Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh

In 2016 the Royal Hospital for Sick Children was put up for sale, well in advance of its scheduled move to its new home alongside the Royal Infirmary at Little France. When the Sciennes Road buildings are finally vacated it will mark the end of more than 120 years on that site. But the foundation is even older, having started out in 1860 in a house in Lauriston Lane with just eight beds. A Royal charter was granted in 1863 when the hospital moved to nearby Meadowside House. This provided more beds (around 40, although accounts vary) and a separate fever ward for infectious cases. The conversion of the house into a hospital was undertaken by the architect David Macgibbon. A new wing was built in 1870 providing a further 30 beds.

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Meadowside House, shown here on the OS large-scale Town Plan of 1876, between the new Royal Infirmary (to the right) and Watson’s College. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

The map above shows the block behind the hospital that housed the hospital laundry and ‘dead house’. In November 1884 there were calls from the Ladies’ Committee to provide a separate mortuary so that the ‘dead house’ need no longer serve as both mortuary and post-mortem room: ‘…not only are the feelings of Mothers and relations shocked by seeing the necessary surroundings when taken to see the bodies of their little ones, but the combination of the two purposes in one room has a hardening effect on the nurses…'[1]

It was found that a coal house might be converted without any great expense. At first the mortuary was intended to be quite plain, but in February 1885 the hospital secretary wrote to the newly established Edinburgh Social Union with a request for it to be decorated. The Social Union was already active in providing decoration for the Fountainbridge Dispensary and the Children’s Shelter in the city. In April Phoebe Traquair was entrusted with the decoration of the mortuary chapel.[2]  The tiny space, just 12 feet by 8 feet, was adorned by murals, painted directly on to the plaster. A study for the original scheme is in the National Gallery in Edinburgh.

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Three Studies for the decoration of the Mortuary Chapel, 1885, photograph © National Galleries of Scotland reproduced courtesy of the National Galleries of Scotland

Just five years later the future of this jewel-box of a  mortuary chapel was under threat, when an outbreak of typhoid in 1890 prompted a temporary relocation to Plewlands House at Morningside. The managers then decided that Meadowside House was no longer suitable and a new building was required. They purchased Rill Bank House, then occupied by the Trades Maiden Hospital, and on the site erected the present building in 1892-5 to designs by by George Washington Browne, a leading architect in Edinburgh. Washington Browne also designed other public buildings including the Edinburgh City Library.  The old site, being right next to the Royal Infirmary, was readily disposed of to the Infirmary managers who wished to acquire additional land for their planned extensions. Neither the Royal Infirmary nor the Sick Children’s Hospital had any wish to preserve the murals in the mortuary chapel. The fact that they had been painted directly on to the wall surface made their preservation problematic at the very least.

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Rill Bank House was purchased as the site for the new Sick Children’s Hospital. Town Plan, OS Map of 1851, Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

At first it was simply planned to demolish the mortuary chapel along with the rest of Meadowside House. Phoebe Traquair wrote to her nephew in August 1891, angry and distressed at the proposed destruction. She blamed the directors of the hospital ‘the horrid Edinburgh little handful of bigots’, and could not see why the whole structure could not be ‘raised bodily from its foundations’ and moved to a new position.[3]  There was enough support for the preservation of the chapel to grant it an initial stay of execution, but it was only once the new hospital was nearing completion, three years later, that Washington Browne managed to negotiate an agreement between the hospital directors and the Social Union to move the murals to the new building. This agreement put the responsibility squarely upon the Social Union to manage and pay for the removal.[4]

Administration block of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children,  from Academy Architecture 1895 p.61

The new Sick Children’s Hospital was officially opened by Princess Beatrice on 31 October 1895. It was built of bright red sandstone, with a tall three‑storey and attic central block rising to twin, shaped gables, and an ornate triumphal-arch doorpiece. The style was ‘based upon the English Renaissance’, according to The Scotsman, where the new building was described in detail. [5]

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Sick Kids Hospital, Edinburgh by Stephencdickson – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 photographed in 2014

The hospital was designed on a U‑shaped plan with central administration section. The main entrance at the centre gave onto a broad corridor running the length of the building, and which gave access to the ward pavilions at either end. These were of three stories, terminating in balconies between turrets housing the sanitary facilities – sinks, baths and WCs. Each ward had 24 beds, arranged in pairs between the windows, and was a lofty 15ft high, with its own kitchen and services. In addition there was a spare ward on the upper floor of the east wing with 16 beds and a smaller four-bed observation ward, plus two single-bed isolation rooms, on the upper floor of the west wing.

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OS Map, Edinburgh Town Plan of 1893. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The administration section contained two lecture theatres, one on the ground floor one on the first, fitted with galleries for students and demonstrating platform tables, lit by large north-facing oriel windows. Rooms were provided for resident doctors, honorary visiting physicians and the matron. There was also a board room, a small museum, dispensary, ophthalmic room, staff dining-room, nurses’ sitting-room, and, on the upper floors bedrooms for the nursing staff. Domestic staff had accommodation in the attics.

