Apr 032019

Vantage Point on Castle Esplanade today

Castle Esplanade, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH1 2NQ

Facing north-west from our vantage point here, a monument on Castle Esplanade, you are looking towards the current offices of EVOC on Ferry Road. The modern day evolution of the Edinburgh Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, EVOC is the first point of contact for the third sector (voluntary and non-profit groups) in Edinburgh. Their mission is to support the third sector to build and enable resilient, sustainable, and inclusive communities and they carry out this mission in a number of ways including providing training for third sector organisations and developing partnership approaches, principles, and practices. Over the years, branches of EVOC and its predecessors’ work have been so successful that they have gone on to form independent bodies in their own right. One example of this is Volunteer Edinburgh. A register of people interested in volunteering was first created in 1920. This resulted in enterprises such as the UK’s first Volunteer Job Shop in 1975 before what is now Volunteer Edinburgh registered as an independent organisation in 2000.

EVOC office at 525 Ferry Road today









EVOC Staff Team, Christmas 2018









Photo credits: Lucy Ridley, Yasmin Duncan

Apr 032019

City Chambers today

253 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1YJ

The City Chambers are the civic headquarters of Edinburgh City Council. Members of the public can attend most meetings of the Council, Committees, and Sub-committees. Completed in 1761 and designed by the architect John Adam, the building was originally a merchant exchange. However, merchants preferred to do their business in taverns in the High Street so, in 1811, the Council took over the building. A civic reception was held here to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Edinburgh Association for Improving the Conditions of the Poor, along with a service in St. Giles Cathedral, a Fashion Show, a Ball and a Yule Fair. On the 19th April 2018, Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations Council (EVOC) celebrated their 150th anniversary with a reception in the Scottish Parliament.

City Chambers today









Protest at City Chambers, date unknown









City Chambers, date unknown









Protest at City Chambers, 1980s









Photo credits:Lucy Ridley, EVOC

Apr 032019

219 High Street today

219 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1PE

On this site, in 1904, Dr Elsie Inglis opened a hospital for women and children, known as The Hospice, and run only by women. Dr Inglis began her study of medicine in 1886, not long after women were first allowed to study the subject, at the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women, under the tutelage of Dr Sophia Jex-Blake. While at the School, Elsie helped found the Scottish Association for the Medical Education for Women. As well as being a pioneer in maternal care and a prominent suffragist, Elsie sat on the governing board of the Edinburgh Charities Organisations Council, under which name the Association for Improving the Conditions of the Poor was then known, and organised a series of lectures for health visitors and also for mothers. When the First World War was declared in 1914, Elsie was almost 50 and unwell. She offered her services as a surgeon to the War Office only to be told ‘my good lady, go home and sit still.’ Dr Inglis refused to sit still, however, and instead came up with the idea for the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, which went out to France as well as to Serbia to help the soldiers there. In 1916, Inglis become the first woman to receive the Order of the White Eagle, the highest honour Serbia could bestow.

219 High Street today

Plaques on wall at 219 High Street

The Hospice in the High Street – from Elsie Inglis by Eva Shaw McLaren, 1920

Portrait of Dr Elsie Inglis

Photo credits: Lucy Ridley, Ema Smekalova, The History Company, Wellcome Collection

Apr 032019

10 Hunter Square today

10 Hunter Square, Edinburgh, EH1 1QW

The Edinburgh Society for the Suppression of Begging was founded in 1813 with the desire to eliminate street begging in the capital. Due to its substantial wealthy population and the irregular and seasonal work provided by parts of its economy, Edinburgh tended to attract a large destitute population, many of whom often turned to begging. The Society received a total of £2000 in donations in its first year. Applicants were required to send begging letters to the offices here in 10 Hunter Square, which were manned by a rota of directors. They were then visited by volunteers to assess whether they were eligible for relief before being offered food from the society’s soup kitchen. School fees were also paid for beggars’ children and there was a work committee which endeavoured to assign work to applicants. The Edinburgh Association for Improving the Conditions of the Poor would carry out similar work after its founding in 1868 but on a more systematic basis and with a much wider reach.

10 Hunter Square today









Photo credits: Lucy Ridley

Apr 032019

103 High Street today

Bailie Fyfe’s Close, Edinburgh, EH1 1SS

On the 24th November 1861, a seven-story house here in the High Street suddenly collapsed in the middle of the night, burying nearly all of the inhabitants and killing 35 of them. The house was several centuries old, with decaying timbers, and was thought to house up to 100 people. The whole house gave way at once, leaving only the gables still standing. Many years before this catastrophe occurred, in 1848, Dr. Alexander Wood, a leading physician in the city, reported the inadequacy of the city’s provisions for poor relief to the Royal College of Physicians. No action was taken, however, until this tragic occurrence, which was widely reported across the whole of the United Kingdom. Following the disaster, the town council appointed Dr. Henry Littlejohn as the city’s first Medical Officer of Health to write a report on the sanitary conditions of the city. Dr. Littlejohn’s conclusions, along with continuing efforts by Dr. Alexander Wood, eventually resulted in some improvements and in the foundation of The Edinburgh Association for Improving the Conditions of the Poor in 1868.

