The Lost Gardens of Orkney (2) Balfour Hospital

This story features both a family named ‘Garden’ and of course gardens or grounds of what was once Orkney’s Hospital.

On 6th of April 1927 The Garden Memorial Building was opened as the new Balfour Hospital serving the people of Orkney.

In March 1914 the widow and family of Baillie Robert Garden offered to fund a new building to serve as a hospital. Delayed by the First World War the building was constructed in the 1920’s whilst what is now the West End Hotel continued to be the Balfour Hospital. The story of the Garden family legacy and the fundraising efforts of the community to build this new facility for Orkney is truly amazing – and it is one for another day.

Today we are focusing on the grounds in which the Garden Memorial Building stands and what happened over the years up to the present day.

Images of the opening ceremony on that very rainy day in 1927 show crowds of people and the Kirkwall Brass Band outside the Garden Memorial Building. They are standing in what is now a car park but it did once have a circle of grass laid to lawn. There was quite a lot of grounds surrounding the building and these were maintained by a full time gardener. In 1939 the gardener was Thomas Gorn.

Costs in all things continued to rise during the inter -war years and this was true for maintaining the grounds.

YearCost of Garden Work
1927£21. 18s 3d
1928£24. 0s 6d

At the old Balfour, which also had gardens, the wages for the gardener was £15 a year in 1909, and most of the cost in the garden work in the table above would be in an annual wage for the gardener.

The Garden Memorial Building only had 4 wards and whilst it was a great improvement on the old building it was soon to get a massive extension.

In 1939 with the outbreak of the Second World War The Army and Naval Authorities asked permission to put up service hospital units in the grounds with 100 beds in each hut. This was because Orkney was a major wartime base due to its strategic position and Scapa Flow (as it had done in WW1) served as a safe anchorage for the Royal Navy.

During the war years and after, the gardens and grounds continued to maintained, even requiring an assistant gardener to keep them tidy.

In July 2019 the £65million new Balfour Hospital opened. The gardens and landscaping is an integral part of its design. The new planting is still settling in but it is very promising with a greenhouse and lots of planted areas.

And what of the old Balfour?

The Garden Memorial Building which was declared to be ‘a memorial for all time’ is looking quite dilapidated – but still around it plants and trees continue to survive.

Fiona Grahame

See also: The Lost Gardens of Orkney (1) War Memorial Garden

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2 replies »

  1. I still have the original decorating contract documents for the Garden Memorial Hospital in my office. George Bain, Great Western Rd . Kirkwall.