Argyll & Clyde



In 1956, David B Horn, who had been appointed as Senior Biochemist at Glasgow Western Infirmary, was seconded to equip, open and run the laboratory at Vale of Leven. This was located above the Pharmacy Department and the department moved to new premises in the early 1970s. Horn left in 1959.

Horn had completed his PhD in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary prior to this appointment. He was appointed as Senior Biochemist in Birmingham and as Principal Biochemist in Newcastle upon Tyne, both in 1959. He was appointed as Top Grade Biochemist in Newcastle in 1964 and in Edinburgh Western General in 1966. He retired in 1987 and died in 2000.

In 1959/60, Alan E Crookes, from Ayrshire, was appointed as Principal Biochemist and, in 1990, as Top Grade Biochemist.

Wendy D Langmuir (later Mole - 1976), from Edinburgh Western General Hospital, was appointed as Senior Biochemist in 1970. She moved to the Isle of Wight in 1980.

Frances Hall, from Glasgow Royal Hospital for Sick Children, was appointed as Senior Biochemist in 1976 and as Principal Biochemist in 1990. She retired from the Royal Alexandra Infirmary in 2012.

Alan E Crookes retired in 1993 and John Series, who had been a Registrar in Sheffield & Doncaster, Senior Registrar at Glasgow Royal Infirmary and Consultant in Bath (from 1990) was appointed as Consultant in 1993. He retired in 2013 or 2014.

The Laboratory amalgamated with the Royal Alexandra Infirmary in Paisley in the 2000s

Thornhill Maternity Hospital - Johnstone

In 1959, Ronald GS Leask worked as a resident in Thornhill Maternity Hospital (a building from the late 1930s). He found a small laboratory with some chemical apparatus in the basement but it was not in use at that time. (ref: 146)

Bridge of Weir Sanatorium

A history of the medical laboratory at Bridge of Weir Sanatorium, or Sanatoria for Compsumptives as it was originally called, would not be complete without mention of Quarrier's Orphan Homes, of which the sanatorium was a part. Often Quarrier's three institutions - The Sanatorium, The Colony for Epileptics, and the Orphan Homes of Scotland, required the varied services of the laboratory, both bacteriological and pathological. This was a time when huge numbers of the population, young and old alike, were being carried off by tuberculosis, which was raging across the country. The Sanatorium in Bridge of Weir was the first to be built in Scotland and at one time became the largest hospital for consumptives in Scotland. Quarrier believed in prevention rather than cure, and the dread disease of tuberculosis created many orphans.

Much has already been written about this remarkable charitable complex founded by William Quarrier. Quarrier's was a small village with its own home farm, fish farm, poultry farm, shop, laundry and fire station. The village consisted of substantial stone houses or cottages, built by local company, John Woodrow and Sons. Each cottage had a housemother and father. There was a schoolhouse, and Mount Zion Church at the centre of the village catered for their spiritual needs, where attendance was reportedly required by the children three times a day. The Elise Hospital would have dealt with orphans suffering from childhood diseases like measles, scarlet fever and the dreaded diphtheria amongst many others that killed small children. Separate special baby homes took care of the youngest in the community. An epileptic colony, which was unusual for its time, provided shelter and treatment for people suffering from this affliction.

The fine red sandstone buildings of the Sanatoria were built in the middle of rolling Renfrewshire farming land between Bridge of Weir and Kilmacolm where it was thought fresh air would help to heal the consumptives. In the spacious grounds surrounding the sanatorium there was an avenue, bordered by trees and rhododendron bushes, where patients could take gentle exercise. Gardeners tended grounds, gardens and flowerbeds filled mainly with colourful annual plants.

