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Pathology Department, University of Edinburgh

Identifier: GD20

Scope and Contents

Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh 1842-1977; Municipal Hospitals 1936-1958; Emergency and other hospitals 1939-1982


  • Creation: 1842-1982

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Normal 75 year Scottish closure rules apply

Biographical / Historical

A pathologist was first appointed by the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in 1839 some years after the founding of the University Chair in 1831. The Infirmary housed its laboratories beside the mortuary at the West Gate while the University laboratory was located in the medical building at Teviot Place.

The conditions under which post mortems took place were strictly governed. The consent of family or friends of the deceased was necessary before a post-mortem was carried out under the direction of the doctor who attended the case. For unclaimed bodies, written permission had to be given by at least one of the Medical Managers in response to a request from the doctor explaining why a post-mortem was necessary. According to the Rules and Regulations of the RIE in 1905, the pathologist was required to keep a 'Register of Dissections'in which was recorded a '...full indexed account of the naked eye and, where necessary, of the microscopic appearances after death in each case examined', as well as giving an abstract of the case history. The pathologist was also required to undertake histological and bacteriological examinations of material from RIE patients which were entered in a separate register. These registers were submitted to the Managers of the RIE on a weekly basis and form part of the collection listed below.

In 1930 it was decided that the Professor of Pathology at Edinburgh University should also be made Honorary Pathologist to the hospital and have overall responsibility for the service. A Senior Pathologist was appointed to look after the laboratories in the RIE.

The Municipal Hospitals originated in the former poor law hospitals at Craigleith, Pilton and Seafield and were renamed the Western General, Northern General and Eastern General in 1932. The University provided medical staff who were responsible for the treatment of the patients while the Corporation administered the service under the Medical Officer of Health. The Pathology Department of the University had been planned to accommodate a large volume of material and from 1936 it agreed to undertake all pathological work from the Municipal Hospitals.

With the introduction of the National Health Service in 1948, the municipal hospitals ceased to be administered by the Corporation and came under the control of the South Eastern Regional Hospital Board. Arrangements were made with the Board to continue the laboratory service for the Northern Hospitals Group which included bacteriology and biochemistry as well as pathology. Additional staff and accommodation at the Western were made available. Support to the service was provided by the central lab.

From 1941 the University agreed to undertake pathological work from the Emergency Hospitals which were established during WW1 in order to provide enough beds for war-time casualties (including Bangour Village, Gogarburn, Peel and Larbert Hospitals). This service offering routine, pathological examinations continued and was extended after the war to cover other hospitals in the Edinburgh area (and sometimes beyond) until c. 1958.

Due to the increasing volume of work undertaken by the Department of Pathology, it was recommended in 1957 that routine pathological services for hospitals outwith the City of Edinburgh should cease. It was hoped that ultimately all routine pathological work would be restricted to the RIE. Bangour continued, however, to send biopsies to the University while pathologists travelled to the hospital to perform autopsy examinations until 1963 when a pathology service was finally established there.

In 1965, the two pathology departments were brought together in new laboratories in the University Medical School. It was decided that all histo-pathology from the RIE would be sent to the University Medical School until the new RIE had been built. This meant that although the RIE continued to perform autopsies in the hospital, biopsy material and frozen sections were sent to the University for examination. The RIE neuropathology laboratory was tranferred to the Western in the early 1970s.


58.7 shelf metres: bound volumes, papers


Chronological within record class

Other Finding Aids

Manual item-level descriptive list available

Custodial History

Records held within the Department of Pathology, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Pathology Department, University of Edinburgh


Further accessions are expected

Pathology Department, University of Edinburgh
Language of description
Script of description
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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