40 years of Lothian Health Services Archive

The Archive's caretakers choose their favourites from the collection

By The University of Edinburgh

A story by Lothian Health Services Archive

Member of staff holding a bottle of blood, Edinburgh and South East Scotland Blood Transfusion Service (1945/1945) by Edinburgh and South East Scotland Blood Transfusion ServiceThe University of Edinburgh

In 1980 the largest health archive in the UK was established by Lothian Health Board and the University of Edinburgh. During a time when we have never been more aware of the importance of global health, we celebrate the first 40 years of a collection that captures the history of medicine and healthcare in the Lothians from 1594 to the present day.  

Members of staff, interns and volunteers from the last few years were asked to choose their favourite item and reflect on what working with Lothian Health Services Archive has meant to them. Their selections mirror the richness and variety of the collection, from old to new, from text to image, from hospital history to patient perspective. Yet it is the human story that connects them all. 

Nurse showing two women the 'well balanced diet' (1950/1950) by Royal Infirmary of EdinburghThe University of Edinburgh

"My favourite items come from the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh’s Department of Dietetics. In 1924, the Infirmary became the first hospital in Britain to appoint a dietician, reflecting the growing recognition of the importance of nutrition in patient care."

Louise Neilson (Access Officer 2018 onwards)  

"I have worked for LHSA since 2018 and barely a day goes by when I don’t learn something new. Working closely with users, I enjoy watching people react to the collections and seeing how personally connected they feel to the stories within them.” 

Your Health Service: How it Will Work in Scotland (1948/1948) by H.M Stationery OfficeThe University of Edinburgh

“This leaflet was delivered to every Scottish home in 1948, explaining the new National Health Service, from hospital beds to how to choose your own doctor. Through the NHS, citizens were entitled to care as a right, not through wealth or charity: as well as medicines, this new NHS gave people dignity.”
Louise Williams (Volunteer 2009 – 2010, Project Archivist 2012 – 2014, Archivist 2014 onwards)

“LHSA gave me my first glimpse into archive work, where I learnt skills that still carry me through my career. My present role is fascinating, challenging and varied: I am privileged to look after collections documenting milestones in all our lives, which reveal us at our most vulnerable, as well as resilient.”

Charter of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (1736/1736) by UnknownThe University of Edinburgh

“I have too many favourites from this fantastic collection to choose just one, so this eighteenth-century Charter for the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh will have to serve as a symbolic representation of the swathes of hospital administrative records we hold. Not only are they a fascinating insight into how these organisations have been managed in the past, but we continue to collect in this area today to record the work of our wonderful NHS.”
Ruth Honeybone (Conservator 2002 – 2012, Manager 2012 onwards)

“Lothian Health Services Archive has been a big part of my life for a long time: it has taken me from a newly qualified conservator nearly twenty years ago through to managing the service now. The collection continues to hold surprises for me, and there are always interesting new challenges and projects to get to grips with. I take particular satisfaction from being able to work with publically-owned material that helps provide answers to important questions and in supporting others in their professional archive and conservation careers.”

Drawing (1880/1890) by Andrew KennedyThe University of Edinburgh

"My favourite item at LHSA is this drawing by asylum patient Andrew Kennedy, from c.1888. Its quirky visual appeal is obvious, but for me it’s also about a direct link to the mind of a human being from the past, speaking to us directly and not mediated through a clinical perspective.”
Laura Gould (Assistant Archivist 2007 – 2012, Archivist 2012  2014)

“LHSA was where I started my archival career. My colleagues and the collections there gave me an excellent grounding, and an ethos that I carry with me every day: respect for the care of archival records and the stories that they tell, alongside a desire to share them widely.”    

Dr Who star Tom Baker with nurses outside the Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children (1977/1977) by UnknownThe University of Edinburgh

“This image of Tom Baker represents one of my favourite cultural icons, Doctor Who, meeting the nurses of the Sick Kids Hospital and it led me to investigate how he was encouraged to do charity work in Edinburgh by Scottish guest star, Russell Hunter.” 

Stephen Willis (Archive Assistant 2007 – 2015)

“From my time at LHSA I learned to locate archive records of people using finding aids and indexes, a skill which I still regularly use to this day.”

Norman Dott and surgical team performing operation to remove a brain tumour (1938/1938) by UnknownThe University of Edinburgh

“I don’t have one favourite item – but rather, a favourite collection: the Neurosurgical Case Notes of Norman Dott, that I helped catalogue. I was fascinated by the very human stories in these files, and I gained an immense respect for the kindness and wisdom of Professor Dott.”     
Aline Brodin (LHSA intern 2015, Project Cataloguing Archivist 2016  2017)

“Working at LHSA gave me a shining example of the discipline and organisation needed to complete large-scale cataloguing projects, while also working in a stimulating environment with supportive and knowledgeable colleagues. It set the bar really high in my professional life!”