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General view of the entrance, photographed around 1900 by Bedford Lemere © RCAHMS

Reinstallation of the mortuary chapel murals proved almost impossible, and in the end only fragments were able to be saved. Some that were moved turned out to be too thick to be incorporated in the new chapel, as they included the sawn-through bricks that had been plastered and then painted. Others were more successfully moved, where the painted plaster rested on laths, but were badly cracked and damaged during the move. Phoebe Traquair carried out their restoration, but it became by and large a complete repainting following the underlying design. The new mortuary chapel was also larger, and so the artist painted new decoration to fill the gaps between the relocated panels. [6]

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Detail of mural in mortuary chapel, photographed in 1982  © RCAHMS

Hopefully, when the hospital moves again, modern technology will enable the murals to be transferred to the new site without losing any of them, and without them sustaining any damage. Hopefully, too, the present managers of the hospital are more keen to preserve them than their forebears were.

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Another detail of the mural in mortuary chapel, photographed in 1982 ©RCAHMS

After the hospital opened in Sciennes Road in 1892, various additions were made and the hospital slowly expanded into the surrounding houses. In 1903 Washington Browne added an out‑patients’ department in Sylvan Place, and in 1906-9 Muirfield House at Gullane was built as a convalescent home (see separate entry in Lothian).

screen-shot-2017-01-01-at-16-12-5525-inch OS map surveyed in 1947. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The hospital was extended from 1959 with a new lecture hall and operating theatre designed by Cullen, Lochhead & Brown of Hamilton, a well established firm in hospital design.

For the new hospital, due to open in 2018, the designs were drawn up by HLM Architects. It is of five storeys over a basement with its main entrance opening into an atrium. Beyond are the main hospital, with around 154 beds, and a new department of clinical neurosciences, with a further 67 beds, as well as a small mental health service unit for children and adolescents. There is also to be a family hotel – a free place to stay for families of patients. [7]

References

  1. LHSA, RHSC Minutes, meeting of committee of Management, 6 Nov 1884, quoted in Elizabeth S Cumming, PhD Thesis ‘Phoebe Anna Traquair, HRSA )1852-1936) and her Contribution to Arts and Crafts in Edinburgh’, University of Edinburgh, 1986
  2. Mins of Edinburgh Social Union 17 Feb 1835 – Edinburgh Public Library YHV 250 E235, quoted in E. Cumming Thesis
  3. NLS MS 8122 fols 10,11, quoted in E. Cumming Thesis
  4. LHSA,  mins HH 69/1/2, quoted in E. Cumming Thesis
    5. The Scotsman, 18 Oct 1892 p.5
  5. E. Cumming, Thesis
    7. Edinburgh Evening News, 21 April 2014

Further reading and other sources: Caledonian Mercury, 18 May 1863, p.2: The Builder, 1 Jan. 1898: LHSA  Story of the ‘Sick Kids’ Hospital: Guthrie, D Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children, 1860 – 1960, 1960:see nhslothian.scot.nhs.uk 

Records of the hospital are held by Lothian Health Services Archive in Edinburgh

Hospitals for Incurables: the former Longmore Hospital, Edinburgh

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Historic Scotland Offices in the former Longmore Hospital which closed in 1991   © Copyright kim traynor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Separate hospitals for incurables began to be established in Britain in the mid-nineteenth century and were welcomed by some, condemned by others. Andrew Reed, who founded the hospital for incurables in Putney in 1854 (which eventually became the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability) firmly believed in the need to offer relief to such unfortunates, and had a few years earlier founded Royal Earlswood Asylum, for those with incurable mental disorders. While the Poor Law provided care for those who had been rendered destitute by their chronic illness, there was little provision for those above the poverty line, whose physical or mental condition was often made worse by their living conditions. Cancer, tuberculosis, rheumatism, paralysis, deformity and spinal disease or injury, were chief amongst the illnesses that were unwelcome in general hospitals because of the length of time a patient suffering from chronic disease occupied a place on the ward. The Middlesex Hospital in London was rare in having a cancer ward, established in 1792.

The first specialist cancer hospital in Britain was in London, opening in 1852 in a converted house in Fulham Road. Its founder was William Marsden, and his Free Cancer Hospital became known as the Royal Marsden in 1954. Other early cancer hospitals were established in Leeds (around 1858), Liverpool (1862) and Manchester (1871), although these did not just treat cancer. The first specialist cancer hospital in Scotland opened in 1890 in Glasgow (later the Beatson Memorial Hospital). The discovery of X-rays, radioactivity and radium in the late nineteenth century introduced new treatments and radical surgery.

