Nostalgia: Outrage at plans to close a Kirkcaldy hospital

The bust of John Hunter at the former entrance to the hospital which bore his name
The bust of John Hunter at the former entrance to the hospital which bore his name

Fears that a Kirkcaldy hospital was set for closure led to a storm of protest in February 1992.

Health chiefs were forced to pledge that Hunter Hospital would remain open and continue to care for the town’s sick people – just as its owner had intended.

How the FFP reported the hospital news in 1992

How the FFP reported the hospital news in 1992

Formerly known as St Brycedale House, the Grade-B building on Hunter Street was erected in 1785 and by the 1990s was primarily used as a convalescence home.

It’s original owner, George Heggie, sold it to Provost Patrick Don Swan who then sold it in 1886 to John Hunter, a Victorian cabinet maker, who remained there until his death in 1916 when he bequeathed the building to the town, wishing it to become a ‘hospital for aged and incurables’.

It remained so until its future came under threat as Fife Health Board considered closing it down, nearly 30 years ago.

Behind-the-scenes moves were kept secret for weeks, despite public uproar at threats to close the hospital in the early months of 1993.

But a rescue plan was announced that would see a sheltered housing unit at the hospital for young patients.

Malcolm Murray, acting general manager, said: “Whilst the scheme has not been formalised, I’m confident that satisfactory progress can be made, and that Hunter Hospital will play a very important new role in our community.”

The surprise disclosure had come less than 24 hours after the board agreed to recognise the “overwhelming public concern” over the closure threat and develop a strategy for Hunter’s future use.

Ann Ferguson, board chairman, added: “There’s no doubt that we cannot continue to use the facility in its present form. I do not think that from the public response there’s any disagreement on this.

”However, the hospital is very well placed geographically, and the board has explored various future uses for the facility ”

The Hunter Hospital Support Committee, which had formed to fight for the building’s future, welcomed the news.

Christine Hall, honorary secretary, said: “I am overjoyed that the board has taken cognisance of John Hunter’s wishes, and the feelings of the vast majority of the people of Kirkcaldy.

“This is surely a result of the public outrage which the board has stirred up. If it had alternative plans why didn’t health chiefs reveal them before the consultation period?”

The committee wound up its campaign and thanked the “hundreds of local townsfolk” who supported it.

However the grand building’s future as a hospital didn’t come to pass. It remained closed and in 2000 was sold to a partnership of private companies and housing associations.

Two years later, plans were announced for 2.5m multi-partnership project that would see the building undergo a complete refurbishment and affordable housing built alongside a day care centre for the elderly and a unit for dementia sufferers.

Viewpoint Housing Association said it would construct 16 flats for the elderly and the day care facility for older people.

Benview Trading Company Ltd., a private subsidiary of Viewpoint, developed an eight-bedded unit for dementia sufferers, while Fife Special Housing Association announced it would provide nine flats for affordable rent and another nine for low cost home ownership.

Quite what John Hunter, whose bust remains at the building’s entrance would have thought of it all, no-one knows.

It covers the site where he was buried, at his own wishes, in an upright position.