Driving out of Glasgow on the A81, heading towards Aberfoyle, there is a scattering of dilapidated and austere long white huts that sit back from the road very close to Killearn. Commissioned in 1938 by the Ministry of Works, this facility was built in preparation for Glasgow’s casualties of war.
As a 600 bed emergency war hospital, the designs of the buildings are as low prefabricated concrete framework ‘dispersal huts’ to minimize any bomb damage as bombs rained over Glasgow and Clydebank. The hospital catered for the air raid casualties, as well as wounded servicemen, injured seamen from convoys arriving in the Clyde, POW’s and for general emergency cases.
During the wars years and beyond, Killearn gained a high profile reputation as a centre of excellence for it neuro-surgical, orthopaedic and nerve injury specialist units, and most surviving victims of post-war road traffic accidents in the north of Glasgow have the unit to thank for their recovery.
Joining the NHS is 1948 (under ‘Glasgow Western hospitals’), much of the general medical and surgical units were transferred the city, with Killearn being seen as a bit of hike or a long bus journey to travel the 15 miles from Glasgow.
Many patients remember the rural setting, with flowers and trees, and one person who was a patient during the war commented to me that going there ‘was a rare treat for a wee laddie from Glasgow’, despite the fact he was receiving hospital care.
Then as now, the long, fast stretch of A81 past the hospital itself attracts many speed-junkies on powerful motorcycles. My father-in-law, a retired orthopaedic surgeon, said that he and the staff were all too familiar with the sound of accelerating motorbikes along that stretch of road followed by the sound of an almighty crash not far from the gates of the hospital.
The neuro and orthopaedic staff would try to patch the victims together, but the lack of motorcycle helmets at that time meant that few could survive the impact at high speeds.
The hospital closed its doors in 1972, with the world-renowned neuro unit relocating to the Southern General Hospital. Since that time, the landowner has reclaimed the grounds of the hospital, and the hospital buildings decay like a set of rotting teeth.
Decaying and overgrown, with a rash of ‘Danger’, ‘Keep Out’, ‘Warning Asbestos’ signs, the site sits curious and menacing below Killearn village. Locals have questioned the future of the site for years. Currently used to shelter cattle and as a general agricultural dumping ground – as is the owner’s right – Killearn Hospital looks set to crumble to toxic asbestos dust.
Should you be tempted to visit the site, do proceed with caution. Aside from the risk from asbestos, it is said that the landowner is less than friendly to visitors and keeps a steely eye on his policies. Allegedly he had a shotgun license revoked for chasing Hydroelectric workers off his land!