By the late nineteenth century hospitals for incurables had become an established type.  Henry Burdett, the great chronicler of hospital planning and design in this period,  provided advice on what form such hospitals should take, reproducing plans of the Jaffray Hospital in Birmingham by way of an exemplar. This was a distinct hospital plan type, more analogous to a convalescent home where patients similarly might not be confined to bed all day. Day-rooms, sitting-rooms, libraries and smoking-rooms, with easy access to the open air, whether a balcony, verandah or garden, were considered desirable in hospitals for incurables. Wide corridors to accommodate wheelchairs, and a lift to access upper floors helped patients get about, and, Burdett urged, there should be  ‘an absence of everything which will tend to promote waste of energy of every kind’

In Scotland the first hospital for incurables was founded in Aberdeen in 1857, opening in a private house in Morningfield the following year. In 1874 the Scottish National Institution for the Relief of Incurables was established and this lead to a number of hospitals being founded. That in Edinburgh first opened in 1875 with accommodation for 22 patients, the Edinburgh Association for Incurables having purchased a house for the purpose at 3 Salisbury Place which was enlarged and altered at a cost of £3,265 142d, plus another £300 or so for furniture and fittings. Within a year of its opening, the management committee was already hoping to add separate wards for cancer cases.

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Extract from the OS Large Scale Townn Plans, 1877. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland. The Longmore Hospital is the building on the north side of Salisbury Place set furthest back from the road, with two rear wings. 

The inadequacy of the original house lead to the acquisition of adjoining properties and rebuilding on the site. The patients were evacuated to a house in Fisher Row until the new hospital was completed at the end of 1880. Most of the cost was met by the trustees of J. A. Longmore, and the name of the hospital changed to honour this generosity.

Efforts to expand continued, Nos 6 and 7 Salisbury Place were purchased and fitted up for patients in 1886.

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A visit from the Lord High Commissioner from RCAHMS

The Lord High Commissioner made more than one visit to the hospital, so it is hard to date the photograph. In May 1890 he paid a long visit with Lady Tweeddale, and in June 1894 The Lancet reported that the Lord High Commissioner and the Marchioness of Breadalbane had paid their ‘usual visits to the various hospitals in Edinburgh’ on which occasion the Marchioness opened a bazaar at the Longmore.

In 1891 plans for enlarging the hospital were approved which involved pulling down the old east wing of the building. This was to make way for a ‘more suitable wing’ which was intended to provide accommodation for 34 additional patients, with two 14-bed wards, nurses’ rooms, lavatories, kitchens, but no mention of where the other six patients were to be fitted in.

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Women’s ward from the ‘old East wing, now demolished’, from RCAHMS

The OS map below from 1893 shows how much the hospital had evolved in the relatively short time since it first opened.

 

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Extract from the OS Large Scale Townn Plans, 1893. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Princess May and the Duke of York opened the new East Wing in 1891.

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Princess May Ward. From RCAHMS

The west wing was added in 1899, along with a new laundry, kitchen, chapel and mortuary, and electric lighting was installed. The new wing, of two storeys over a basement, was attached to the main building by a ‘wide corridor of iron and glass’. The ground floor was set apart for phthisical (TB) patients, the upper floor for cancer.

The map below from 1905 shows this later phase of the development.

1905 revised OS

Extract from the 2nd edition OS map, revised 1905. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland. 

A series of photographs of the interior of the hospital has been preserved in the National Monuments Record of Scotland, and provide a glimpse of what life was like there for patients and staff. The photographs seem to have been taken in the 1890s as a record of the new additions to the hospital, though as we have seen, they include at least one photograph of older parts of the hospital prior to demolition.

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Interior of a ward for female cancer patients. The cancer wards along with the TB wards were probably in the 1899 addition which comprised a two-storey and basement wing connected to the main building by a broad glazed corridor. From RCAHMS

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And its counterpart for male cancer patients. From RCAHMS

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Interior of a ward for male Tb patients, from RCAHMS

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A private ward, from RCAHMS

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It is particularly poignant to see children in hospital, but even more so in a hospital for incurables. From RCAHMS

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Not all patients were confined to bed, here is a ‘recreation room’ for male patients. From RCAHMS

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Probationer Nurses’ drawing room. From RCAHMS

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The main hospital kitchen, rebuilt in 1899. From RCAHMS

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A ward kitchen. From RCAHMS

References: H. C. Burdett, Hospitals and Asylums of the World, vol.3, 1893, pp.303-5: The Lancet, 4 July 1891, p.47; 6 Feb 1892, p.336, 9 June 1894, p.1476; 14 Jan 1899, pp.125-6: Edinburgh Evening News, 4 Feb 1876; 11 Nov 1880; 15 June 1886, p.2

see also: Lothian Health Services Archive blogspot and Building up our Health pp. 92-3