In the beginning, two white-tiled rooms within the sanatoria served as the laboratory. About 1929, it was decided there was a need to update the facilities. In 1928, the much-respected Ernest J. Peill had become the medical superintendent of the sanatoria. It is not known if he was wholly instrumental in the decision to provide better laboratory services. What is known is that under his leadership, the laboratory facilities for the sanatoria improved beyond all recognition. His obituary in the British Medical Journal of 25th March 1944 tells us much about him. He was born in Madagascar, the son of a missionary. Ernest graduated in medicine at Edinburgh University, after which he gave himself to missionary work in North China. Later he came home and took the F.R.C.S.Ed., and devoted himself chiefly to surgical work. In 1901 he was appointed by the London Missionary Society to the charge of the Siao Chang Hospital, to which he gave much distinguished service. In 1911 he went to Peking on appointment as professor of surgery in Peking Union Medical College, where he raised the tuition of surgery to a high standard. During the Second World War Ernest volunteered for service with the Chinese Labour Corps, as he had a fluent knowledge of the language, and was sent to the Chinese General Hospital (2,400 beds) at Noyelles in France. There he was appointed officer-in-charge of the surgical division, and in this capacity did splendid work. He retired from China in 1928, and was made medical superintendent of Quarrier's Homes at Bridge of Weir, where he successfully specialised in the surgical treatment of tuberculosis. He was said to have a calm and sympathetic temperament that made him greatly beloved by all with whom he came in contact, especially the Chinese, among whom he spent the best years of his life, and to whom his courteous, philosophic, and courageous character greatly appealed. Though of a retiring nature, he had a great many friends, and was much respected and loved by all who knew him. All of the foregoing was also found to be true by those, whether staff or patients, who came into contact with him at Quarrier's Homes. They were fortunate to have been able to appoint a man of his stature, and also gained a great deal from his experience and undoubted skill as surgeon and physician.

In 1929 Robert A Hunter, a young man of around twenty-four years of age was telephoned out of the blue, and asked if he would visit a Glasgow doctor in his consulting rooms. He was mysterious about the reason he wanted to see him. Robert assumed that the doctor wished him to carry out some private laboratory work for him. Robert was surprised to discover that he had been recommended by someone as the man with the best experience to work at the Sanatorium in Bridge of Weir. The doctor refused to divulge who had suggested his name. Robert was asked if he would go and see Dr Peill at the Sanatorium with a view to working there. A train ticket was pressed into his hand, and as he had nothing better to do that evening, he decided to visit the Sanatorium, where Dr Peill showed him round the hospital and grounds. The new laboratory was to be housed in a Victorian building, which at the time was still a nurses' home. Robert's remit would be to set up the laboratory from scratch and he would be appointed as Bacteriologist. He had misgivings about possibly devoting a lifetime to purely sanatorium practice, as he would be required to remain for a long period. At first he refused, as the salary offered was much less than he was already earning, although he was tempted because of the opportunity to do research work. When the offer was increased and living accommodation provided, Robert decided to take up the considerable challenge with the conscientiousness that he had always shown and would do in the future.

Dr Peill gave Robert full rein and told him to find out what was needed in the way of apparatus and he would see that he got it. As regards the fittings and furnishings he was told to make his own arrangements with the joiners on the spot. Robert painstakingly equipped and furnished the laboratory to his own technical ideas. Once the laboratory was completed, he must have wondered what the future held and noted: "Here I had forged a new and powerful weapon to combat pulmonary tuberculosis but the weapon was not one simple instrument but a complex mass of microscopes, incubators, water-baths, sterilisers, stills, stains and reagents, media, micro-tomes, freezers, photomicrographic apparatus, inspissators and animals, and a mass of small apparatus and glassware beyond description and all housed in about ten apartments with all the essential services of heat, light and water. Had I designed it, he wondered, like the sword-smith, for someone else to exercise their skill? Or would I prove to be designer and director? And most important of all, would it prove lifeless in my hands or would it shine forth with good work in the years which lay ahead?"

