I’ve found great difficulty mustering the heart & will to post anything on the blog in the past few months. Everything since the election has seemed so counter-intuitively dark and dreich, a sense of failure clad in the gaudy rainments of victory. For all the gains we made since 2014, we still keep failing somehow. Almost as if I’m starting to understand the Cringe.
This is – was – the Duncan McPherson Centre.
This is how Gourock historian Colin Milne described it in The Story of Gourock:
Gourock has an hospital of her own, the gift of the late Captain Duncan McPherson. His bequest enabled a small modern hospital to be built at Midton—it could accommodate 14 patients—and since its opening in 1925 it has been of the greatest benefit to the town. Since coming under the National Health Service in 1948 the scope of the hospital has changed, and it is now a unit of Greenock Royal Infirmary, dealing with surgical cases only.
Let me tell you a little of Captain Duncan McPherson. Duncan was born to Alexander McPherson and Mary Smith on the 28th of April 1845 in Inverary: he and the family moved to Gourock by the time he was six years old. There, Duncan attended the Gourock Free Church, and went into sailing like his father. He attained the rank of captain at a relatively young age, eventually becoming Commodore Skipper of the Fleet and Marine Superintendent before his retirement in 1904, where he returned to Gourock to live out his final years – at Mavis Bank on Ashton Road, with the famous Shaw family.
While he was every inch the worldly mariner whose travels took him all over, he was heavily invested in Gourock. He became a Bailie for Gourock Council; Commodore of the Gourock Sailing Club (now Royal Gourock Yacht Club); benefactor for several charitable societies. The water fountain he donated to the town still stands. Captain McPherson died on the 15th of October 1910: he was buried alongside his family in Gourock Cemetary on the 18th of October. All the shops and schools in Gourock closed for the day of the funeral.
Following his death, Captain McPherson bequeathed gifts and funds to local charities, the church, and his family. This is the origin of Duncan McPherson Cottage Hospital, specifically gifted to the people of Gourock. It was opened in June 1925, and functioned as a hospital through to the foundation of the Scottish National Health Service, until it was reassigned as a special needs facility in 1979.
The McPherson Centre was closed in 2018. It was deemed “surplus to requirements” by Inverclyde Council, where services were moved to the Fitzgerald Centre in Greenock.
Now it is being torn down to make little boxes on a hillside.
As I’m writing this post, I hear the clattering of metal, the crash of stone, the roar of hydraulics, pulling down another piece of Gourock’s history. I live in Midton. I can’t avoid it. I can only listen, impotently, as we lose again.
According to the Powers That Be, “The McPherson Centre is not a listed building nor is it located within a conservation area. Accordingly, the demolition of this building does not alone warrant the refusal of planning permission.” It’s difficult to imagine a clearer, more cynical dismissal of Captain McPherson’s wishes for the people of Gourock than to see a hospital built to serve the people, and later to serve those with special needs, torn down for “Inverclyde’s housing needs” – which, of course, don’t extend to social housing, which actually is needed.
Same excuses made when they tore down the Cragburn Pavillion to build expensive houses. Same excuse as when they let the Gantock Hotel fall into such disrepair and ruin that it couldn’t be saved – to build expensive houses. Same excuse as when Kempock House was left to deteriorate after closing – evidently “surplus to requirements” again – to build expensive houses. Same as all the other historic buildings & services that didn’t have the magic “listed” documents protecting them from demolition.
I’ve always believed in Scottish Independence, and have campaigned for it for a long time. I’ve also campaigned for Gourock’s interests, both on a voluntary level, and on a Community Council Level. But I’ve never felt like such a failure on both fronts. I put so much of my free time, energy, and care into furthering the causes of Scotland and Gourock, only to see both undelivered, because I couldn’t stop this. What replaced the Cragburn? Gourock doesn’t have a dance hall like it anymore. What replaced the Gantock? We don’t have any hotels. What’s going to replace the McPherson Centre? Another service in the next town over. But houses? Oh, plenty of houses. Until we knock them down in a few decades for the latest “Modern” designs.
We put up pretty new statues, and allow buildings important to our history to fall into disrepair. Such a fuss is kicked up about monuments to long dead slavers, while the history of the people is bulldozed to make way for housing. Just like in Glasgow. Just like Scotland as a whole.
For the loss of so many of its historic buildings, Glasgow has only itself to blame. It has never been sentimental about its old buildings. It has been a point of civic pride to destroy and build better, and if old buildings got in the way of any new plan, they were swept away, supposedly in the name of progress. All that is left of the medieval city are the Cathedral and Provand’s Lordship (1471(, just one of the thirty-two prebendal manses that existed around the Cathedral. The only other relics of ancient Glasgow are three seventeenth-century steeples, the Tolbooth (1626), at the foot of High Street, the Tron (1636), in Trongate, and the Merchants (1665) in Bridgegate.
Although the Georgians expanded the city outside its medieval boundaries, they unforgivably allowed the Bishop’s Castle to become a ruin and let the Cathedral fall into disrepair. They also destroyed the fifteenth-century St. Nicholas Hospital and the seventeenth-century Tolbooth, Hutchesons’ Hospital and Merchants House. The historic Shawfield Mansion, one of the earliest examples of a Palladian villa in Britain, disappeared in 1795 to make way for Glassford Street.
– Carol Foreman, Lost Glasgow
We don’t need some invader, some coloniser, some conqueror to destroy our history. We don’t need a foreign parliament to censure us. We do it ourselves. We practically fall over ourselves to do it. And, in the grand scheme of things, our history is not as immediately important as our health, our safety, our security. But if we can’t protect an auld building that was precious to us, which was specifically gifted to help and aid our community – how can we protect anything that really matters?
So forgive me if I’m a bit despondent today. We’ve failed Captain McPherson. We’ve failed all the people of Gourock who could’ve benefited from a revitalised community centre. We’ve failed the people of Scotland for not being able to stop our own damned people from doing this.
I’ve always believed in Scottish Independence, and I think I always will – but lately, I’ve started to wonder if we just don’t deserve it.
Scotland’s future, like Scotland’s past, is always in our hands. We just seem to choose to destroy it ourselves.