This account says that John Wood had humble origins and that in his youth he herded cattle at the farm of Monturpie. However, he tired of this employment and went off to sea, vowing only to return when he was in a position to buy the land which he had just left. The story goes that decades later, after venturing around the world and amassing considerable wealth, Wood returned to Largo to retire. Eventually he purchased Monturpie Farm and a large piece of ground in Upper Largo upon which he instructed the original hospital building to be erected. John Wood stipulated in 1659 that the hospital was to be solely for old men who shared the Wood name.
John Wood died in 1661 and was buried at Largo Kirk. However, details of the building of the hospital are recorded in the diary of Mr John Lamont of Newton (factor to the Lundin family of Lundin), as follows:
"1665, Apr. About the begining of this monthe, the Hospital att the Church of Largo in Fyffe, appointed to be buelded by the deceased John Wood, was founded at this tyme, by Robert Mill, measter measson in Edb., and some men that he hyred for the worke.....About the end of Au. 1665, the rooffe was put on this building, and slaited and glassed. It consisted of thrie rooffes; one to the east, one to the north, and one to the west. The entrie of it looked to the south."
He continues to record that the building had a public hall and 14 rooms, each with a bed, a closet and a loom. Around six people became the first residents around Candlemas 1667. Rent from the farm of Monturpie helped to keep the hospital. The original building was a good one but was old by 1830 when a "tremendous and destructive" flood caused enough damage for the building to be written off and a new one commissioned. The Caledonian Mercury of Saturday 18 September 1830 described how on the Thursday morning, after a night of rain, an especially heavy downpour brought such quantities of water down from the slopes of Largo Law that drainage systems were breached. When the mass of water encountered the boundary wall of Wood's hospital "it made a gap 120 feet wide". Then the effect of the flood upon the building itself was described....
"...the windows of which, unable to withstand the pressure, gave way, and the lower part of the house was immediately filled with water, to the no small alarm of the inmates. One poor old woman, and her daughter, had been nearly drowned; the door of their room being shut, the poor creatures, who had just got out of bed, were instantly up to their neck in water...Every house, every field, in the flood's course is more or less injured."
Although no lives were lost, much damage was done and many possessions, along with rocks, trees and other debris, were carried down the burn which runs to the Serpentine, and right down to the sea. A late meeting of the patrons of the hospital agreed "that a new house should be built for the better accommodation for the objects of this charity, which makes the injury sustained by the present building of less importance, were it not for the temporary inconvenience of its inmates."
More in the next post on the replacement building - put up in 1830 and still standing and in use today.