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A Significant Medical History

My name is Audrey Matthews, nee McKean, nee Pickering.

I was born in 1949 and came to Stobhill in 1967 to commence student nurse training which would take three years. It is 2007 and I am still here. I am now 57-years-old.

Radical restructuring of Stobhill is underway to produce a new hospital on the bones of the old one. The new one will reflect on how patients will be cared for in this 21st century. They say it will be completed in 2009 and so will I as I will be 60-years-old and will retire.

I would like to share some of my memories of the 20th century Stobhill before I go. I hope you find them interesting.

There were 28 students in my class and we were all between the ages of 17 and 20. For the first six months of our training it was mandatory to live in the hospital grounds in one of the six nurse’s homes. We would be working shifts and living ‘above’. The shop meant we would not have to rely on public transport to get us to work on time. None of us owned a car and certainly none of us could drive.

As preliminary Training Students (PTS) we came in for very special treatment. We were housed in a mansion called Belmont House, c1910. This house had been the home of Hugh Reid, managing director of the North British Locomotive Company. It embodied the wealth and power of the Reid family occupying the highest point in the city of Glasgow with views of seven counties.

Hugh Reid died in 1935 and bequeathed the mansion to Stobhill as a children’s home in memory of his wife, Marion Bell, who had died in 1913. The Marion Bell Home was later used as a nurses living and training quarters. The house’s huge bedrooms were converted to small dormitories accommodating about six of us per room. Even though the house had to have considerable changes made to it, it never lost any of its magical air of prosperity and grace.

This beautiful house was demolished in 1986. I think fire had broken out and the house was unsalvageable. It was situated at the Balgray Hill end of the hospital, surrounded by fabulous gardens, as was much of the ground in Stobhill. I can remember a floral display created on the area opposite the clock declaring that “HEALTH IS WEALTH”.

The enclosed photograph is taken on the front steps of the mansion. I am third from top, second on the left. Our tutor Miss Pearson is also in the photograph, she also lived in with us. She would come round in the evening to bid us good night wearing a long dressing gown.

I am sure it was also to make sure we were all present and correct. We had quickly located a fire escape in the house which was used on illicit nights out to get back in.

We were issued with stone hot water bottles as it was October and cold. The house was heated with coal fires which were lit only in the evening and only in the communal sitting room. I always wondered what became of the piggy water bottles as they were called.

At no time were we allowed visitors to any of the live-in quarters. During my time in Belmont House, the occasion of my 18th birthday came round. I was watching a very popular American series called Payton Place. It was very risqué for those days and, therefore, very popular. My tutor came to the sitting room and told me I had visitors and that I would be allowed to go outside to see them. My mum, sister and her fiancé were outside in the fiancé’s wee pink and blue Ford Prefect. They had come to wish me happy birthday with a cake festooned with 18 candles in the back seat.

My pleasure was almost marred by the fact that in my dressing gown pocket, were a packet of highly illegal cigarettes and a box of very noisy matches. Fortunately the matches behaved themselves and remained silent and by association the cigs did not fall out of my pocket.

I never thought about the tutors having private lives and cannot recall any of the Sisters being married. Being dedicated to their vocation was then considered saintly and the object of bad wages or working conditions was never discussed. I don’t suppose they had time for boyfriends and where would they go to meet a boy?

My first pay was £13 10 shillings and sixpence. Food and lodgings had already been deducted. I thought I was rich! That was for a calendar month. On pay day we would queue at the pay office under the clock tower, which I think was a listed building and therefore should still be standing. Is it? We were paid in cash in a wee brown envelope. It would be many years before we had bank accounts.

After the first six months had passed, we had the option to live out. I chose to live in for the duration of my training and moved to the main nursing home which was situated half way up the road leading to the top of the hospital. There were four storeys in this building, no elevator, no fire escape and one public pay phone situated on the ground floor.

The level of seniority governed what floor you lived on. For the next six months I lived in a room in the attic shared with four others. As I progressed in my training, I gradually had a room of my own on the second floor. The bathrooms and toilets were situated at either end of corridors.

As you entered your final year, you were in the privileged position of living in one of the smaller nurses homes. The rooms all had washhand basins, but the bathrooms and toilets were shared. We were considered mature enough to be trusted with our own front door keys and so we became in charge of ourselves.

Up until this time we would go home on our days off. A 48-hour pass would be issued by the home warden who would record in her ledger details of where and with whom we would be spending our time off with. God knows why they needed to know this. Maybe the wardens just wanted to know what went on in the outside world.
These wardens would live in with the students in the various nurses’ homes. They were all middle-aged spinster ladies who never seemed to leave the hospital and in hindsight I wondered if they had homes to go to.

Student nurse training took the form of a period of time, usually six weeks, spent in class to learn theory and simulated ward procedures, followed by three months on the wards to consolidate what you had just learned in class. Exams were taken on the last day in class, the results being posted on a very public notice board!

We worked a 42-hour week comprising a three-tier shift system. We were not supernumery during our training. We were expected to work in the ward while studying for our exams. As we became more senior, we would frequently be in charge of a ward, usually on night duty as the trained staff were needed for the day-time activities.

Every Christmas we would put on either a pantomime or a show made up of a number of skits. It was amazing to find out the talent hiding behind stethoscopes and aprons. We had wonderful singers, dancers, actors and musicians to call on to put on the show. These were not professional entertainers, but staff from all over the hospital.

The show was put on for two nights, the first night for patients and their families and friends. The second night was for staff and their families and friends. I don’t know why this wonderful tradition ceased. It was enjoyed by all who participated.

My three years training in Stobhill were some of the happiest times of my life. I met thousands of people and had the privilege of helping them get better. I was and still am enormously proud of my profession.

As I write this, Stobhill looks like one gigantic building site and yes it will be fabulous when it’s completed. I close my eyes and transport myself back through time to my heydays as a young lassie on the brink of life.

I can hear bird song, smell the wonderful flowers our own gardeners planted and tended. There were benches situated throughout the grounds for patients to enjoy the scenery and prams to wheel the child patients around in.

I grew up here and have weathered all the emotions a human being experiences in a lifetime. It’s time to move on to the next stage of my life which will not include Stobhill. I am, however, looking forward to the future and wonder how my lovely Stobhill is coping without me.


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