Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Creaky boilers and pink thread

Cate and I have been enjoying some forays into the Sick Kids' past via the Lothian Health Services Archive held in the University of Edinburgh library. If you go back 100 years or so, the documents themselves are fascinating, penned in beautiful copperplate handwriting on crisp cream paper. Even the simplest messages are committed to paper and put in the mail: 'May I call on you tomorrow afternoon?' Today we would just send a text.

On our last visit we chose to look at documents from 1895, being the year that the hospital moved into the current site at Rillbank. There were piles of detailed specifications handwritten by the architects George Washington Browne, and stitched together in thick documents with pink thread. Then in reply came tenders from ironmongers, glaziers, plumbers and builders, and suppliers of equipment -- cots, mattresses, fire grates, lift doors, heating apparatus, the furnishing of the board room. Some of the items mentioned are still there, and I particularly enjoyed the £43 estimate for the carving of the Royal Arms over the entrance hall from messrs Beattie and Hay.

The minute books of committee meetings give witness to complex plans for the moving the hospital. There were complaints about delays in the delivery of an ironing machine, and a very prolonged exchange of letters with the boiler fitters from London. In the initial months after the hospital's opening in late November, there were complaints about both certain wards being far too cold and yet the stoking of the boilers creating such heat locally that it cracked plaster and fuelled concern about the danger to the building by fire. Finally in June 1896, the company agreed: 'we are most anxious to settle the matter in a friendly spirit', agreeing to put in a new boiler of greater capacity and coat the basement pipes with plaster. The correspondence was still going on in August 96. During the current cold snap, we're all aware of the vulnerability of our boilers and think of this going on on the scale of a hospital must've been a great worry.

Finally the minutes deal with plans for the opening ceremony with Princess Beatrice attending. Invites were issued to 400 guests and because the hospital wasn't properly occupied until late November, a party of convalescent children were brought in for the ceremony on 31st October. Reducing the number of patients prior to removal to Rillbank was also discussed. 

As plans begin to be realised for the next move of the hospital to Little France, it's interesting to reflect on the similarities and differences that 120 years make to such a process. I'm pretty sure there won't be many hand written bundles of paper stitched together with pink thread!

More from the archives here

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