Russell Institute, Paisley

Paisley Doors Open Day 2019

The Russell Institute, 32 Causeyside Street, Paisley

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.

(Not actual footage!)

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 door to the nit treatment room
The rails that the chair ran along going in to the sealed room
The inside of the treatment room
Where the rails emerge behind what is now a desk
Where the rails emerge behind what is now a desk

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.

One of the paper bags from my grandfather’s shop which closed in 1966. The name is actually my great-grandfather’s and yes, the spelling has changed!
One of the paper bags from my grandfather’s shop which closed in 1966. The name is actually my great-grandfather’s and yes, the spelling has changed!
Corner of New Street and Causeyside Street, Paisley, showing Mr Kebab.​

Writing Prompt

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?

2 thoughts on “Russell Institute, Paisley

  1. I’m catching up with your blogs today, Mairi. The nit treatment room is scary but what a beautiful building. They didn’t do that for nits in Glasgow. I know because I often had them. My mother had a dreadful time trying to keep them off my head and I remember getting that letter from the school nurse when the class was checked. Embarrassing but I couldn’t do anything about it until I was older. I lived in India for two years and didn’t have them and then came back to school in Glasgow and bought myself a steel nit comb and got rid of them. Your memories of being tested for school are good 🙂

    1. Maybe they’re like midgies and somehow like the Scottish climate! But good that you weren’t subjected to this — there was a guy on the tour who had been through it as a child and he was definitely not a fan!

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