Maryfield had been the Municipal or "Poor Law" Hospital prior to being taken into the NHS in 1948. East House, the Poor House, was still in operation at that time in the next (Victorian) building, which has been described as "straight from the pages of Dickens". As a result, it was several years before elderly patients stopped "postponing" their illnesses until a day on which D.R.I. were admitting. (ref: 123)

Robert Brockie Hunter, (later Lord Hunter of Newington, Vice-Chancellor of Birmingham University) was appointed to the chair of Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutics in 1948. He was the first university physician to have beds at Maryfield Hospital and, as he required a biochemical service, a laboratory was set up around that time. Possibly because this department originated from a different university department from the one at the Royal Infirmary (the University Department of Pathology), there was very little communication between the two laboratories in their early years. Subsequently the "routine" was transferred to the NHS Pathology Department at Maryfield Hospital. The University Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics continued to perform various hormone assays until the formation of the combined department in 1966. The Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics occupied the Clinical Investigation Unit when it opened in 1959. (ref: 60,62)

Helen Cunningham, later McGregor, was the first biochemist appointed at Maryfield Hospital in 1950 when she was a student at Queens College, St Andrews University, Dundee, between her Ordinary and Honours Biochemistry degree. There was no pay scale for biochemists at that time and she was paid as a Senior Technician at 7 per week, which was considered at that time to be generous. (ref: 123)

The original laboratory had been the Decontamination Hut for potential victims of gas attacks during World War II. It was long and narrow, rather like a railway carriage, with a dogleg at either end, one leading into the general hospital and the other exiting by what was then the gardener's shed. The green painted concrete floor sloped slightly to a runnel going the entire length of the lab to a drain. Potential gas victims were to have been admitted via the gardener's shed and hosed down prior to being admitted into the hospital through the other door. The building was of painted wood with a tarpaper roof. At the first fire inspection visit, the Fire Prevention Officer noted the solvents in use, the fabric of the building and the fire extinguishers and then offered the advice that, if there was a fire, the staff should "run like hell". The concrete floor was very hard on glassware and the staff became adept at sticking out a foot to cushion the fall of a dropped test tube, etc. (ref: 122,123)

The laboratory had been equipped with (probably ex-war department) benches, cupboards, oven, incubator, a large white centrifuge ("built like a tank") and a lot of glassware, which was of little use as it, was for macro-analysis.

There were no chemicals - these had to be ordered through the pharmacist who had the power to countermand the order should she deem it extravagant. All breakages had to be shown to the House Steward before he would order replacements and, on one occasion, he decided that a pipette was "just chipped" at the bottom and he returned it after having cut a bit off it! While overcoming such non-senses, Cunningham set up the laboratory on her own, apart from the cockroaches, which lived happily, and fruitfully in the cupboard where the cyanide was eventually kept. (ref: 123)

Laboratory staff were instructed to wear their white coats buttoned and belted, so that they would not be mistaken for medical staff - who wore theirs unbuttoned and flapping open. (ref: 126)

Diana Russell, a St Andrew's graduate, was appointed in September 1950 with a salary of 400 per annum ("better than the radiographers and physiotherapists"). She worked at both Maryfield and at the Royal Infirmary, "with much help from Margory Patrick". She became Mrs Mutch in 1953 and left in 1955. (ref: 126)

In 1951, Helen Cunningham was appointed to take charge of the department and Audrey Dornan was appointed as a technician soon after.

Dornan was succeeded in 1953 by Margaret Marnie who left ca. 1957. Marnie later returned to work for Dr Mary Coyle in Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology and she worked in that department for the next 33 years. (ref: 122)

As well as the official staff, laboratory space was provided for staff from other departments, e.g. Dr George R Tudhope, Physician, and Mr Willie Walker, Surgeon, to do their own research. Space was also provided for Irene Watson to operate a Prothrombin Clinic (including patients). For some time, the theatre staff, who had been displaced by alterations to the theatre, used the entrance dog leg for packing drums and the department had in residence two theatre sisters, a theatre orderly and, sometimes, the orderly's large benign boxer dog who only became animated at 5pm when he was taken for his half-pint in the nearby pub!

