Lothian Hospital Histories

Royal Edinburgh Hospital

The foundation of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital was triggered by the death in Bedlam, at the age of 24, of the poet Robert Fergusson. His medical attendant Dr Andrew Duncan, was so moved by the poet's plight that he resolved to fund a hospital in Edinburgh where the mentally ill could be humanely looked after.

In 1792 Duncan launched an appeal for funds and, in 1806, Parliament granted the sum of £2,000 out of the funds of the estates forfeited in the aftermath of the Jacobite Rising of 1745. The villa of Morningside was purchased with four acres of ground, a Royal Charter was granted, and in 1809 the foundation stone was laid. The architect was Robert Reid. The Edinburgh Lunatic Asylum was opened in 1813, the original building being known as East House. To begin with only paying patients were accepted, but in 1842 West House, designed by William Burn, opened its doors to accommodate pauper patients. In 1844 it received the inmates of the city's Bedlam.

To begin with the Hospital was run by a lay superintendent and a matron, with physicians visiting it to give patients attention. The first Minute Book for the Hospital (LHB7/7/1) shows that the first superintendent was Mr John Hughes, who had been working in St Luke's Hospital in London, while the first matron was his wife.

In 1839 the position of Physician Superintendent was created. The first to hold that office was Dr William Mackinnon. Under Mackinnon's direction patients were encouraged to use whatever trade or skill they possessed. Occupations included gardening, pig farming, poultry keeping, carpentry, tailoring, and sewing. A printing press was installed and the hospital magazine The Morningside Mirror was born in 1845. Not only was work considered by Mackinnon to be therapeutic, he also encouraged sporting activities such as curling, and patients were able to take part in competitions with other curling clubs.

Dr Mackinnon was succeeded in 1846 by Dr David Skae, who was interested in the classification of mental illness. His lectures to medical students helped to establish the Asylum's reputation as a postgraduate training centre. In 1873 Skae was succeeded by Dr Thomas Clouston. Under Clouston's influence the estate of Craig House was purchased by the Board of Managers. The magnificent, new neo-Gothic building of Craig House Hospital was opened in 1894. Complete with great hall, dining and billiard rooms, all splendidly furnished, Craig House resembled a great Victorian country house. Since 1972 it has been known as the Thomas Clouston Clinic.

In 1922 the Asylum was renamed the Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Mental and Nervous Disorders. The Jordanburn Nerve Hospital, opened in 1929, where patients could be informally admitted, had its origins in the work done to help shell-shocked patients during World War I. In 1931 a Children's Clinic was established.

In 1948 the hospital came under the direction of the Board of Management of the Royal Edinburgh and Associated Hospitals, and in 1974 of South Lothian District of Lothian Health Board. Since that time it has continued to develop to meet new demands. The Andrew Duncan Clinic opened in 1965, the Young People's Unit in 1968, the Alcohol Problem Unit in the same year, and the Jardine Clinic in 1982. Currently, the Royal Edinburgh Hospital is part of Lothian Primary Care NHS Trust.

Royal Edinburgh Hospital records