by the Mitchell Library on their Virtual Volumes website – http://www.mitchelllibrary.org/virtualmitchell/ – shows the Home Hospital in full swing during the First world War. Sliding partitions on the south side of the building meant that the children could spend much of their time in the open air. Several images show lessons taking place in open-sided classrooms. In one shot, bed-bound children are lying on the verandah. In others children are tending the garden and learning to cook.  

Strathblane Children’s Home Hospital c1916 (Courtesy of the Mitchell Library) 

Another picture from the Mitchell’s Virtual Volumes shows young patients sunbathing on the verandah around 1922. 

Young patients sunbathing on the verandah c1922 (Courtesy of the Mitchell Library)

Volunteers taught various crafts such as leatherwork and by the end of 1914 the children were already knitting comforts for soldiers on the Western Front. The Revs Moyes and Johnson provided services for the children on Sunday and a Roman Catholic priest dispensed communion. (By 1929 there were 13 RC patients.) By this time activities such as Guides and Brownies were also on offer.  

In 1927 an anonymous donation had enabled the Home Hospital to build an extension to accommodate children suffering from the effects of acute rheumatism. 

Extension Plans 1927 (Courtesy of Stirling Archives) 

In 1928 a Charter of Novodamus and Feu Contract was agreed between the trustees of Sir Andrew Buchanan (owner of the Craigend Estate) and the Home Hospital trustees, giving the latter security of tenure. Nevertheless, throughout its existence, its finances were always precarious and dependent on the generosity of donors, many of them local. Each annual report includes long lists of locals who had donated everything from toys to jam and wealthier donors, including Penelope Ker, who sponsored “cots” in memory of friends or relatives.  

In 1930 Mearnskirk Hospital opened south of Glasgow for children suffering from all kinds of tuberculosis and from then on such cases became the responsibility of the Public Health Department. At a stroke the Home Hospital lost £700 from its annual income as Glasgow Corporation switched most TB cases to Mearnskirk.  

In response Strathblane Home Hospital extended its remit to take in children suffering from serious illness, rickets, general debility or those in need of prolonged convalescence. By 1932 fewer than half the 67 children admitted during the year had TB. Fifty children were discharged during the same year who were now “well” or “improved”. 

In addition, six children were removed by their parents despite still requiring professional nursing care. The suspicion was that parents on the dole begrudged the loss of payment for a child being treated in hospital.  

From the mid-1930s young patients suffering from incipient Tuberculosis were also admitted. By now relatives could visit once a week and each Saturday dozens would flood out to Strathblane on the bus. The home became a popular subject for postcards.  

Postcard of Strathblane Children’s Home Hospital
Postcard of Strathblane Children’s Home Hospital

During the Hungry Thirties, any small luxuries for the children had to come from donors. Newspaper publishers George Outram and Company supplied a wireless. In 1941 a piano was donated, followed by a gramophone and eventually a film projector.  

The Home Hospital’s days as a voluntary hospital run by well-wishers ended in 1948 with the coming of the National Health Service. A new board of management took over and it came under the auspices of Glasgow and District Children’s Hospital and later the Yorkhill Children’s and Maternity Hospitals. It began caring for children with special needs, including those with spina bifida.  

It remained an important source of local employment, especially for women. The late Emma Findlay, a local farmer’s daughter who hoped to become a nurse, began work there in 1951 for £12 a month. She remembered “rows of children in their beds with flannelette nightgowns and red bed jackets.” The Irish matron, who moved “like a ship in full sail”, soon discovered Emma’s skills with the needle and had her spending her nightshifts sewing and darning old nightgowns. “They had new ones in the cupboard but the children only got to wear them when the consultants came out to visit from Glasgow!” she recalled.  

Margaret McIntyre, of Milndavie Crescent, who was born and bred in Strathblane, began work at the home hospital in 1958 when she was 15. She looked after a number of children with Perthes Disease, which can affect three to 11-year olds and affects the hips, often necessitating long periods lying in bed on traction.

“Some were poor souls but in general it was a happy place. Often a child made a dramatic recovery on the back of good food, fresh air & loving care. Some of the older children were even able to go into Glasgow for their secondary education. We cared for one wee girl who was born without legs. She eventually went on to marry and have a family. I kept in touch with some of the kids long after they grew up and left us.” 

Margaret McIntyre

She adds: “We still depended on charity for extras, like cakes.” Strathblane Heritage now owns the wooden collecting box used for collecting spare change from visitors.  

After raising her own family, Margaret returned to working there in 1979. As government policy began to switch to caring for special needs children in their own homes or in smaller units close by, the emphasis at Strathblane Home Hospital switched to offering respite care of three or four weeks at a time to hard-pressed parents. By the early 1990s rumours began to circulate about impending closure.  

Photos from Margaret McIntyre’s album

Margaret and others campaigned vigorously to keep the home open. “It was virtually the only employment for women in the village. About 30 of us worked up there and there had always been a strong bond with the community. On top of that, the closure was opposed by Greater Glasgow Health Council on the basis that there was a significant unmet need for respite care. Greater Glasgow Health Board proposed shifting the respite care to the Family Resource Centre run by the charity SENSE in Pollokshields, even though several families said it did not suit their needs. But Strathblane seemed to be regarded by the authorities as an unnecessary encumbrance.” 

Margaret McIntyre

The idea of converting the Strathblane facility into a children’s hospice was also rejected. The value of the land with its panoramic view of the Blane Valley and Campsie Hills may have played a part in the closure decision, which was announced in June 1994. Shortly afterwards the site was sold to a developer for luxury housing. Today it is occupied by six large villas. 

After 80 years caring for those unable to care for themselves, the Children’s Home Hospital closed on 1 September 1994. 

Children’s Home Hospital shortly before demolition

©Strathblane Heritage 2023

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