MOST people of any reasonable age must have heard of Blair Hospital, near the Last Drop Village, Bromley Cross, which, after it closed in 1990 and had stood empty for three years, was taken over as an Islamic College, but which is now again deserted and is possibly to be bulldozed to make way for new homes.

If that happens, another of Bolton's well-known buildings will have disappeared, providing even less evidence of what life was like in the past. That, I expect, is progress ...

Blair Hospital was, in fact, named after Stephen Blair, of Mill Hill House, Bolton, but who was born in Wigton in Cumberland in 1804, where he also received his education. He came to Bolton in the early 1830s, was at one time associated with the Kearsley Chemical Works, and then the bleach works at Mill Hill. He also took a fair share of duties and responsibilities of public life, both locally and nationally.

He was appointed a borough magistrate in 1845; he served as a councillor and became Bolton's first Conservative Mayor (1845-6). Then, between 1848 and 1852, he represented Bolton in Parliament (he was elected without opposition, but in 1852 stood again and was defeated by 10 votes). He was also a Commissioner of Land and Assessed Taxes, and a Commissioner of Income Tax.

It was, however, as a Freemason that Mr Blair was most extensively known. He was initiated at Wigton, and, when he came to Bolton, joined the Anchor and Hope Lodge No 37; he was appointed to many progressive positions until, in 1856, he became Provincial Grand Master for 14 years. It was not only to Freemasonry, however, that Stephen Blair distributed his wealth. He had a maxim that, as his wealth came freely, he would distribute it freely, whenever giving could do any good.

Among other institutions in the town, he gave £500 to the Infirmary in 1862; to the School and Workshops for the Blind £500; £3,000 to the erection and completion of St Stephen's Church at Kearsley as a memorial to his late brother Harrison Blair, of Peel Hall; and in 1968 an endowment of £50 a year to St John's Church in Little Hulton to be spent partly on the church and choir, but the larger portion on clothing and other comforts for the aged and poor. He also gave many private donations to various causes.

But the one for which he is remembered came after his death in 1870. In his will, Stephen Blair left £30,000 for the "erection and support of a convalescent hospital". Of this sum, £20,00 was for the erection and furnishing of a free hospital for sick persons "without limit of domicile", and the remaining £10,000 was for its endowment. It was to be named Blair Hospital; a condition of the bequest was that its site should be "presented and accepted by his trustees within three years".

Some time, however, elapsed before a site was offered, but at length, Mr James Knowles JP, of Eagley, (one of the biggest wards was named after him) presented a site of five acres at Turton, and this was immediately accepted. The hospital opened in 1899.

During the First World War, the hospital facilities were placed at the disposal of the British Red Cross, and soon even the corridors were filled with wounded soldiers. After the Second World War, as with other hospitals, Blair was handed over to the National Health Service, and, as I said earlier, it closed in 1990 after having given more than a century's service to the town, most of it as a convalescent home which will have been used by many people still living.

Two more points:

Mrs Edna Liptrot, of Winslow Road, Westhoughton, one of the people who suggested that I write this article, tells me that "according to history passed down in my family, Stephen Blair never married, but had three illegitimate sons by his domestic servants. He seems to have accepted some responsibility for these, making sure that they were apprenticed to a respectable trade. He employed two of them in his business but, according to what I have been told, my great-grandfather, whose surname was Johns, would not work for his father, Stephen, and became a wheelwright. My mother says that the surname of one of the other sons was Constantine or Considine."

In the Evening News of July 8, 1870, following the report of Stephen Blair's death, the paper said: "Stephen Blair will be interred tomorrow forenoon at the Bolton Cemetery. The workpeople of Mill Hill, about 170 of whom were on Wednesday permitted to take a last earthly look at their lamented employer, are expected to meet the cortege on Manchester-road, about the locality of George Green Lane; the Masonic body, who will no doubt be largely and most influentially represented, will join in at the Baths; and in addition to the mourners and private friends of the deceased, a very general desire to pay a parting tribute of respect will lead many gentlemen of the town and neighbourhood to take part in the mourning obsequies."