IT WAS an unassuming headstone at Glasgow Necropolis, inscribed with the names of 29 children and one nurse, which first sparked Iain Hutchison’s interest in East Park School.

“On a walk through the graveyard, I noticed this stone on the main pathway,” he explains.

“These would have been some of the poorest children in the city, from the back wynds off High Street, who might otherwise have been buried in unmarked graves and forgotten about. Here they were all recorded, with compassion, by the home.

"It set me off on my journey researching the school’s history."

Iain and co-author Moyra Hawthorn have written East Park: 150 Years of Compassion, a book about the history of the Maryhill institution to mark its milestone birthday.

Glasgow Times: Moyra and Iain have written a fascinating book about East Park SchoolMoyra and Iain have written a fascinating book about East Park School (Image: Colin Mearns/Newsquest)

As part of the anniversary, the school has also been researching East Park children buried in the Necropolis grave whose names have not been recorded, and in other graves at the cemetery, at the Western Necropolis and in Largs, in a bid to identify and remember the “forgotten” young people.

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It is one of many fascinating insights into East Park revealed in the new book, to which the Glasgow Times was given an exclusive “first look” ahead of its publication on March 21.

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East Park first opened its doors on September 16, 1874, as a residential hospital school for children with serious illness and disabilities.

At the time, Maryhill was surrounded by countryside, and the idea was to give sick children a chance to breathe fresh air, far from the bustling city.

It has evolved into a school for young people who have complex additional needs, many of whom live off-campus in supported accommodation.

Part of the original cottage, which could accommodate up to 50 children, still stands today and its distinctive spire is a local landmark.

Glasgow Times: East Park School in 1924East Park School in 1924 (Image: East Park School)

“The fact that the school still stands in the same location, with some of the same buildings, is an achievement, especially when you consider it almost closed in the 1990s,” explains Moyra, whose background is in social work, and who was a member of the East Park Board of Trustees for almost a decade.

“It has been absolutely fascinating researching the history of the school, but for me, it has been talking to people connected to East Park which has brought everything to life.”

She adds, smiling: “There are so many fantastic stories. One of my favourites came from a former pupil, a woman called Elizabeth, who talked about sneaking out to buy chips after the nurses had done their night-time rounds.

“They’d sprinkle eau de toilette over the beds afterwards to disguise the smell.”

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The book does not shy away from some of the more difficult periods in the school’s history: the challenge of evacuating the children almost overnight during World War Two, when Maryhill was bombed, for example; and the threat of takeover by the NHS.

It also discusses the challenges associated with the pandemic although, as Moyra and Iain point out, Covid was not unprecedented for East Park.

The influenza pandemic between 1918 and 1920, which became known as Spanish flu, was not widely reported by newspapers at the time, even though millions of people died. The UK government, concerned about the effects on public morale after the war, and the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917, played down the impact of the virus, which was attacking the young and fit.

In the book, Moyra and Iain include thoughts by visiting surgeon Wilson Bruce on October 6, 1919,  who wrote: “In the early months of this year [1919], during the epidemic of influenza in Glasgow, we had a trying and anxious time.

“Many of the children had high temperatures with chest complications, and in some a distinct pneumonia was present. Several deaths were due to that cause. Twelve of the staff were ill with influenza, inclusive of the Matron [Kathleen Jamieson], [along with] the specially trained nurse brought in to help during the emergency, and myself….The nurses who kept well during the epidemic gave willing and much appreciated help.”

The authors believe the book will appeal to a wide range of readers, not just those connected to the school, or those interested in how approaches to education and children’s health have evolved in the last 150 years.

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“So many people in the local community, when they find out what we are researching, have told us they’d be really interested in the book,” says Moyra.

“I think it will really appeal to the people in Glasgow, and in particular Maryhill, where the school has been part of the community for so long.”