A few of Edinburgh’s medical firsts!
Edinburgh has a long and illustrious medical history. The city has been at the forefront of many surgical and biomedical research and development from the time of the Enlightenment to the present day. Medical connections are part of the very fabric of the City. Below is a list of institutions in Edinburgh and the Lothians that house medical related collections.
Houses significant archival collections including 18th century medical correspondence between Scottish physicians and Herman Boehavve of Leiden.
Tel: 0131 331 2451
Lothian Health Services Archive
Lothian Health Services Archive (LHSA) holds the historically important local records of NHS hospitals and other health-related material. It collects, preserves and catalogues these records and promotes them to increase understanding of the history of health and for the benefit of all. LHSA is core funded by NHS Lothian and project funded by a variety of institutions, including the Wellcome Trust. LHSA is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections.
A variety of NHS clinical and non-clinical records are held dating from 1770 and 1594 respectively. Gifted or deposited non-NHS institutional and personal papers have increased the range and depth of holdings, which now occupy c.3,000 shelf metres. This rich collection also includes c.1 million folder-based clinical case notes and c.40,000 images, along with older printed books, pamphlets, objects, artwork and a small quantity of digital assets.
The significance of LHSA's Edinburgh and Lothian HIV/AIDS Collections has been recognised by a 2011 inscription to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register (www.lhsa.lib.ed.ac.uk/source/HIVAIDS_index.htm).
Access to the Collections
Collections can be accessed by researchers and members of the public but are subject to legal restrictions. Details about access can be found at http://www.lhsa.lib.ed.ac.uk/services/index.html
Images can be viewed on Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/49439570@N08
Lothian Health Services Archive Edinburgh University Main Library
30 George Square
Tel: +44 (0)131 650 3392
Fax: +44 (0)131 650 2922
National Library of Scotland
Scotland's largest library and the world centre for the study of Scotland and the Scots. Holds some of the rarest material relating to medical and health.
George IV Bridge
Tel: 0131 226 4531
National Museums of Scotland
Amongst this amazing collection of the nation's treasures, you can find some 700 items relating to all aspects of medical history, including Fleming’s Nobel Prize for Medicine (1945) for the discovery of penicillin, prototype apparatus used to develop the first clinically useful MRI scanner, and early devices for CT scanning and obstetric ultrasound. Older material includes items relating to Scottish folk medicine.
Tel: 0131 247 4422
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Founded in the 17th century as a ‘physic garden’ growing medicinal plants, this lovely garden still has many medicinal examples amongst its 15,000 species today, as well as an extensive reference library and archive.
20A Inverleith Row
Tel: 0131 552 7171
Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh
In the seventeenth century, Edinburgh physicians began to hold meetings in their own homes to discuss the regulation of medical practice and the ways in which standards in medicine could be improved. Sir Robert Sibbald, an eminent physician and noted historian, was a member of this group. He had the opportunity to petition King Charles II, who granted the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh its Royal Charter in 1681. Sir Robert is generally accepted to be the founder of the College.
The founding Fellows of the College were concerned not only with the advancement of medicine as a reputable science, but also with alleviating the miseries of the City’s poor and needy.
For more than 300 years, the College has remained independent of control by government. The College’s mission today lies close to the ideals of its founders: to promote the highest standards in internal medicine not only in Edinburgh where the College was founded and has developed, but wherever its Fellows and Members practise.
The College acts in an advisory capacity to government and other organisations on many aspects of health and welfare and medical education. It was instrumental in founding the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and, over the years, has influenced the development of medical schools in North America, Australasia, Asia and Africa.
The Library of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh was established in 1682 and was the first in Scotland specifically intended for the study of medicine. Sir Robert Sibbald, who had been the foremost figure in the creation of the College, donated ‘three shelfes full of books to the Colledge of Physitians.’ Since then the Library has provided over three hundred years of continuous service to members of the College, and has grown into a comprehensive collection ranging from the earliest and rarest of medical writings to modern books, periodicals and online resources.
Access to the collections
The Library is open to the public. Please contact us to make an appointment.
Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh
9 Queen Street
Edinburgh EH2 1JQ
Tel: 0131 225 7324
Fax: 0131 220 3939
The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
Surgeons’ Hall Museum
The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, founded in 1505, is the oldest medical institution of its kind in the world and the College holds the largest collection of medical, anatomical and pathological material in Scotland, dating from Roman times to the present day.
