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Vale of Leven: Britain’s First National Health Service Hospital, 1951–55

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 November 2023


While some of the major hospitals built in Britain following the creation of the National Health Service have attracted scholarly attention, Vale of Leven — the first NHS hospital — has been largely overlooked. Erected in 1952–55 at Alexandria, to the northwest of Glasgow, it was built with funds provided by the civil defence budget and was designed as both a potential emergency hospital during wartime and a peacetime general hospital to meet the needs of the local population. The architect, Joseph L. Gleave (1907–65), regarded the project as an opportunity to design a hospital based on the principles of the modern movement and, when it opened, it was applauded as the first ’modern’ hospital built by the NHS. As with the emergency hospitals built at the outset of the second world war, the design was based on a separation between circulation (the ’spine’) and accommodation, which comprised standardised but expandable modular units plugged into the spine, allowing flexibility for future change. Although Vale of Leven Hospital was not replicated, aspects of its planning and design were influential in the short term, and its legacy can be seen in the more compact standardised model of the nucleus hospitals developed in the 1970s.

Research Article
© The Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain 2023

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