MHG52961 - Site of Smallpox Hospital (Victoria Hospital), Fort William

Summary

The probable site of a smallpox hospital constructed in 1904 and closed in 1935.

Type and Period (2)

  • ISOLATION BLOCK (Built, 20th Century - 1904 AD to 1904 AD)
  • INFECTIOUS DISEASES HOSPITAL (Built, 20th Century - 1904 AD to 1904 AD)

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

Some locals recall that that a fever hospital lay behind the original Belford Hospital on the other side of the railway. A smaller building alongside the distillery buildings could conceivably be the Infectious Diseases Hospital, but may be too large. Recollections of another local would place the hospital further north, approximately at the northern corner of the shinty pitch on An Aird. He recalls it as a two roomed brick-built construction. In the late seventies it was apparently long disused and the town dump had encroached on it. At the time it was the shelter of a local homeless man and his one-eyed dog. <1>

The published memories of Donald Cameron, a local man, recall that there was a hospital at An Aird for infectious cases, the most troublesome disease being TB. <2>

Council officers investigating land at An Aird have had discussions with locals, several of whom have mentioned a "fever" hospital being located somewhere on the site. There are two possible candidates depicted on Ordnance Survey maps from the 1960s and 70s, both north of the former course of the River Ness. A building denoted as "Works" is depicted on the 1964 map, and subsequently as "Tanks" on the 1975 map. Another building is unnamed on the 1964 and has disappeared by 1975. <3>

A 6 bed smallpox hospital was built on the Aird in 1904 and run jointly by Lochaber District Council and Fort William Burgh. Like many other such hospitals it was little used. It is listed as the Victoria Hospital by the 1920s. It was closed and sold to the Lochaber Power Company (a subsidiary of British Aluminium) in 1935. <4>

Further information was supplied by the Highland Council Archive Service (Lochaber) taken from the Burgh of Fort William Minute books:

7/7/1902 – “the erection of a bridge across the River Nevis for providing a suitable access to the proposed Small Pox Hospital on the ‘Aird’ and to the proposed depot there for the town refuse”.

2/2/1903 – “Supplying a laying of a water-pipe from the branch line at the Slaughter House to the Small Pox Hospital on the Aird” <5>

An oblique aerial photograph held by RCAHMS and dating from between 1944-50 shows no evidence of the building marked as "Works" on the 1964 map. On the basis of all the available information, therefore, the most likely location for this building (assuming that it appears on any of the historic Ordnance Survey maps) would seem to be the unnamed building depicted on the 1964 OS map (see <3> above). <6>

Following a BBC news article prompted by this HER entry, Martin Briscoe was contacted by the Lochaber News for further information and he provided them with further notes on his research. <7>

The Lochaber News ran an article based on the notes in the January 9th issue and later ran the aerial photograph on their Roamer page. The journalist, Ian Abernethy, was subsequently contacted by a local resident who was one of the last patients of the isolation ward, at the age of 10, in 1930. He recalls that he was the only person in the red brick building, apart from the nurse. He had been carried to the hospital from his house and was a patient there for three weeks. His mother was only allowed to look at him through the window.
Another local recalls that after the scarlet fever hospital was demolished there remained alongside it a "wee house" wherein lived "Wee Sammy". Around 45 years ago he recalls delivering messages to contractors working for the Hydro who by then were using Wee Sammy's house as a bothy. <8><9>

The Lochaber News, w/e 27 March 2010, again featured the fever hospital in its Roamer column publishing a postcard said to clearly show the building. <10>

In March 2010, Martin Briscoe notified the HER that a plan newly acquired by the Lochaber Archives showed the location of this elusive building. This has since been confirmed and a copy of the plan has been seen by HER staff. Happily the building is depicted in the same location as was estimated on the basis of the above information. A digitised extract of the map was rectified and used to plot the outline of the building against modern mapping. <11><12>

Sources/Archives (12)

Map

Location

Grid reference Centred NN 10909 74582 (21m by 24m) (Estimated from sources)
Map sheet NN17SW
Civil Parish KILMALLIE
Geographical Area LOCHABER

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Investigations/Events (0)

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