Claremont Street Hospital

Claremont Street Hospital - founded 1896


This is a précis of a paper by Ruth Baker published in the Ulster Tatler January 1974. The full text is available in pdf via the download page.

The first neurological hospital outside London (and the third ever) was the "Victoria Hospital for Diseases of the Nervous System and Epilepsy." This was founded by a Miss Farrell and her medical practitioner - Dr. John McGee MacCormac. She was a lady of means and she and Dr McCormack purchased a house in Claremont Street and opened their hospital in 1896. Dr. MacCormac was educated in Belfast and Edinburgh, and studied neurology in London. With his death in 1913 ended the first phase of Claremont Street's history. Over that period the hospital had 15 beds and a treatment room for electrical stimulation with faradism and galvanism.

The second phase, lasting for 25 years until 1939, was dominated by Dr. John Thompson. He and the then President, Mr. Stephen Richardson, were deeply convinced of the importance of Christian principles in the care of the sick. Patients were urged to join in communal worship, and the walls were adorned by texts. Dr. Thompson's interest lay chiefly in the field of functional disorders, that is, neurasthenia, "nervous exhaustion", anxiety and depression, rather than organic physically produced nervous disease. "Early" mental cases were also encouraged to attend. As early as 1919 he had stressed the need for an Epileptic Colony, and in 1925-26 the Killowen Epileptic Colony was incorporated with the hospital. The Abercorn extension was formally opened by the Duchess of Abercorn in 1939. It cost £10,000 and £4-5,000 more had to be added for equipment. Through it the hospital gained two new wards, a day room, private rooms, a consulting room suite with dressing rooms and a large extern department which also served as a clinical demonstration room for lectures to students.

The third phase of the hospital's history began with the succession of Dr. H. Hilton Stewart and ended with his death in 1961. After graduating at Queen's University, Belfast and doing postgraduate study in London, he was appointed consulting physician to Claremont Street Hospital in 1929, and Senior Physician in 1939. Dr. Stewart used his influence to shift the emphasis from evangelism to science. He was responsible for introducing an operating theatre in 1940, as well as an electric convulsion apparatus for the treatment of depression. Adjoining houses in Claremont Street were bought. Dr. Stewart continued in office until his untimely death in 1961 - a man of outstanding ability both as neurologist and administrator. The medical staff and hospital committee donated a sum of money for the furnishing and equipment of "The Hilton Stewart Library" which opened in 1963.

In 1939 Dr R.S. Allison was appointed as visiting consultant physician and clinical teaching was extended to Claremont Street, Dr. Stewart and Dr. Allison sharing the duties. Dr. Allison was also able to update the outpatient service, making it more consultative and getting away from the private dispensary image of former days. Many young men and women from Ireland and overseas served in resident posts and went on to distinguished careers. They included Dr. John George Gibson, Professor of Mental Health at Queen's University; Dr. Sean F. Mullan, Professor of Neurological Surgery at the University of Chicago; Dr. Edward Maclaine Ashenhurst, Professor of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan; Dr. Lewis John Hurwitz, Consultant Neurologist to the Royal Victoria, Claremont Street and Belfast City Hospitals; Dr. Robert Lovelace, Chief of the Department of Electromyography at the Presbyterian Hospital, New York; and Dr. Denis Harriman, Professor of Neuropathology in Leeds.

In 1946 Mr. Cecil Calvert was appointed consultant neuro-surgeon. In 1947, when the E.E.G. department was installed, Claremont Street was one of the few hospitals in Britain outside London to possess such facilities. In 1948, Claremont Street, in common with other hospitals in Northern Ireland, was taken over by the National Health Service, coming directly under the Belfast Hospitals' Management Committee. In 1950, following a visit to London by Dr. Allison, the nursing services at Claremont Street and the National Hospital, Queen Square, London were amalgamated. The Matron of the National Hospital, Miss Ling, acted as Matron of Claremont Street and visited regularly, while Miss Ruby Moore remained resident sister in charge. Selected nurses at Claremont Street were seconded to the National Hospital for 18 months' training in neurological nursing and trained Queen Square nurses were periodically transferred to Claremont Street to act temporarily as sisters. Miss Ling also acted as Matron of Killowen Hospital from 1968. In 1952 Dr. J. H. D. Millar was appointed as an additional consultant neurologist. Dr. Allison retired in 1964. Other appointments were Dr. Michael Swallow and Dr. J. A. Lyttle, consultant neurologists.

Claremont Street still provided treatment for functional nervous diseases, and in 1947 Miss V. McQuaker was appointed psychiatric social worker. Miss Cook was appointed senior social worker in July 1972; Miss I. Gillespie was secretary of the hospital from 1948-72; Miss L. Vaugh became acting secretary in 1972; Sister Moore retired in 1969 and Miss Sadie Orr, who had been at Claremont Street since 1950, became acting sister in charge. At the end Claremont Street had 55 beds and a greatly extended outpatient department. While there were still psychiatric clinics for outpatients, the emphasis was on organic nervous diseases and departments included Electro-cardiography and Electro-myography. Occupational therapy was another important department. Killowen, which had 26 beds, was used for epileptics and patients recovering from spinal and brain operations, as well as disabled multiple sclerosis patients. Mrs. H. Scott was acting sister in charge.

Claremont Street Hospital closed in 1985 and the facilities transferred to the Royal Victoria and Belfast City Hospitals.