Theatre, Western General Hospital, Department of Surgical Neurology (1960/1960) by Edinburgh Northern Hospitals Board of ManagementThe University of Edinburgh

“Having worked solely on the records of Professor Norman Dott, this image of the new operating theatre in the Department of Surgical Neurology at the Western General Hospital, opened in 1960, captures how much the department, led by Dott, had developed and advanced the specialism.”
Liz Course (LHSA intern 2014, Project Cataloguing Archivist 2014  2015)

“Being part of LHSA showed me how effectively a small team can work together innovatively and creatively; and the importance of always looking at new ways to engage with collections and users while working to the highest standards.”

Postcard, 'Take Care of the One You Love' (1990/1990) by Take Care CampaignThe University of Edinburgh

“This colourful postcard stands out for me, from the 'Take Care' public health campaign. As well as being a nice image, its message represents a radical new approach to tackling the HIV/AIDS crisis, promoting positive sexual health.” 

Clair Millar (Volunteer 2013 – 2014, Intern 2014, Project Cataloguing Archivist 2015 – 2018) 

“My experience at LHSA from volunteer to Cataloguing Archivist developed my archive and transferable skills, from the very beginning of my career. Each collection I worked with has given me fresh perspectives and new insights of medical history, that has shaped life over time.”

HIV AIDS & Sex - Information for Young People (1995/1995) by AVERTThe University of Edinburgh

“My favourite item is the leaflet “HIV, AIDS & Sex. Information for young people” which uses real life quotes to effectively promote safe sex to teenagers. The design is so ‘90s and reminds me of posters and leaflets I saw when I was younger!”    
Emily Hick (Project Conservator 2014 – 2015 ) 

“I gained a huge amount from working at LHSA. It was my first full-time job after graduating and taught me a lot about project and time management. It also introduced me to the wonderful world of plastics conservation which remains an area of interest for me.”

Diagram from 'Clothing for the limb deficient child' (1968/1968) by Aline Macnaughtan; Rosalie BrownThe University of Edinburgh

“This book depicts how adaptations could be made to assist disabled children in putting on clothes unaided. This shows the valuable work done at the Princess Margaret Rose Hospital to encourage independence among patients from a young age, enabling them to navigate their disabled identity.” 
Carmen Hesketh (Volunteer 2017 – 2018, Employ.ed Intern 2019)

“Working with LHSA has been extremely valuable for my personal development. I've presented the history of bioengineering at a conference (an amazing opportunity I never thought I would have the courage to do!) and have realised my passion for cultural outreach.”    

Autograph album (1915/1919) by Ethel MillerThe University of Edinburgh

“It’s difficult to pick a favourite LHSA collection item but mine has to be the autograph album that belonged to Ethel Miller, a nurse at the 2nd Scottish General Hospital, Craigleith in the First World War. The poems in the book are brimming with life and wit, showing a brighter side to what was undoubtedly a very dark time. A personal favourite are the two limericks by Private A. E. Snodgrass, who was creative and witty enough to rhyme ‘Miller’ with ‘goriller’.”   
Toni Velikova (Volunteer 2018)

“Volunteering with Lothian Health Services Archive remains one of the most positive experiences of my career. It was really wonderful to dive into the subject matter and enhance my skills while also learning new things every day. All the staff at the Archive were extremely helpful and a joy to work with and, as a student at the time, it was immensely important for me to have conversations with professionals about my career. Volunteering here has definitely made a big impact on my career, and I am certain that it has done so for many others too.”

Main Hall, Craig House, Royal Edinburgh Hospital (1900/1900) by Royal Edinburgh HospitalThe University of Edinburgh

“Dr Thomas Clouston was a firm believer in the impact of pleasant surroundings on mental health. Craig House was designed to give the impression of a grand hotel, and his vision of a hospital as a home marked an important shift in perceptions of mental illness.”          
Alice Doyle (Access Officer 2016  2018)          

“Working at LHSA taught me about the affective potential of archives: even the most ordinary seeming document can reflect decisions and actions that had a transformative impact on someone’s life. Whether record subject or record creator, there are people in the papers.”

Dedicated to all Lothian Health Services Archive staff, interns, volunteers and students on placement, past and present. Follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

Credits: Story

Story by Aline Brodin, Malcolm Brown, Liz Course, Alice Doyle, Laura Gould, Carmen Hesketh, Emily Hick, Ruth Honeybone, Clair Millar, Bianca Packham, Louise Neilson, Toni Velikova, Louise Williams, Stephen Willis. 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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