BELVIDERE HOSPITAL

 

51) A children's ward, Christmas, 1910.

 

Although the modern Belvidere has been involved in various medical specialities, its origin springs from a more dangerous time. Despite the introduction of a fresh water supply to Glasgow from Loch Katrine in 1860, the city remained an extremely unhealthy place. The squalid conditions in which the overcrowded inhabitants had to live promoted the rise and spread of disease. Belvidere Hospital was built in rapid response to one such epidemic.

In 1870 an outbreak of "relapsing fever" swept through the city, filling all available fever accommodation at the Royal Infirmary and Kennedy St Hospital. The city fathers purchased Belvidere estate in October of that year to build a temporary facility to isolate and care for the sufferers. By March, 1871 the speedily constructed pavilions were home to 366 patients and in the ensuing three years of the epidemic, over 3,000 cases were treated at the hospital.

To maximise the benefits from having such a facility so far removed - at that time - from the main centre of the population, and because of a suspicion that smallpox was escaping from Kennedy St into the neighbouring tenements, it was decided that a permanent fever and smallpox hospital be sited at Belvidere.

When built over the next two decades, it was the largest of its kind outside London and the finest barring none. Some innovatory features of the new hospital were double glazing to maintain temperatures and rounded window sills to prevent the retention of dust! Most of the original buildings survive, although they have been modernised.

Over the years the hospital cared for the victims of many dreadful illnesses including typhus, smallpox, sleeping sickness, polio - in which pioneering techniques in treatment were pursued - and diphtheria. In 1900 it even had to deal with an outbreak of bubonic plague - the "Black Death" of medieval times. The work was tiring, innovatory and dangerous, and nursing maids, nurses and doctors died in caring for their charges. At one time young doctors could not find insurance until they themselves had survived typhus.

A Chest Clinic opened in 1952 to help in the fight against tuberculosis, a disease which ravaged Glasgow within living memory. In recent years the hospital has increasingly been used to provide a service to the elderly, but its longer term future is now uncertain.