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Royal Edinburgh Hospital

Identifier: LHB7

Scope and Contents

Management 1792 - 1948; administration 1807 - 1982; finance 1841 - 1971; history and publications 1845 - 1983; staff 1846 - 1985; patients (bound records) 1817 - 1971; patients (unbound records) 1900s - 1960s.


  • Creation: 1791 - 1985


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Public access to these records is governed by UK data protection legislation, the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, and the latest version of the Scottish Government Records Management: Health and Social Care Code of Practice (Scotland). Whilst some records may be accessed freely by researchers, the aforementioned legislation and guidelines mean that records conveying sensitive information on named individuals may be closed to the public for a set time.

Where health records relate to named deceased adults, they will be open 75 years after the latest date referenced, on the next 1 January. Case records of individuals below 18 years of age or adults not proven to be deceased will be open 100 years after the latest date recorded, on the next 1 January. Further information on legislation and guidelines covering medical records can be found here:

LHSA encourages the use of these records for legitimate clinical, historical and genealogical research purposes, and records that are designated as closed can be consulted by legitimate researchers if certain conditions are met. Please contact the LHSA Archivist for more details regarding procedures on how you can apply for permission to view closed records. Telephone us on: 0131 650 3392 or email us at

Biographical / Historical

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 found 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 a 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.

Initially the hospital was run by a lay superintendent and a matron, with physicians visiting it to give patients medical attention. In 1839 the post 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 post graduate 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 as 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 1. In 1931 a Children’s Clinic was begun.

In 1948 the Hospital came under the direction of the Board of Management of the Royal Edinburgh and Associated Hospitals. 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 Problems Unit in the same year, and the Jardine Clinic in 1982.


212.3 shelf metres: bound volumes, papers, photographic material


Chronological within record class.

Other Finding Aids

Manual item-level descriptive list available.

Custodial History

Records held within the National Health Service prior to transfer.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Royal Edinburgh Hospital February 1983.


Further accessions are expected.

Related Materials

Birrell, Jill, clinical psychologist (GD1/60); Catford, Edwin Francis, hospital historian (GD12); Clouston, Thomas Storer, and the Royal Edinburgh Asylum (GD16); Duguid, Margaret, nurse (GD1/34); Royal Edinburgh and Associated Hospitals Board of Management (LHB14; Royal Edinburgh Asylum Physicians' Library (GD17); Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh Samaritan Society (GD2); Royal Medico-Psychological Association, Scottish Division (GD15).

Royal Edinburgh Hospital
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Repository Details

Part of the Lothian Health Services Archive Repository

Centre for Research Collections
Edinburgh University Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
+44 (0)131 650 3392