Erskine Hospital ancient relics unearthed

A rare treasure trove of prosthetics and moulds used to treat service personnel injured in World War I has been discovered by Scotland’s leading hospital for veterans.

Injured soldiers at Erskine Hospital
Injured soldiers at Erskine Hospital

The archive of historic artefacts and records, described as a “remarkable” insight into how the medical community treated those injured in conflict, was discovered in a disused part of a building at Erskine Hospital.

They include a wide range of wooden medical appliances for disabled soldiers, as well as woodworking tools used by some of the patients as part of their rehabilitation and several boxes of documents.

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The items were found stored away in a back room of the former Princess Louise Scottish Hospital for Sailors and Soldiers, with some even uncovered from beneath the structure’s floorboards.

Erskines carpentry workshops
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The fortuitous find comes as the Erskine is putting plans in place to celebrate its centenary next year, with the newly discovered archive set to be preserved by the University of Glasgow.

It is not known how long the objects and archive material had been stored in the room, but a member of staff happened across them this year.

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Dr Tony Pollard, senior lecturer in history and battlefield archaeology, at the University of Glasgow, described the find as significant and said it would inform modern day research.

He explained: “What we are unearthing at Erskine is quite remarkable. There are boxes upon boxes of wartime history which will shine a light on so many personal stories of bravery and endurance during the First World War, but also the incredible advancement in the treatment of injured personnel not just physically but mentally since 1916.

Prosthetics and moulds used to treat service personnel injured in WWI

“This archive will not only chart the hospital’s history but also provide an insight into the many medical developments over the last century, methods which helped change care practices towards casualties of war around the globe. I am quite certain once we really start to delve into the vast collection, the findings will be used in research for many years to come.”

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The University of Glasgow’s archives services, through funding from the Wellcome Trust, has now teamed up with the veterans’ charity, Erskine, and appointed an archivist and a preservation assistant to work through the boxes of material to catalogue their contents.

Staff at Erskine are also working on a patient database of every soldier admitted and discharged at the hospital during its history, which will be a valuable research resource for families tracing their ancestry.

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Steve Conway, chief executive of the Erskine, commenting on the collaboration with the University of Glasgow Archives, said: “Archiving records and preserving artefacts was never high on the priority list until we started to prepare for our centenary. It was only then that we realised how much of our history had been recorded but largely neglected.

An injured soldier is treated

“The partnership with the University of Glasgow and the funding from The Wellcome Trust will enable us to restore, archive and digitise material which will be accessible to everyone. Hopefully these records and artefacts will help people to research family histories and also support research in to the care of veterans with physical or mental injuries sustained in the service of their country.”

The hospital’s early prosthetics were regarded as pioneering in their day. They included the so-called, Erskine Leg, a prosthetic limb designed by Sir William Macewen, the co-founder of the facility and a regius professor of surgery at the university.

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The archive contains a full collection of wooden shoe-size moulds used in the workshops for the manufacture of prosthetic legs. The team cataloguing the finds is hoping to find an original Erskine Leg and is appealing for the public’s help, given only one example of the limb exists, stored in the British Museum.