Surgeons’ Hall, designed by Sir William Playfair opened in July 1832, the month before the first UK Anatomy Act became law. The entire upper floor of Surgeons’ Hall was dedicated to the College’s teaching collections of Comparative Anatomy and Pathology. Although much of the Comparative Anatomy collection has been dispersed in the intervening years, the pathology collection has survived almost intact. It is probably one of the few early nineteenth century medical museums in the world that still has most of its original collection on display and in the original space provided for it. It is Scotland’s oldest medical museum.
Surgeons’ Hall Museum includes early specimens from the College’s first anatomy and pathology museum established in 1807; Sir Charles Bell’s oil paintings of wounded soldiers from the Napoleonic Wars; David Middleton Greig’s skull collection; John Menzies Campbell’s comprehensive dental collection; early microscopic preparations, microscopes and microtomes; historic anaesthetic and antisepsis equipment (including the most complete Squires II Inhaler known and a range of Lister carbolic spray machines); Lord Lister’s frock coat and dissection kit; Sir James Young Simpson’s top hat and medicine chest; original pathological drawings; X-rays, photographs and scans and over 3,000 surgical instruments dating back to classical times.
Displays show the methods for preservation and representation of the human body since1505 and highlight developments and links between ‘Classical’ surgery and contemporary specialisms such as reconstructive facial surgery and sports and exercise medicine. Displays on the notorious murderers Burke and Hare and the anatomist Dr Robert Knox include a wallet reputedly made out of the skin of William Burke. Multimedia access provides more in depth medical/surgical information and interdisciplinary cross-referencing.
Museum opening times
Open to the public Monday – Friday 12pm – 4pm
Weekend opening April - October
Library and Archive
RCSEd library is one of the oldest medical libraries in Scotland. Collections include: historic and rare books including early anatomical atlases, medical and surgical texts dating from the 16th century and current medical/surgical journals, books and digital resources. The archive holds the institutional records of the College dating from the early 16th century and private papers relating to famous medical pioneers including: Sir James Young Simpson, Joseph Bell (the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes), Joseph Lister and Sir Michael Woodruff.
Access to the Collections
The Library is open to Members and Fellows 9-5 Monday –Friday
General researchers by appointment.
College Library and Archives
The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
Edinburgh EH8 9DW
Tel: 0131 527 1630 and 1632
Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS)
Records and interprets information about Scotland’s built environment. Archives on hospitals, asylums and medical buildings around Scotland freely available to the public
John Sinclair House
16 Bernard Terrace
Tel: 0131 662 1456
Royal Scottish Academy
Holds a collection of Scottish art as well as an archive relating to the last 200 years that contains anatomical manuals, and engravings and life drawings by Scottish nineteenth century artists.
Tel 0131 225 6671
By appointment only
Scottish Borders Archive and Local History Centre
The Heritage Hub
Heart of Hawick
Hawick TD9 0AE
Tel: 01450 360699
Scottish National Portrait Gallery
A unique visual history of Scotland, told through the portraits of those who shaped it.
1 Queen Street
Tel: 0131 624 6200
University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh has rich collections dating back from the seventeenth century. The collections include manuscripts, specimens, and iconic items such as William Burke’s skeleton.
Special Collections includes Western medieval manuscripts, Oriental manuscripts, some 400,000 early and special printed books, architectural plans, photographs and drawings. There are extensive holdings of personal, business and literary papers, including many relating to Scottish medicine and science. In total we have over 30km of collections material.
Access to the collections
The collections are available to anyone. They are housed in the Centre for Research Collections on the 6th floor of Edinburgh University Main Library.
The Writers’ Museum
Potions, alchemy and mind-altering drugs – discover the literary connections with medicine through authors such as Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Lady Stair's House
Lady Stair’s Close, Lawnmarket
Tel: 0131 529 4901
West Lothian Council Heritage Services
West Lothian is the birthplace of Dr James Young Simpson who pioneered the use of chloroform as an anaesthetic and David Waldie, the Linlithgow pharmacist who recommended this chemical. Our Local History Library has a few images relating to both individuals.
Tel: 01506 776347