The battle to save Kirkcaldy’s Hunter Hospital

The former Hunter Hospital in Kirkcaldy (Pic by Fife Photo Agency)
The former Hunter Hospital in Kirkcaldy (Pic by Fife Photo Agency)

January 1992 began with a campaign launched to save a much beloved local treasure.

Hunter Hospital was under threat of complete closure and efforts began to locate a hospice in the building which was due to be mothballed later that year.

Campaigners, led by members of the former Kirkcaldy District Local Health Council, argued that the Hunter Street hospital should be retained for care of the terminally ill.

The hospice initiative was due to be launched on January 10 with a public meeting chaired by the convener of Kirkcaldy District Council, Councillor Robert King.

Fife Health Board had confirmed that it was proposing to transfer all of Hunter’s services to Victoria Hospital during 1992/93.

Christine Hall was former chairman of the disbanded local health watchdog and was heavily involved in the campaign group.

She pointed out that plans for the Victoria hospice involved converting Ward Four which was next to Dunnikier Road.

“The access there is very poor and the outlook from any of the windows is terrible,” she told the FFP, “it is just not a good environment for the terminally ill.”

By contrast she cited the suitability of Hunter Hospital, centrally situated in almost two acres of garden ground, just minutes walk from the bus station.

“We can’t accept the board’s argument that diagnostic facilities will be more readily available at Ward Four,” she went on.

“In these cases the diagnosis has been made months beforehand.”

Mrs Hall also drew attention to the original purpose behind the establishment of the hospital.

John Hunter, born in 1831, was a native of Kirkcaldy and a prominent citizen, becoming a Dean of Guild of the Burgh before his death in 1916.

In his will he left his home to be converted for use as a hospital for poor people, chiefly those living in Kirkcaldy, who could not be treated at home, and “primarily people who are ill of incurable disease”.

Hunter’s estate on his death was insufficient to carry out the work but, through investment, his trustees were able to start work in the 30s and it was opened in 1936.

“Our argument,” said Mrs Hall, “is that we should comply with John Hunter’s wishes.

“Hunter Hospital would be ideal for a hospice, and if there was a commitment to this by the board, finance would not really be a problem.

“If the board themselves couldn’t afford and conversion work would be massive public support for such a scheme.”

She added: “There’s also the fact that John Hunter was buried in the grounds of the house, which makes part of the garden area consecrated ground, which cannot be disturbed for a minimum of 100 years.”

Later that year a rescue plan was announced that would see a sheltered housing unit at the hospital for young patients, however it proved to be a mere reprieve.

Despite the best efforts of the formidable Mrs Hall, in the year 2000 the building was sold to a partnership of private companies and housing associations.