Image taken from page 61 of ‘Precognition of Witnesses examined at the instance of the Procurator-Fiscal for the City of Edinburgh, regarding the falling of the tenement Nos. 99 to 103 High Street, on Nov. 24, 1861’












Image taken from page 71 of ‘Precognition of Witnesses examined at the instance of the Procurator-Fiscal for the City of Edinburgh, regarding the falling of the tenement Nos. 99 to 103 High Street, on Nov. 24, 1861’












Contemporary illustration showing rescue workers removing ‘the dead and wounded from the fallen house’ on 24 November 1861










More information: https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/entertainment/on-this-day-in-1861-edinburgh-tenement-collapse-kills-35-1-4300451

Photo credits: Lucy Ridley, British Library Catalogue, Edinburgh Evening News

Apr 032019

Chalmers Close today

Chalmers Close, 81 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1SS

A particularly bad winter in 1869/1870 lead to the Edinburgh Association for Improving the Conditions of the Poor to commit to trying to feed the hungry in whatever way they could. One way they did this was to establish a hall on Chalmers Close where Penny Dinners could be purchased. The dinners consisted of either a basin of broth and a slice of bread for a penny or a plate of meat and slice of bread for twopence. In its first year, 22,809 dinners were sold. The Association also took over running a soup kitchen in the Canongate which opened every winter. Between the months of January and March 1869, the soup kitchen gave out enough rations to feed 50,000 people. This doubled the following year where a longer opening period meant that the kitchen gave out enough rations to feed upwards of 100,000 people.

Photo credit: Ema Smekalova

Apr 032019

High School Yards today

High School Yards, Edinburgh EH1 1LZ

The Edinburgh University Settlement (EUS) was established by the University of Edinburgh on this site in 1905. The founding was part of a larger settlement movement in the UK and US, in which ‘settlement houses’ were established in poorer areas where middle-class volunteers would live and attempt to improve the lives of locals. Professor Richard Lodge, one of the founding members of EUS, remarked that Edinburgh was ‘a fair city but it had some foul spots on it, and if the members of the University could do anything to brighten the lives and bring sympathy and gladness into some of the homes in these darker spots, they would be doing something to repay the debt which the town’s college owed to city.’ Both students and staff of the University lived and worked in the EUS, where they undertook a range of educational and outreach initiatives, including founding Scotland’s first school of art therapy, one of the first ever thrift shops, computer skills training, women’s education, and community volunteering. The Edinburgh University Settlement closed in 2010 due to severe financial difficulties but many of their projects have managed to continue after finding alternative sponsorship.

High School Yards today









Photo credits: Ema Smekalova, Lucy Ridley

Apr 032019

5 Roxburgh Place today

5 Roxburgh Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9SU

In 1871, Flora Stevenson opened a Sewing Room here for five months of the year during winter to allow women the same chance the men had at the Firelighter Factory to prove the genuineness of their applications for relief and their willingness to work. The women worked for a small wage (three halfpence per hour) which was paid in the form of provisions or clothing. Their work in the Sewing Room helped many to go on to find more permanent employment as cleaners, nurses, or in shops and factories. Initially, clothes made by the women were sold, but from 1893 onwards, the work of the Sewing Room was dedicated to making clothing for destitute children. The Sewing Room remained in operation until 1896 and in later years it provided work for unemployed tailors as well as women.

Painting of Flora Stevenson

Apr 032019

Royal College of Surgeons today

Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9DW

Sir Henry Duncan Littlejohn was an expert in both forensic medicine and public health. He became President of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1875 and was appointed as Edinburgh’s first Medical Officer of Health in 1862. At the time he was also a police surgeon, medical adviser to the Board of Supervision, extramural lecturer, and crown medical examiner. Littlejohn gave forensic evidence at many famous murder trials, some of which are thought to have provided inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his writing of the Sherlock Holmes series. One of Littlejohn’s first acts as Medical Officer of Health was to publish his Report on the Sanitary Condition on the City of Edinburgh in 1865 which aimed ‘to test for the first time by reference to the mortality, the sanitary conditions of the portions of the city inhabited by the richer and the poorer.’ The conclusions of the Report highlighted the connection between poverty, overcrowding and sanitary conditions in Edinburgh in a way that meant these connections could no longer be ignored by the elite and wealthy. Littlejohn’s Report was thought to be so significant that for the next 12 days the Evening Courant and Caledonian Mercury newspapers published all 120 pages of the report in its entirety.

Painting of Sir Henry Duncan Littlejohn









Photo credits: Ema Smekalova, Wikipedia

Apr 032019

16 Chambers Street today

16 Chambers Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1HS

On the 8th January 1918, the first lecture for the Edinburgh School of Social Study and training was held, with 11 students enrolled for the diploma class and five others for single classes. The opening of the school followed the opening of a similar school in Glasgow in 1911. Initially, three courses were offered: Social Ethics, Social Economics, and Personal and Public Hygiene. The School officially became part of the University of Edinburgh in 1928, under the direction of Dr. Nora Milnes. Nowadays, the department of Social Work at the university is one of the most respected centres for social work education in the UK and offers a range of educational opportunities at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Photo credit: Ema Smekalova