The scale of causalities during the First World War meant a huge increase in demand for hospital beds. Finding premises to use as hospitals was not difficult; the War Office was inundated with offers of buildings, ranging from town halls and schools to large and small private houses. However the work of adapting these buildings to their new purpose had to be done quickly and inexpensively.
After taking the decision to establish a hospital for limbless sailors and soldiers in the West of Scotland, the Provisional Committee of the Princess Louise Scottish Hospital immediately set about finding suitable premises to accommodate it. Thomas Aikman, owner of the Mansion House of Erskine, generously offered free use of the house and grounds for the period of the war and for 12 months after the declaration of peace. He also gave the Committee the option to make the institution a permanent one on payment of the agricultural value of the grounds. Sir John Reid, later Vice President of the hospital, bought the house and grounds and gifted them anonymously to the charity. A sub executive committee was appointed in April 1916 to transform Erskine House into a hospital with accommodation for about 200 patients.
Located on the Upper Firth of the Clyde, the Erskine estate originally belonged to the Earls of Mar. In 1703 it was purchased by Alexander Stuart 5th Lord Blantyre and remained in that family until 1900 when the title went dormant following the death of Charles Walter Stuart, 12th Lord Blantyre. The house was build by his father, Major General Robert Stuart, 11th Lord Blantyre who commissioned Sir Robert Smirke, architect of the British Museum to design a manor house. Adopting a gothic Elizabethan style the house was built using stone from a quarry on the estate and oak imported from Canada. It contained over 75 bedrooms and the executive committee considered it to be well suited for conversion to a hospital with facilities for disabled patients.
The large ground floor rooms comprising of the drawing room, library, billiard and dining rooms were richly decorated with gothic mullioned windows and ornate modelled plaster ceilings, marble chimney pieces and moulded cast iron dog grates. The drawing room and library were transformed into wards 1 and 2, while the billiard room became a dormitory. The 120 foot picture gallery became a recreation hall which the founders felt was essential for patients to alleviate boredom, it also served as space for those with new limbs to practice walking.
The first floor bedrooms were fitted out to serve as the operating theatre, dispensary and Rontgen Ray room. These rooms were furnished with the very latest state of the art equipment funded by generous public donations. The grand staircase was altered to fit an electric passenger hoist, with a cage 6 feet by 8 feet by 7 feet high. The rest of the first floor was used for staff quarters, with some rooms being given over as dormitories for the men.
The basement floor was the hub of the entire hospital. Patients were conveyed into the basement hall from Erskine ferry using an existing subway connection. Adjoining rooms were arranged for casting (making casts of the stumps of patients limbs), spray baths, clothing stores, linen rooms, etc. The existing heating, electrical and water systems were inadequate to serve the number of new residents the house would be expected to accommodate. Two 75-horse power Electro Motor Steam Dynamos were installed to ensure electricity supply would be available 24 hours day. The kitchens were completely remodelled to accommodate a bigger staff and were fitted with the latest electric appliances including a plate washing machine and a steam cooking plant.
By October 1916, despite delays in sourcing equipment due to wartime shortages, the hospital was ready to admit patients. Within a year over 1200 patients had been treated at Erskine. The hospital continued to operate out of the house until 2000 when it moved to purpose built facilities on the Erskine estate.
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