We Do It To Ourselves

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.

Image courtesy of the McLean Museum & Art Gallery

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.

Young-Hunter, John; Captain Duncan McPherson of Mavisbank, Ashton, Gourock; McLean Museum and Art Gallery – Inverclyde Council; Image courtesy of the McLean Museum & Art Gallery

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.

The workers are just doing their job. I just thought the juxtaposition of demolition with the Lion Rampant wielding a saltire too bitterly ironic not to include.

6 thoughts on “We Do It To Ourselves

  1. benmadigan says:

    Pity there was no descendant of Capt McPherson to step in. The same sort of thing was foiled in Rome a few years ago.
    Centuries ago a Roman nobleman donated a large building in the centre of Rome to be used as a hospital for the citizens. A few years ago having let it deteriorate, Rome Council made plans to take it over and convert it into a smart new Conference Centre.
    One of the nobleman’s descendants moved into the building and said she was taking it back because it had been donated to be used only as a hospital. She won her case and the building was refurbished as a clinic for the elderly

    • ObairPheallaidh says:

      Bonnie Story, benmadigan. If only we had noblemen and their descendants here that added their the numbers to the people rather than side with what oppresses them.

  2. ObairPheallaidh says:

    On the specific point on ourselves, that we do not value ourselves enough to protect that which is ours and benefits us. I would generally agree although the question ‘who does benefit?’ usually comes into it at some point.

  3. duncfmac says:

    Al, what a wonderful article about a truly awful act of destruction. I live in Dunoon these days but was brought up in Gourock just around the corner from the Duncan McPherson Hospital. As an aside Dunoon has just lost several high street businesses and premises to wilful fire raising and the outcry of anger and sorrow from locals has been massive in our community here. The destruction of the McPherson Hospital is in my view little different but the rogues involved act with impunity from an often misled and apathetic community. As is so often the case ‘policy’ has been structured around half truths and greed, but more of that later.
    The Duncan McPherson Hospital building was always in my life one way or another. As children we used to sneak into the very private grounds, screened from the road with trees and into a dark, mystical world , made the more appealing because we were ‘trespassing’. The building was between uses mainly at this time but was never vandalised or abused by any of us, but rather used as an occasional playground to escape into when the mood took us. My mother had often told me of her brother, who had passed away peacefully in the then Cottage Hospital in the 1960’s, having lost his battle with illness. This personal connection always provided a level of reverence towards the building for me.
    Fast forward to the late 80’s and as an idle student during the summer I decided to offer my services as a volunteer to the day service provided for adults with learning disabilities. Little did I know as an 18 year old that this would change my life and shape my future career. My volunteering led to subsequent summer jobs and an enduring link with those who used and worked at the day centre. For me it led to a career in social work and a lifelong awareness of the massive importance and respect for the carer role.
    The changes in policy that have brought us to where we are with day services for those with learning disabilities has always had an economic driver at it’s core. The type of short sighted policies so common place in recent decades and championed by politicians and policy makers for their short term benefits have destroyed a service that was once a lifeline. It’s a depressingly familiar story that in the longer term strips communities of both history and assets as those policy makers retire or move on to the next big thing. At the heart of such policy was a SG policy from mid 1990’s announcing boldly that those with disabilities are ‘the same as you’. The idea was built on a half truth that at one level no one would , could or dared to argue against. Of course people with disabilities are the same as others – what a stupid statement – aimed to beat up anyone who reflects on the wider implications and has doubts, because of course we’re all people but we all have different levels of support needs. Anyway as you no doubt know the general drift of the policy was to shut day centres and ‘ bring those with disabilities’ out into the community. Again this was a half truth – yes integration is wonderful- but the reality of taking those with learning disabilities, sometimes behavioural difficulties and very often mobility issues into limited and often expensive facilities on poor unreliable public transport proved very problematic. For those involved days punctuated with constant pit stops into costly cafes to access toilets and get out of the rain or constant clock watching as the laps of the local mall build up have become the reality for so many of those with high support needs. You see buildings that were day centres were so much more than the undoubted problems that they were perceived to cause. They were the community and social life for so many. They were safe and watertight, where a hot meal, basic care and leisure activities could be enjoyed in familiar surroundings. Many long term service users had made peace with the challenges and thrived on the benefits and lacked the time, capacity and support to handle the removal of what had become their world. Later in life when I became a parent of my own precious child with severe autism and cognitive impairment, I gained an additional respect for those parents and carers of those who attended the McPherson Centre and came to understand their often wearied appearance and the appreciation they showed for the centre. For them we provided 6 or 7 hours respite and rest to recharge, work or pursue an interest perhaps, safe in the knowledge that their loved one was safe and well looked after.
    In short the day centre in Scotland were not perfect but they actually met many needs and ticked many of the most important boxes for service users and parents and carers. The move to close the centres was enhanced of course by letting buildings run down and with a lack of investment the decision became easier to sell as well. This was not the case in the McPherson Centre however as a significant refurbishment and modern extension was added around 1990. This included a lift and conversion of previous rooms into state of the art personal care facilities, work rooms and modern facilities. The move towards closure was always opposed by service users and their carers and the impact of huge changes on those who generally struggled with even minor differences to routine was simply swept away by half baked ideas sold by a shiny new breed of management whose main priority was to satisfy elected officials hell bent on their short term reputations.
    And so it appears that more houses will take the place of this beautiful gift to the people of the area. Of course they will pay into the coffers of the local council through property tax – hooray! Each house will likely have a minimum of one or two cars that will further clog the roads and pollute the atmosphere. The council are almost guaranteed to ‘preserve the history’ by calling the development McPherson Gardens or similar and the service users, remember them? Well their small community/ circle of friends has already been changed for them. Some will be offered a ‘new shinier’ place unfamiliar and unrequested by their unheard voices. Some maybe ‘introduced’ to a wider but terrifying community experience where they are frequently soaked, often cold and on the go. Their parents and carers will be expected to support their loved ones through any adverse reactions to this change, displayed in the only way possible for some and that solid carers lifeline of 5 or 6 hours where they know everything is ok? They just lost that as well!
    Half truth upon half truth cynically exploited to increase revenue, save expenditure and squeeze every penny out of any community resource for short term personal gain while the destruction of history and altruistic principles are lost in the remaining rubble. Why? Because people with learning disabilities are the same as you, so there!

