Ashludie Research Project

Conditions in Dundee at the time when Lorna contracted Tuberculosis

Background to the interview with “Lorna” who was 100 years of age in May 2011. Visit Lorna's Memoirs page to find out more.

Dundee was an Industrial town, which by the beginning of the 20th Century, not only bore all the hallmarks of a typical industrial town but was indeed one of the poorest cities in Britain. There had been three major Social Reports done in Britain as to the deplorable conditions suffered and endured by the working classes in three main cities:

  • The Charles Booth Report of London (Salvation Army)
  • The Seebohm Rowntree Report (of the famous Chocolate Family)
  • The Dundee Social Union 1905 Report in Dundee

It was the latter city which was to prove to be the worst of all. There being far worse housing and social conditions for poorer classes in Dundee and this is borne out by looking at the infant mortality rate, the death rates of the adult population, the reduced life expectancy rate for men and women, and the impact of all the major killer diseases of the era, of which the dreaded, consumption, of the 18th and 19th Centuries was to prove one of the greatest killers, and it was in, medical terms, called Tuberculosis or TB.

There was, at the time of this lady's insightful memory of being a victim of this scourge on the population, no medical cure as. At that time. no medication to combat the disease had been discovered in the medical profession.

An already weakened population existed in Dundee, as everywhere in Great Britain at the time, as the Great War had ravaged the Population (and especially the lost generation of young men on the battlefields) and though it ended in 1918, yet another scourge took an even greater toll on the already weakened population, when there was hard on the heels of the ending of the Great War in 1918, the outbreak of Spanish 'Flu which is said to have killed more than the Great War.

This is the background to the era in which Lorna was born and raised in the city of Dundee.

Though the Liberal Government of 1906 had instigated great Liberal Social Reforms, which was largely due to the immense tenacity and wisdom of David Lloyd George, and in particular, he had tackled poverty, which plagued the lower classes especially, he introduced Sickness Benefit and the National Health Insurance Act in 1911. There was always, for the majority of people, the dread that they would be without a job, and so a wage too, and this was especially true in Dundee.

This is true in Lorna's own story, as will become apparent, and though where there had before been nothing at all to help the sick in times of crises, before the Liberal Reforms in 1906, by the time of Lorna's own personal history there is still that dread of being ill , unable to work and earn a living. What was offered by the State was minimal, and there was no National Health Service as it became known as, this was not introduced until the Beveridge Report in 1946. It is important to set Lorna's own personal experience of the dreaded consumption of the previous centuries (now by the 20th Century referred to by the population as TB or tuberculosis in the context of that time).

Lorna herself wanted to be a pharmacist, but there was no money in the family for her higher education, this was the privilege of the gentry, and well off business people to pay University Fees. Although, obviously, intelligent Lorna had to accept, as many in Dundee and all other towns in Britain, this was not a goal she could achieve.

She was fortunate enough to get a position of work with at well known Industrial Firm in Dundee called 'Brown and Tawse', where she started in the office, an indication that she had ability enough, not to be a factory or shop worker, often the only jobs for women in Dundee. Especially with its hundreds of Jute mills still crying out in the approaching Depression years. Women were weavers and spinners and had more chance of work than men who demoralising became known in the city as 'Kettle Boilers'.

Lorna started as the tea girl and general girl Friday, doing all the menial tasks, but as she was bright her boss encouraged her to go to night school .This way the only way open to the poorer classes to better themselves, and so this Lorna did, and did well, gaining qualification in Book Keeping and Ledger work and so she rose up in Brown and Tawse to be a Book Keeper.

Having gained her qualifications at Stobswell night school Lorna's wage packet was £1.00 (one old pound, before decimalised coinage) and this she handed over to the Family as her 'Keep' or 'Board Money', what she contributed to the weekly budget of the family. This was a normal thing to do at that time, and her Mother would give her back "pocket money "for her own use.

Lorna describes enjoying life though with simple pleasure and felt as" fit as a fiddle" and doing all the things young girls did at that time for entertainment in the City…going to the Pictures ( the cinema) and the dancing, a usual way to meet your future husband , at the Locarno or the Palais. However, Lorna's life was about to take a serious turn as she became a victim of the dreaded Consumption, or Tuberculosis, for which at that time there was no medical cure through treatment with antibiotics.

Lorna's ill health and how she was treated for TB in Dundee

The warning signs for Lorna, she clearly recalls, were while she was getting ready for work one morning August 1929,she had a coughing fit which produced a clot of blood , but she went for breakfast, as usual, and casually mentioned this, in her mind minor incident ,over the breakfast table. Whereupon her Mother enquired about her health and Lorna replied that she was 'fine'. Lorna went to work as normal that day. Her Mother, however, knew all was far from well, and so, when Lorna returned home that evening her Mother took her up to see Dr. George Rankin, of Stobswell.

