A Hospital on the Move: Plewlands House, Morningside 1890-1895

Post office plan Edinburgh and Leith constructed from Ordnance and actual surveys by Bartholomew, 1893-4,
from National Library of Scotland
Making do with swimming baths and sewing rooms -- the move to Plewlands House 1890-5

When I first read in the directors’ minutes of 9 January 1891 (LHSA archives) that the hospital, newly relocated at Plewlands House in Morningside, would convert a swimming bath to a wash-house, I was puzzled. The grand house had most recently been a school. Did schools really have swimming baths back then? I read later that it had actually been built as a then fashionable hydropathy Hotel but never used for that function. It seems another example of the resourcefulness of RHSC directors and staff in adapting to the buildings where they located their hospital, after all Dr Joseph Bell used a converted sewing room for surgery at Meadowside House.

They'd been forced out of Meadowside House by an outbreak of typhoid which had killed one nurse. Others had resigned. On 4 December 1890 a petition from sisters and nurses asked the directors: 
'to consider the advisability of closing the hospital for a thorough investigation of the causes of the present outbreak of typhoid fever and general ill-health among the nurses'.
Over a number of days, Plewlands House was viewed, approved, drains seen to and on 12 December 1890 the lease was signed from 1 January 1891 until Whitsunday for £50 a month unfurnished.

On 9th January 1891 the (formidable) Ladies Committee were reported to be: 
'pleased with the situation and the size of  the wards, but rather appalled by the vastness of the rest of the accommodation'. (It was also noted that the matron would need more servants).
Courtesy of Lothian Health Services Archives, Edinburgh University Library

By February 1891, The Directors recorded a decision that Plewlands was not suitable for a permanent hospital as its important teaching role would not be possible at such a distance from town. Although the initial lease was only for six months, it was from here that negotiations were initiated to buy the site of Trade Maidens at Sciennes where their first purpose-built hospital would be (and currently still is). There would be no more making do with swimming baths or sewing rooms.

That they felt remote from the City centre is also clear from an urgent letter from the secretary to the national telephone company, 90 George Street on 28 June 1895 when the telephone at Plewlands was out of order: 
'Obliged if you can have the matter attended to at your earliest convenience, as, owing to the distance of the hospital from town the telephone is indispensable.' 

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