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Ross Memorial Hospital's 150th anniversary brought to book by Highland medics in fascinating new volume


By Hector MacKenzie

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Steve and Jim Leslie have pulled together a fascinating book that is a treasure trove of information about the hospitals of Ross and Cromarty down the years. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Steve and Jim Leslie have pulled together a fascinating book that is a treasure trove of information about the hospitals of Ross and Cromarty down the years. Picture: James Mackenzie.

THE impending 150th anniversary of a hospital that has played a part in the lives of generations of Ross-shire folk is one well worth marking.

The fascinating history of Dingwall's Ross Memorial has been captured in superb detail by father and son medics Steve and Jim Leslie as part of a wider book project charting the back story of the county's hospitals.

The Ross Memorial is the county’s oldest and the fourth oldest general hospital in Highland after Inverness’s RNI, Nairn Town and County and the Belford in Fort William.

It is, say the authors, an excellent example of a Victorian voluntary hospital.

Funds were raised to mark the passing of a prominent local doctor – Dr Ross of Dunglass who died in 1869 – and the money collected became the core of the capital required to build the hospital.

Prominent local people were the instigators. They formed a committee with Sir Kenneth Mackenzie, Lord Lieutenant and notable land owner, in the chair and, with the able direction of local doctor William Bruce, built a small hospital so well designed that its plan was highlighted by Sir Henry Burdett as an example in his book on hospital design in the UK.

The committee asked for subscribers and many responded with annual subscriptions, donations and legacies so that the hospital became financially viable and, with consistent support from the community, remained so for the next 76 years until the NHS took over.

Ross Memorial has a long and fascinating history.
Ross Memorial has a long and fascinating history.

It must be remembered that there were few if any government grants then and, indeed, the hospital rarely sought any.

For example, when maternity became an issue in the 1940s and hospitals were encouraged to form maternity wards, local farmer William Peterkin financed the Peterkin ward which still bears his name, although its function has changed.

Dingwall people had no need at that point to travel to Inverness (pre Kessock Bridge!) to use the government-sponsored Rosedene maternity hospital in Inverness.

There are many other examples of generous donations in the life of the voluntary hospital as well as the huge effort that many in the community regularly made to keep the essential supply of funds available.

The proceeds from such events as whist drives, dances, football matches, concerts and also regular donations of produce – game, jam, flowers, newspapers and so on – were donated year after year.

Local people acted as trustees and the committee continued to prudently manage the hospital over the years with local doctors giving their services free, a part-time treasurer and secretary and an active ‘ladies committee’ which oversaw the day to day running of the hospital by the matron and her small team.

Hospitals were much simpler institutions and the complex patient care we have now come to expect was unimaginable then.

A remarkable feature of the hospital is that its façade has changed little over the years.

However, it is not just the building’s facade which has been so resilient to the passing years.

The Dingwall hospital continues to play a key role in the community today – and hasn't changed that much down the years.
The Dingwall hospital continues to play a key role in the community today – and hasn't changed that much down the years.

It is also a reminder of how a relatively small community with sustained and positive focus can keep an essential service running from its own resources and hard work, the authors state.

A history of the Ross Memorial, along with the other hospitals in the county, has recently been published. The Hospitals of Ross and Cromarty presents the stories of the Ross Memorial, the Cromarty Cottage Hospital, the Seaforth Sanatorium, the Nicolson Mackenzie Hospital, Arthurville, Ness House, Invergordon Hospital and several others. It is available from the museums in Dingwall, Cromarty, Tain, Invergordon and Gairloch and from Nairn Bookshop.

It is also available by post from Old Manse Books at 16 Southside Place, Inverness or via the History of Highland Hospitals website at www.historyofhighlandhospitals.com.

It is in A5 format with 262 pages with many illustrations and costs £4.


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