The equipment at that time included an EEL colorimeter, a good balance and a Van Slyke apparatus. Micro methods were being developed, as was flame photometry. Cunningham visited the Hammersmith, London, to see the first flame photometer - "a real Heath Robinson contraption occupying two benches with flat medicine bottles full of copper sulphate as (an optical) filter". Shortly after this, a Dr Stowers, whose main interest was diabetes, was appointed to work for Professor Hill. He brought his own home-made flame photometer with him which was slightly neater but which still took up one bench and still used medicine bottle filters. To the relief of the rest of the staff, he guarded it jealously. When the first EEL flame photometer was obtained, it was very compact and made a very significant difference to the work pattern of the department. (Prior to this, sodiums and potassiums were measured by precipitation methods.) As Clinical Laboratories were in short supply, specimens came from all sorts of odd places and some were sent by post from as far away as Dr Grays Hospital in Elgin.

Diana Mutch was succeeded in 1955 by Jean Campbell.

Jean Campbell left in 1959 to train in mission work. While a member of the Augustine Congregation Church in Edinburgh, she worked in the YWCA. In 1976 the Council for World Mission appointed her as a missionary in Zimbabwe at the time of the civil war there. About five years later, she joined a Christian Community on a farm 20 miles from Bulawayo. She was one of 16 white victims who were massacred by Matabeleland rebels in November 1987. (ref: 106)

In the mid 1950s, despite new laboratories being planned for the new Ninewells Hospital (which eventually opened some 20 years later), it was agreed that a new laboratory should be built at Maryfield Hospital. The department was accommodated temporarily in the Pathology Department while the old building was demolished. The new laboratory was built on its site, alongside the new Clinical Investigation Unit, whose equipment it was able to share (e.g. an SP500 spectrophotometer on which the department started the (then) novel NAD methods for GOT (AsT) and GPT (AlT). The department moved into the new premises in 1959. Helen Cunningham, having become Mrs McGregor during her sojourn at Maryfield, left in 1956 to start a family and was succeeded by Fred L Mitchell (1957 - 64), from the Sheffield Regional Endocrine Investigation Centre. Mitchell was appointed as Principal (and in 1961 as Top Grade) Biochemist. (ref: 37,79,123)

Peter H Broughton from Crumpsall Hospital in Manchester was appointed as Basic Grade Biochemist in 1958, with a "promise" of a Senior Grade post after two years. In 1964 he left to become Principal Biochemist at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Monmouthshire and in 1968 he was appointed as head of the Biochemistry Department and, later, Top Grade Biochemist, at the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven. He retired in 1994 and died in March 2010. (Peter H was sometimes referred to as "the other one", especially by those who knew Peter MG Broughton (of Broughton barbiturate method fame) better. (ref: 64, 154, 192)

Allan D Buik was appointed as Basic Grade in 1962 and as Senior Grade in 1964 (when Broughton moved south). He left in 1966 to study at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, Yorkshire and entered the ministry of the Episcopal Church in Bournemouth in 1968. In 1986, after 8 years as vicar of St Mark's Kingstanding, Birmingham, he became a student at the College of the Ascension in Birmingham. In 1987 he went to Guyana, South America for a three-year appointment as a tutor at the Alan Knight Training Centre, training Amerindians for ordination and pastoral work in their own society. (ref: 86)

Among the biochemists who worked in Maryfield Hospital in the late 1950s and early 1960s were Jane RC Bowden (later Peggie), Marjory J Burnett (later Simpson) (1958 - 62) who died in 2022, Alison Fraser (ca. 1962) and Paddy Mathers (later McFarlane, who retired from Ninewells Hospital 1993).

Maryfield Hospital - equipment, etc

Maryfield Hospital - PHOTOS

Maryfield Hospital - Associated Laboratories and Research Interests

Maryfield Hospital - Combined Department

Return to Introduction / Index

(Last up-dated April 2013)