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Dark secrets of hospital that city pretended didn't exist

A LIBRARIAN'S research has pieced together the history of one of Glasgow's best kept secrets, the Lock Hospital for ''dangerous females'' with sexually transmitted diseases.

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For five years, Mrs Anna Forrest poured in vain over Glasgow's borough records, the city planning office notes, and records of the city's hospitals, before concluding her account of the ''non-existent'' place. The 48-year-old librarian at Glasgow's Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons says she wants to give a voice to those so called dangerous women who were made scapegoats for the spread of venereal diseases, which were as virulent killers as cholera and typhus. ''When I first started looking, I was told that the hospital never existed,'' she said. ''It became a mission to find out more and let the public know what happened to these women and young girls.'' Polite society did not want to know when the proposal to open a VD clinic for females was considered in 1805, a feeling reflected in the lack of documentation about the building. It was called Lock. The name was thought to either derive from the old English word loke, associated with a leper house, or the French loque which was a bandage used for leprosy. Like lepers, those with VD were shunned. Initially, arguments on whether it should be built at all raged between the Glaswegian medical profession, the clergy, and traders of the time. Just as HIV has spread fear and prejudice through society of the late twentieth century, syphilis was seen as a punishment from God. Women were called the carriers and spreaders of disease, but there were no health provisions made for them. Indeed, throughout the 1700s, it was thought finding a cure would only encourage them to go out and sin again. In 1598, the Glasgow kirk session and town councils of the time had ordered drastic quarantine measures. Men and women who were sick were rounded up in Glasgow Green. They were sent outside the city walls and ordered never to return. As females were considered the carriers, their shame was burned on to their faces with branding irons. There was no medical provision for either sex until 1733, when Glasgow's Town Hospital in Clyde Street was established: but only for the ''deserving poor'', which meant no one with the pox, or VD - or women. The Town Hospital was eventually used as an insane asylum, overrun by men in the last stages of syphilis. By 1790, a small unit for women was set up in Glasgow at the university, but it admitted only pregnant women. There were still no health provisions for women with VD. When the Napoleonic war broke out, the Gallowgate Barracks were established in the city and Glasgow Royal Infirmary was opened. Such was the consequent spread of disease due to soldiers sleeping with the ''sporting ladies'' of the town that certain wards were used only to treat the military. GRI was still not taking in pregnant or diseased women or children. After much debate, the Lock Hospital for women was established in 1805. The dwelling house opened at 151 Rottenrow Lane with 11 beds, but did not exist in the medical establishment records of the time. It used mercury as a treatment - popular at the time but ultimately toxic to the patient. Many women entering the Lock were never seen again and those entering were not allowed to leave until their treatment, often lasting for months, was over. Many tried to break out. Some were moved eventually to the nearby insane asylum as syphilitic madness and mercury poisoning ravaged their bodies. It was 1807 before the city officially recognised the Lock. By 1846, the hospital was moved to new premises at 41 Rottenrow. Child victims of abuse and incest were being discovered in larger and larger numbers but Victorian society found the fact impossible to admit. One Lock doctor is on record as saying a seven-year-old girl had ''given the illness to herself''. But from 1925, new treatment centres were opening up for venereal disease patients. Medicines were improving and in 1940 the Lock Hospitals annual reports showed the number of patients on the decline. Seven years later the building's funds were transferred to the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. It was 1955 when the Lock was finally demolished and the walls which held the secrets and pain of thousands of Scots women were gone forever.

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