On Sunday, I went on a tour of the old Victoria Infirmary, a hospital which served much of the south side of Glasgow before it closed in May 2015. It is about to be converted into flats and the new owners opened it up for tours. A lot of the fixtures and fittings have been taken away, though some still remain, including sinks, lamps, operating theatre equipment and mortuary tables. We were led around the hospital for about half an hour, through corridors and wards, and it was a strange experience, easy still to evoke the day-to-day existence of a hospital even while lacking the essential requirement of sick people, nurses and doctors. There were great views out the windows to the Infirmary’s various towers and across to my work, Langside Library, and beyond to Castlemilk, King’s Park and the Cathkin Braes. The last part was the mortuary and that was fascinating, if chilling, to think about how people were dissected right there, folk who had expired within the hospital and others from the local area. The tour guide told us that some people who had been on earlier tours had been taking selfies on the mortuary table, which doesn’t sit well with me.
The building felt all the more interesting since it had only been closed for a year. I’ve worked at Langside for just shy of two years and so I can remember the hospital in use. Even while there are very recent signs of occupation, the hospital feels very much a place of the past and that interests me. When does that happen? Before I moved to Glasgow, I worked in libraries in East Lothian at a time when two libraries moved to new buildings in quick succession. I was in the old Dunbar Library the day it closed and the following Monday when we started packing the books up in preparation for the move. The Monday started feeling like I was going to work as normal and the week ended up with a vastly empty space evocative of memories but very much of the past. The same happened in Haddington. I was involved with some work packing up the old library, which used to be a church, and it was eerie, much smaller as it no longer had a purpose, or at least its purpose for so long.
Walking through one of the wards at the Vicky, I was more interested in the view and taking photographs. Thinking about it now, though, the thoughts of the thousands of patients who had passed through come more readily to mind, those illnesses that may be historical now but felt very real to those poor souls, the human dramas that happened within those walls, of new life and its cessation. Soon there will be new happenings there, people’s homes will be there rather than just a place to recover and convalesce. In the coming months, I look forward to watching its transformation, even if one of the shiny flats that will result will probably be out of my price range.