Translate this page: EnglishFrenchGermanItalianPortugueseRussianSpanish

“Fresh air, good food, regulated exercise, and rest” : Life in Bellefield Hospital for Patients in the early 20th century


Bellefield Hospital, early twentieth century


INTRODUCTION : One of the most interesting hospitals in Lanark,  Bellefield was a originally  a private house, built around 1885 by James Lawrie, a local JP and director of Lockhart Hospital.  The house was then used as a private sanatorium 1895-1904, before being bought  over by the Glasgow and West of Scotland branch of the National Association of the prevention of consumption. For a number of years it was run as a sanatorium for TB, then became a hospital for geriatrics  (1961-66).  From 1967-1992 it was used for mentally handicapped patients, administered by Lanarkshire Health Board,  before being demolished to make way for the Bellefield housing  estate.  This article focuses on its use as a sanatorium around the early twentieth century, when it was being run by Dr James W Allan, a distinguished physician whose innovative ideas and practices helped put Bellefield at the forefront of treatment for TB.  From his writings and articles in various medical journals, such as the Glasgow Medical Journal, we can get a fascinating glimpse into everyday life for patients.

Dr J W Allan

Dr J W Allan

Dr James W Allan took over as Chief Medical Officer in 1909, having been involved in the treatment of TB for over forty years.  At that time, the hospital included the original mansion house, used for administration and staff accommodation; a laundry, kitchen and wash house ; a wood and iron pavilion, built by Glasgow architects Speirs and Company, with 50 beds; and five chalets, or huts.  In total, the site occupied around 27 acres, including both pasture land and woodland.

The patients were referred from the Dispensary in Cochrane Street, Glasgow run by Dr J Scott, whose role was to identify those who would be most likely to benefit from treatment at Bellefield.  Consequently, the majority  were from the west of Scotland, as can be proved by looking at the census returns for 1911 which lists the patients and where they came from.

Bellefield patients,1909

Bellefield patients,1909


Gardening at Bellefield, 1909

Gardening at Bellefield, 1909

Everyday Life  On arrival at Bellefield, patients would spend the first few days in bed, under careful observation.  The day would start at 7.30, with “ablutions”, then breakfast at 8.30.  This was followed by work,  (see the picture on left, and the section below for details)  followed by a short rest then lunch at 1.30.  In the afternoons, inmates were encouraged to go for walks, and  and Dr Allan was keen to point out the number of “charming walks” available, many of which will be familiar to Lanarkians today.  These included  the walk down the bridge over the Mouse at Leechford; the walk to Cleghorn Bridge via Findlater’s Farm; and  the walk through Cleghorn Woods.  This was followed by afternoon tea at 4.30, then games such as bagatelle or draughts.  There would then be the evening meal followed by entertainments like music, concerts, lectures and talks by visiting speakers.  Local clergy also made visits.  In addition, there was a well stocked Library to encourage reading.  Inmates would go to bed at 8pm, and were served a halfpint of milk at 9pm.   Generally, the food on offer was generous, breakfast for example consisting of:

  • Porridge (3/4 of a pint )
  • a pint of milk
  • bacon and eggs (varied with fish or boiled ham)
  • bread, butter and marmalade

In line with prevailing medical opinion regarding the treatment of TB, the importance of fresh air was emphasized, as the following quote from Dr Allan shows:

Both in the pavilions and in the chalets, patients are exposed to fresh air night and day, and they soon learn to appreciate the benefits of this.  Even in stormy weather the windows are kept open, but in the case of drifting rain or snow the windows on the exposed side are temporarily closed but even then there is free circulation of air form the other windows which remain open.  In exceptional cases, the patient may be protected from the violence of the wind – for commonsense must play a part in all things – but as a rule patients dislike interference with the free circulation of air.  Of course, when they are in bed, they are covered with blankets and have their legs thrust into protective sacs, and, in cold weather a hot water bottle at their feet.   Only their faces are exposed and the patients do not seem to fear the weather much

Amazingly by today’s standard,  smoking, though discouraged, was permitted, with Dr Allan of the view that a smoke in the fresh air after a meal would not damage a patient’s  health.   Alcohol on the other hand was strictly forbidden, with any patient found drunk being liable to dismissal.

Painting the chalets, circa 1910

Painting the chalets, circa 1910

Manual Work : Dr Allan introduced a systematic programme of graduated manual labour, whereby the fittest patients undertook heavy work such as tree felling, digging, using wheelbarrows etc; the next fittest would do work like cutting up firewood, weeding, painting the chalets etc; and the least fittest would do light work such as sweeping floor, cleaning/sharpening tools, polishing brasses etc.  All the patients were encouraged to take part in the programme, although there was no compulsion.  They were closely monitored to see how they were progressing and if necessary could be transferred from one grade of work to another.

Patients were expected to stay at Bellefield for approx 16 weeks before being discharged, and Dr Allan notes how quickly many responded to the regime, pointing out the “transformation which takes place in those pale, emaciated, and depressed invalids…. colour coming back to the pale cheeks, flesh restored, strength returning, and a cheerful smile on the face“.  In his view, “many of the cases which are dismissed from Bellefield in a satisfactory condition would remain so, and become completely and permanently cured if they could, on leaving the sanatorium, secure a healthy house, plenty of fresh air, good food, and a suitable occupation“.  Whether or not these hopes were realised remains unknown.

The images are from the University of Glasgow Archive Services, GB0248 DC79/80




5 Responses to ““Fresh air, good food, regulated exercise, and rest” : Life in Bellefield Hospital for Patients in the early 20th century”

  1. My mum Agnes Hardman worked there as a nurse and Ward sister, as a nurse during WW1 she told me of the night on the way home work the Germans dropped bombs on the glass tomato houses near the hospital, thinking their shimmering target was the maim reservoir, my mum got caught in the field with bombs falling around her, a doctor on his way home laid with his coat over her, until safe.

    • Avatar donald says:

      Hi john,
      Thanks for taking the time to send this very interesting memory. Can I just doublecheck with you it was WW1, not WW2 when this happened ? If you have any more memories/ photos etc, I would love to hear about them
      Donald Tait (author of post)

      • Avatar John Ronald Hardman says:

        Sorry Donald My Mistake, it was WW2 that I intended to write about. I have some Photo’s of my mum in nurses uniform that you may like, is there a procedure for to send them.

  2. Avatar William James says:

    I have just found this interesting article about Bellefield, having spent a morning discussing with my mother her experiences as a teenage patient in 1945, during the time when a Professor Young was the consultant in charge. My mother will be ninety next month!

  3. Avatar Shona Mcmillan says:

    I used to work at Bellefield. It was my first job. I worked in the school & also in the wards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *