Paisley Doors Open Day 2019
Being inside this building is one of my most vivid childhood memories. It was for many years used by the town’s health services, and later the NHS, having been gifted to the town for use as a centre to ensure the health and well-being of the town’s children by Miss Agnes Russell. This was in memory of her two brothers Thomas and Robert, who had died in 1913 and 1920 respectively. It was inaugurated on March 19th 1927 and was designed by Abercrombie and Maitland.
I was brought here by my mum for my assessment prior to going to school. It probably involved a jag, but the main memories I have of it involve being asked to weigh some play-doh (the real stuff as I distinctly remember the smell) and doing some finger-painting on a large piece of paper attached to an easel (the smell of the finger-paints remains with me to this day, too). I felt like a proper artist that day! I was also very impressed by the cape-like painting aprons in red and blue which made such an impression on me that I bought one for my own children many, many years later.
The foyer is impressive in the amount of marble it contains. It is clear that money was no object in the fitting out or building of the Institute. The doors are also all incredibly heavy and ornate and the building was serviced by a lift — one of the ones with open work metal and a door that concertina-ed open and closed.
There was a state of the art gym that had the first sprung floor in the UK installed in it. I dimly remember being in the gym, but am not completely sure. Perhaps I was asked to do some physical tests. Maybe throwing and catching a ball or balancing on a low beam. Had it been more taxing than that, I’m sure my memories of the place would have been less positive — I’m not really a gym person! This is now a conference room but as in the rest of the building, many of the original features have been retained.
The scariest part of the whole place, however, has to be the “nit room.” This was just a nightmarish set-up, although presumably it did effectively treat nits. The children must have been utterly terrified, however. They were strapped into a chair that was on rails. The chair moved into a marrow corridor like room and a heavy sold metal door was sealed behind them. Presumably they were then sprayed with some kind of insecticide? And then they emerged on the other side hopefully nit-free. I’m very glad the nit-nurses at school never found nits in my hair otherwise I might have been more familiar with this room!
The building is no longer used for healthcare purposes and is owned by Renfrewshire Council. Skills Developent Scotland have taken up residence in most of the building and it has been refurbished. The medical facilities provided were probably no longer relevant to the health of children today, and some were downright frightening, but they must have been cutting edge when the building opened.
Even today it is a very impressive building and shows just how much money there was in the town at that point in time. Despite the refurbishment, which has resulted in the original lift no longer being used but being retained, there are still signs on doors and many original features still in place.
A more personal connection with the building is the fact that, across the road from it, on the other side of New Street, there is a kebab shop — MrKebab. But up until 1966, this was my grandfather’s bakery.
Are there any buildings you are familiar with or that you have visited that were once used for medical/health related purposes? Are they still used in the same way or have they been abandoned or repurposed? Who do you think might have used them in the past and why? This theme is often the basis for horror stories – can you approach it in a different way or provide a twist on a standard horror trope?