The Doctor at that time (there were no Medical Practices, as the NHS did not come into being till the Beveridge Report in 1946, was in the Doctor's own house where he laid aside two rooms. One for the "surgery/examination room and the other the "waiting room". There was no receptionist and usually the waiting rooms were crowded out. Lorna describes it all very well;

The wooden chairs were all round the room backs to the wall, when you entered you "worked out" for yourself "who was just before you and who came after to remember, your slot, there was no luxury of a receptionist, instead, when finished with one patient the Doctor would open the waiting room door and called "Next Please"

Lorna's subsequent examination and its diagnosis, and prognosis, not only came as a shock to her, but, were to change the course of her life over the next year. Indeed, she was to come through this awful disease well, an outcome only for the fortunate, who could fight off the infection. She was given the best treatment available, at that time in Dundee, for TB sufferers. Her interview gives a rare insight as to how, without the benefit of antibiotics and streptomycin, the eventual "wonder drug" to combat TB, Dundee coped with the virulent disease which afflicted so many.

Lorna, a young woman , failed to understand the seriousness of the Doctor's diagnosis, that she had tuberculosis, thought this could be fought off by herself with a couple of weeks off work. She admits to being aghast when asking how many weeks she would be off work, and the Doctor replies that it was not weeks she had to think of for this dreadful illness but months, indeed it was to prove over a year for Lorna.

Her Mother's sharp intuition from a simple conversation at the breakfast table, likely played a positive part in Lorna's eventual recovery. Lorna herself is well aware of this and does make this point when speaking of her experience.

Lorna's immediate fear, as well now as knowing she had TB Tuberculosis, a dreaded disease due to the fact that often the outcome was fatal, was the added fear and burden of not working and being unable to contribute to the family income.

It is important to understand the background here, as well as there being no NHS as we in any Social Security or Benefits, nor any method of keeping a "job open" until you recovered. So Lorna's fears were in multiplied, she had TB, was off work for months, had no guarantee of a job when she recovered and had no income.

How TB Victims Were Treated at the Time

It has already been stated that the Medical Profession did not, at this time, possess antibiotics. TB was a very infectious disease and there was a good deal of myth and stories regarding how it was caught and spread, and who were more prone to catching this illness. Consequently, due to ignorance, there was a dreadful stigma attached to a person who was unfortunate enough to become a victim. There was little compassion for sufferers, largely based on the fear that it would be transferred, and be caught by being beside the patient. Many did, erroneously, believe it was the disease of the 'lower classes', which only had themselves to blame as they did not keep clean and so encouraged the spread of the disease. Now it is known many of these fears and beliefs about TB was indeed not based on medical evidence but through ignorance. Working classes were not provided with good housing, there were many slums, especially in Dundee, with poor sanitation, and much over-crowding. The more affluent of the city did not live in such limiting conditions and generally had begun to move away from overcrowded polluted town centres to the "Leafy Suburbs". They could also afford better medical care.

Today Monifieth is a well populated area, easily reached by public transport, or private car within 20 minutes. This was not the case in 1929. There were very few public buses to go there, and it was a very sparsely populated area. This made it very expensive for poorer folk to visit , plus they had to work and had little time to plan and organise a visit, which as well as being costly, would take up nearly their whole day, and most people worked a six day week. 'Money was tight' especially for working classes was an understatement. It would be very hard for a working class person to save the money for the fare to Monifieth for an infrequently available bus service to the one main street in Monifieth. Then faced with a steep uphill climb up the ' Ashludie Road' as it was commonly known as- a fit person indeed to accomplish such a convoluted journey in 1929, it seems hard to comprehend in 2012 when this hospital can now be accessed in about 20 minutes from Dundee by private car, which now nearly all people own, or have access to, or there is now a reliable, and frequent, public transport service.

Lorna talks affectionately about her friend, Florence "from the Magdalene Yard Road" in the West End of Dundee by the rail bridge over the river Tay, a factory worker with meagre wages who saved up enough from her small weekly pay to be able to afford the return fare from the West End of Dundee to Ashludie, a four bus journey. Florence did so however for her friend Lorna suffering from TB in Ashludie. Lorna appreciated the efforts her friend made to save up and use the money to visit her in hospital Young Florence had to make a big decision to go to the dancing on a Saturday night or visit her ill friend in Ashludie.

The theory for treatment of TB was to keep patients isolated and give them as much fresh air as possible combined with good food and bed rest.

Since it was a lung disease there was the knowledge that it had something to do with coughing, so the coughed up sputum from the lungs, or phlegm, had to be caught in personal spittoons called a sputum mug with a lid on it to keep in the germs. This mug was white with a spout into which the patient spat the fluid they had coughed up from their lungs. This was to try to contain the spread of the spit into the air, as it was believed this had something to do with its infectious nature passing from victim to victim.

Lorna describes the three sided chalets which could be rotated so that there was always a plentiful supply of fresh air. When it rained, or the weather became inclement, the patients would be covered in rubber type waterproof sheets to keep them dry. In very bad weather the chalets could be rotated away from the wind and rain. There was another such Sanatorium in the West of the City at Sidlaw and convalescence at Auchterhouse.

Ashludie as the Main Sanatorium for TB Sufferers in Dundee and its environs.

The Monifieth Local History Society have well documented their research on Ashludie and this can be seen in their publication 'Ashludie: A short History' as to how this Main Building came to be in the realms of the Health Board for Dundee.

The Plaque below shows clearly when the building was given over to the Public Health Committee and was still above the main reception in the Main Building.

This is mentioned in the Third Statistical Account by G.M.Jackson, and the main building still stands though now used more for administration and conferences, and the grounds of Ashludie now has many outbuildings.

Submitted by Mari Phillips