Historic Hospitals of Edinburgh

As a youngster back in the 90s, I had to visit the hospital as an out-patient (after an operation) on several occasions. Back then it was the Edinburgh City Hospital, based in Colinton, which closed in the middle of my visits, where I then got transferred for check-ups at St John’s in Livingston.

As a 10-year-old I did not think too much about this, I mostly looked forward to getting a day in Edinburgh, visiting the National Museum on Chambers Street after, and hanging out with the mother.

Now, with my interest in medical history, it got me thinking about that hospital, and what incarnations of other hospitals existed in the past. The hospital I was born in no longer exists either; there are now houses in the area, with a doorway showing its previous existence.

Image: Old pedestrian entrance to the hospital, with the original wrought iron sign
Image Credit: Own image, taken in January 2021

I have always been fascinated by medical based history, so a basic history of these two Edinburgh hospitals coming your way…

Edinburgh City Hospital

The hospital has its roots in Canongate Poorhouse. The Public Health (Scotland) Act in 1867 meant that local authorities could provide treatment of infectious diseases during epidemics, and so Edinburgh’s town council prepared the poorhouse for this. Previously, the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh (RIE) refused entry to anyone with smallpox or cholera and so the council fitted out part of the poorhouse around Forrest Road, alongside other premises on King’s Stables Road, as temporary hospitals.

In 1879, the Royal Infirmary moved to Lauriston Place. That same year, to commemorate Sir James Young Simpson‘s contribution to obstetrics, a new maternity hospital was also built in Lauriston Place – the Edinburgh Royal Maternity and Simpson Memorial Hospital.

The old RIE buildings in the High School Yards area were acquired by the Town Council and placed under the control of Sir Henry Littlejohn, the then City Medical Officer of Health. This incarnation of the hospital was then known as the City Fever Hospital. It then moved to Colinton Mains in 1903, being renamed the City Hospital for Infectious Diseases.

The images above shows ground plans of the then new Edinburgh City Hospital for Infectious Diseases, published in 1902. This publication can be found online here – Public health and preventive medicine (Archive.org

Later in the 1960s, the hospital became known as the City Hospital, and catered to more than just infectious diseases. It treated other diseases, and added surgical departments for thoracic and chest surgeries. It also took on in-patients from the Royal Infirmary’s Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) department, restricting it to out-patients only (oh hello 90s out-patient ENT me).

Image: Edinburgh City Hospital in 1988
Image Credit: Flickr

Eastern General Hospital

The Eastern General Hospital was based on Seafield Road, in the Leith area of Edinburgh. Like the City Hospital, it originated from a poorhouse in that it was established by Leith Parish Council in 1907 as the Leith Poorhouse. Previous to this there were two poorhouses, in North and South Leith, and these became united for poor law purposes, with the new one built on Seafield Street.

Image: Leith Seafield Road Site, 1932
 Image Credit: workhouses.org.uk 

Designed by Joseph Marr Johnston and originally split into two sections, one medical and one poorhouse, although the poorhouse section was converted for medical use very soon after. 

The Leith poorhouse was itself the last poorhouse to be built in Scotland, with the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress report, set up by parliament to investigate how the Poor Law system should be changed, released just after in 1909.

The hospital was used by the military during the first World War, which included nurse accommodation with a seperate nurses dining room, and an operating theatre added. In 1918, at the end of the First World War, it was used by the United States Navy

It was in 1930 it was then known as the Easter General Hospital.

Image: Aerial photograph of the Eastern General taken in 1954 by Aero Pictorial 
Image Credit: RCAHMS collection

In 1948 it joined the National Health Service, and became known for expertise in prosthetics.

The hospital closed in 2007 and, similar to the City hospital, the site was cleared for a housing development.Want to read more about some of the hospitals, as well as other NHS archives, I would recommend the Lothian Health Services Archive.

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