When Robert first arrived at the Sanatorium, the milk supply to the hospital was obtained from a private source and it was feared that it was not up to a desirable standard. Repeated bacteriological examinations over a long period confirmed suspicions that the permissible number of bacteria or germs was greatly in excess of what was desirable, and that the butterfat was often below the legal minimum. When the matter was brought to a head, a farm was rented and a tuberculin-tested herd was installed to everyone's satisfaction. This illustrated the influence of bacteriology on a daily domestic requirement such as milk. The Sanatorium, and presumably the whole of Quarrier's complex, possessed their own reservoir and filters away up on the hills of Renfrewshire. It seemed that it was sometimes also necessary for the water to be examined to determine the presence of harmful bacteria or contamination of the water sources.

Once the laboratory at the Sanatorium was set up, although Robert Hunter had been appointed as bacteriologist, his duties were wide and varied. He also had to undertake all the laboratory investigations, which arose in the field of pathology. These included post-mortem examinations, and the microscopic examinations of tissues removed at surgical operations, blood grouping and rhesus testing, general blood counts of red and white cells, etc., blood sugar and urea, and other biochemical estimations. All types of fluids, tissues, blood pus and excretions were received at the laboratory for culturing and analyses of one form or another. A large amount of the work revolved round the tubercle bacillus.

In the early 1930s Robert was frequently called upon to examine throat swabs for diphtheria germs. In the days before vaccination this was a dreaded disease that killed children in their droves. When testing out germs recovered from throat swabs for diphtheria, proof had to be worked out on guinea pigs. The procedure seems to have been that two animals were inoculated with an equal amount of the diphtheria germ under investigation. One animal would die within 48 hours if it was true virulent diphtheria, and the other would remain completely well and absolutely unconcerned. And yet, the survivor was given the same dose as the animal that had died so quickly. There was only one tiny difference. The animal that remained unaffected had received a minute dose of serum, about one quarter of one cc of diphtheria germs. That tiny amount of antitoxin completely protected the animal that received it so that it was not even put off its feed. Yet, its unprotected mate had died very quickly.

From the foregoing, it can be seen that amongst his many duties, Robert also had the responsibility of setting up and running an animal house. It would seem that the complexity and importance of this couldn't be underestimated, as some cases of TB required confirmation, and corroboration at that time could only be obtained by animal inoculation. The animals appear to have been looked after particularly well in a heated atmosphere of 65-70 degrees, with a wealth of green food available from the vegetable garden throughout the greater part of the year, supplemented by bran and crushed oats. The cages were kept scrupulously clean. A trained and reliable member of the ground staff attended the animals; giving such time as was required, varying according to the number of animals in stock or under experiment. Fuller details of animal care and maintenance followed by the laboratory at the Bridge of Weir Sanatorium are given in an appendix to "The Routine Examination for Tubercle Bacilli in Sputum" by R. A. Hunter. From The Laboratory, Sanatorium, Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire. This and much more, including the preferred methods of staining slides at this laboratory, were published in Tubercle in September 1940. This 19-page article might be considered by itself as a considerable piece of the development of historical laboratory practice.

For many years, during the Second World War, there was a widespread epidemic of dysentery, principally amongst children. Once again, Robert was heavily involved in the investigations of this large group of food poisoning bacteria; i.e. typhoid, paratyphoid germs, and the serological tests to determine their identity. There seemed to be a mixture of the two different types, but unfortunately, infection from either type did not confer any immunity, as in the case of diphtheria, so that a child with Sonne dysentery could almost immediately succumb to an infection of the Flexuer type, and even too with the Newcastle strain. It was fortunate that eventually a few drugs became available which had the desired effect upon the condition. At one point, Robert himself fell victim to the infection - an example of how risky it must have been to work with so many diseased and infected fluids and tissues, even if many precautions were taken including using Lysol and scrubbing up with red carbolic soap. In this instance, Robert had good reason to value the advent of the new drugs.

It would also appear that one had to be an enthusiast in assimilating much information and be a skilled all-rounder to organise and devise new methods to work successfully in a medical laboratory before the inception of the NHS in 1948. (Ref: 195)

In 2014, Robert Hunter's daughter, Helen Milne, published an e-book entitled "Two Good Men and True: The astonishing story of medical research at Quarriers Sanatoria in the 1930's and 40's" which is available from

Return to Introduction / Index

Last updated August 2016