A Street Through Time: Skin Hospital
Skin Hospital on map of Clifton Street

The Purdon family are widely acclaimed as the pioneers of contemporary dermatology in Northern Ireland. H.S. Purdon, who came from a long line of acclaimed doctors, spotted a lack of targeted care for skin diseases in 19th century Belfast. Purdon sought a premises for a specialised skin hospital in 1865. A suitable building in Academy Street was found, from which ‘The Belfast Dispensary for Diseases of the Skin’ was run.[1] Demand for its services soon outweighed the buildings confines, prompting Purdon to appeal to the Belfast Charitable Society for land adjacent to Regent Street, which they granted in October 1869. However, once again the building’s size proved limiting to its increasing usership. In 1873, philanthropist Edward Benn offered to fund a new, large and state of the art skin hospital to meet its demands. In 1875, Benn funded ‘The Belfast Hospital for Diseases of the Skin’ on Glenravel Street, an offshoot of Clifton Street directly to the rear of Clifton House and the nearby Ulster Ear, Eye and Throat Hospital.

The new Skin Hospital incorporated traditional elements of a hospital such as a waiting room and surgery, alongside infrastructure for more experimental treatments including bathing areas. The hospital boasted baths with different properties including alkaline, creolin and iodine.[2] This mix of traditional and experimental medicine encouraged high optimism of the institutions ability to treat complex skin diseases. The hospital was also continually modernising its practice to keep up with contemporary methods, and in 1902 light lamps were introduced in the hopes it would cure Lupus.[3] Testament to the hospital’s success was its consistently high demand; by 1902 it was reported that 35,850 patients had made use of the hospital since its foundation.[4] The hospital continued to operate as a respectable pillar of the North Belfast medical community for the following 30 years, throughout which the Purdon family maintained a key role as physicians.

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On 4th May 1941 the hospital was destroyed by a Luftwaffe bomb, during the Belfast Blitz.[5] Subsequent to the extensive damage, the building was demolished shortly after. On the site of the hospital, a Day Centre was built  serving as a training centre for young people requiring specialist medical care. In 1957 Lord MacDermott, Minister of Public Security during the Blitz and later Lord Chief Justice, asserted that such young people were ostracized by the community and thus their potential went unfulfilled.[6] MacDermott appealed for increased support of the Day Centre and other likeminded institutions. Despite the benevolent aspirations of the building the Centre, alongside the entirety of Glenravel street, was demolished to make way for the development of the WestLink.

Skin Hospital on Glenravel Street

[1] Devereux. C.E., and Eedy, D.J. ‘A history of Dermatology in Ireland’ in Ulster Medical journal vol LXXIX (2010), p95.

[2] ‘Belfast Skin Hospital’ in Tyrone Courier, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0001693/18960104/069/0004?browse=False, 4th January 1896.

[3] ‘Belfast Skin Diseases Hospital’ in Belfast Morning News, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0001930/19020730/121/0006?browse=False, 30th July 1902.

[4] Ibid.

[5] ‘Belfast Loses Skin Hospital’ in Belfast Telegraph, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0002318/19420131/108/0004?browse=False, 31st January 1942.

[6] ‘For support’ in Northern Whig, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0001542/19571012/045/0003?browse=False, 12th October 1957.

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