Nostalgia: History of healing

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THE long and fascinating history of Leith Hospital is set to be brought to life once again later this year.

Memories from some of those who worked and were treated there have been used by writer Laure Paterson and primary six pupils at St Mary’s Primary School to create a play for this summer’s Leith Festival.

Those vivid recollections are an indicator of how important the hospital was to the local community before its closure.

The hospital started life as a dispensary in Mill Lane, opened by the Leith Humane Society in 1815. A casualty hospital was opened on the same site in 1837, and in 1848 the dispensary and hospital were combined to create Leith Hospital.

It would go on to occupy a special place in the community, treating families and children for everything from minor ailments to surgical emergencies.

Leith Hospital was a general hospital with medical and surgical wards for men, women and children, as well as an accident unit. A very early image of its surgical team from 1886 showed them operating without masks or gowns, something unthinkable now but common at the time.

The focus of the new play was the time when the wards were full with children suffering from tonsillitis, measles, whooping cough and scarlet fever. Staff and residents always worked hard to bring a bit of cheer to the hospital, which was even visited by the Wombles.

In 1974, it came under North Lothian District of Lothian Health Board and in 1987, despite a long and hard-fought campaign by Leithers, the hospital was closed and its functions transferred to the Western General Hospital.