By The University of Edinburgh
A story by Lothian Health Services Archive
A Perspective View of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, designed by William Adam (1738/1741) by UnknownThe University of Edinburgh
The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh opened on the 6th August 1729 after an appeal for funds was launched by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. It was the first voluntary hospital in Scotland and was granted a Royal Charter in 1736.
Postcard of the RIE taken from the Meadows (1904/1904) by Royal Infirmary of EdinburghThe University of Edinburgh
In 1879, the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh moved from its Georgian site to a hospital built to standards set by Florence Nightingale. This building was an integral part of Edinburgh life until it was replaced in 2003. Here we remember its sights and sounds through images and oral histories in Lothian Health Services Archive.
Black and white photograph showing one of the surgical corridors of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (1985/1985) by UnknownThe University of Edinburgh
"I think the first thing that has to be said about it, from the back of my memory, is this was a most impressive place. There were other hospitals in Edinburgh that I'd seen... but as a student the Royal Infirmary intimidated me."
John Duncan, Medical Student, 1960s, with Fiona MacLaren, Richard Purvis and Michael Steel
Photograph of a medical ward in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (1907/1907) by Royal Infirmary of EdinburghThe University of Edinburgh
"Sister did the dressings and scrubbed up, washed her hands between each dressing and the student nurse produced the sterile instruments for her and she did the dressings so..."
Ena Ross, Ward Sister, 1954-1972
Photograph of nursing having their breakfast in the Florence Nightingale Nurses’ Home at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (1950/1950) by UnknownThe University of Edinburgh
"I would guess a bit like boarding school, though I'd never been to boarding school, and there were some very strict ex-ward sisters who looked after you in PTS and made sure that everybody was in by ten o'clock and locked the door but there were obviously ways of getting 'round that."
Sheila Liggat, Student Nurse, 1967-1971
Photograph showing Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh Residents eating on the roof of the Residency Mess (1913/1913) by UnknownThe University of Edinburgh
"I lived in the Residency in the Royal Infirmary and the Residency was a very interesting place to live, because all the house officers, surgical and medical, all lived there and we had a butler..."
Niall Finlayson, Resident, 1960s, with Alexander Muir, David Thomson, Judith Steel and Iain Davidson
Black and white photograph of a nurse using a 10 channel ward thermometer (1959/1959) by UnknownThe University of Edinburgh
"When I started I was purely going round the wards doing ECGs on the wards, that’s what Junior Technicians did in those days and that’s how you learnt what you were doing and then learnt very much how to read an ECG because we were developing the film."
Pat Gordon, Electrocardiogram (ECG) Technician, 1959-1968; 1974-2001
A photograph of three nurses preparing for surgery in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (1914/1914) by UnknownThe University of Edinburgh
"I had to prepare the individual for surgery to have a craniotomy you see and so I think my hand was a bit shaking and there were a few nicks on the skin and so when the poor patient got up... Professor Norman Dott said, 'I see that Mr Purvis has begun the surgery for us.'"
Richard Purvis, Medical Student, 1960s, with John Duncan, Fiona MacLaren and Michael Steel
A member of staff serving a patient from a trolley containing items from the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh’s shop (1959/1959) by UnknownThe University of Edinburgh
"You know if you're with somebody for quite a long time, you've got time to build up relations, get to know what goes on in their life, that helps you when you're treating them."
Sally McMath, Physiotherapist, 1970s-present, with Venetia Thomson, Veryan Biggar, Lesley Abram, Meg Shanks and Ros Watt
A photograph showing a group of staff from the Works Department of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (1900/1900) by UnknownThe University of Edinburgh
"There was a spirit of kind of just helping each other and I think the kind of collective effort of providing care for people was really at the heart of it."
Gordon Hill, Nurse, 1990s and James Hill, Maintenance Worker, 1970s-80s
The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh Oral History Project was funded by the Edinburgh Futures Institute which will be moving in to the old hospital building. All of these recordings are now part of Lothian Health Services Archive and are available for research use.
You can read all the transcriptions from this story on the LHSA website.
Story by Louise Neilson (Lothian Health Services Archive Access Officer), Louise Scollay (School of Scottish Studies Archive, Archive and Library Assistant), Daisy Stafford (Centre for Research Collections, Library Assistant), and Louise Williams (Lothian Health Services Archive Archivist) with support from Malcolm Brown and Bianca Packham.
This story builds on previous work by Bill Jenkins, Ellen Stewart, Niki Vermeulen and Kathy Dodworth.