  4. Jon Cofy says:

    Cheer up Jails are full.
    Alex Salmond refers to others ??? Craig Murray?
    Attribution: Tom Gordon The Herald

    Alex Salmond “said he had consulted his lawyers over Break-Up, by the respected journalists David Clegg and Kieran Andrews –”
    “Mr Salmond said he considered the book potentially breached the criminal law and had reported his concern to prosecutors –” “– he had referred the book extracts to the Crown Office for “criminal investigation”.

    Salmond said,“ — after consultation with my lawyers, I consider that the book potentially breaches the criminal law in a number of ways and I have reported my concerns to the Crown.
    The Crown Office has previously taken action against others.
    Now it must now display the impartiality and independence which lies at the heart of public prosecution in pursuing these breaches.”

    Others? What others!
    Jig Saw identification has only one precedent.
    Admittedly Salmond did not specifically refer to Jig Saw identification and raised other issues of contempt but apparently accusers can be identified by reading the book “Break-Up”. The MSM have publicly outed the Salmond accusers using Jig Saw identification.
    The authors probably refer to contemporary published reports still on public record and therefore cannot be prosecuted by Jig Saw Dorian and Co. Legal advice would ensure that authors did not rely on the offending material taken down from Craig Murray’s blog by order of Jig Saw Dorian. So Craig’s not in the frame.

    Salmond’s lawyers are far more successful than Craig’s but it’ll be a cold day in hell before the Crown Office prosecutes David Clegg and Kieran Andrews. The MSM have just snubbed their noses at Jig Saw Dorian.

  5. […] last post was a bit dowlie for my liking. I was still upset about the situation with the McPherson Centre, […]

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