This page contains video excerpts from the history of science walking tour that Professor John Henry gave for students and staff of Science, Technology and Innovation Studies every year until his recent retirement. Professor Henry’s tour includes many enlightening and entertaining insights into the history of science, technology and medicine in the Athens of the North.
Old Surgeons’ Hall
The tour starts at Old Surgeon’s Hall in Surgeons Square, home of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh until 1832, and now home to Science, Technology and Innovations Studies at the University of Edinburgh.
The original site of Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh
Next we move on the site of the oldest voluntary hospital in Scotland in Infirmary Street. The hospital was founded in 1729.
Old College, the University of Edinburgh
We now cross Nicholson Street to University of Edinburgh Old College, the site of the University since 1582, although the building we now see, designed by Robert Adam, was largely completed in 1827.
Royal Museum of the University of Edinburgh
Within Old College was the Royal Museum of the University of Edinburgh, now the Talbot Rice Art Gallery, which in the early nineteenth century contained the most important natural history collection in Great Britain outside London.
We now turn the corner into Chambers Street, where Professor Henry tells us a little about the evolutionary theories of Robert Chambers (1802-71).
George Combe’s Phrenological Museum
Also in Chambers street is the building which once housed the Phrenological Museum established by George Combe (1788-1858).
Grave of Robert Sibbald
Greyfriars Cemetery contains the graves of many important figures from the history of science and medicine, including Robert Sibbald (1641-1722), the University of Edinburgh’s first professor of medicine.
Grave of Colin Maclaurin
In Greyfriars Cemetery we can also find the grave of Colin Maclaurin (1698-1746), one of the most important early disciples of Sir Isaac Newton.
Grave of Archibald Pitcairn
Our final stop in Greyfriars Cemetery is the grave of Archibald Pitcairne (1652-1713), another important early Newtonian.
Mr Wood’s Fossils
Leaving Greyfriars Kirkyard and heading down Candlemaker Row towards the Grassmarket, we pass a shop called Mr Wood’s Fossils. This shop was established in 1987 by Stan Wood, an amateur paleontologist who made a number of important discoveries.
The Grassmarket was the site of the infamous murders committed by William Burke and William Hare in the 1820s in order to sell the bodies of their victims to the city’s anatomy lecturers.
The Nelson Monument and the City Observatory, Calton Hill
Climbing up to the High Street from the Grassmarket and then down towards Ramsay Gardens, we have an excellent view over the Waverley Station towards Calton Hill, where we can see the Nelson Monument and the old City Observatory, established in 1776.
The Outlook Tower and Patrick Geddes
On the High Street, just below the Castle, we find the Outlook Tower, once owned by Patrick Geddes (1854-1932), the important biologist and early sociologist.
Place of execution, the Grassmarket
We now return to the Grassmarket by the way we came, where Professor Henry talks about its role as a place of execution and the fate of William Burke.
Walking down Cowgate, we pass College Wynd, which was originally the only entrance to the University of Edinburgh.
James Hutton Memorial Garden
Tucked away behind the Pleasance is the James Hutton Memorial Garden, on the site of the house of James Hutton (1726-97) the pioneering geologist.
Site of John James Waterston’s house
From the James Hutton Memorial Garden we can see the final stop on our tour, the site of the house where John James Waterston (1811-83) wrote his revolutionary paper on the kinetic theory of gases.