Nov 232020

142-146 Canongate, EH8 8DD

The Museum of Edinburgh

The Museum of Edinburgh is dedicated to telling the history of the city through its unique collection of objects, ranging from the precious to the mundane. In the first-floor exhibition space, in the third room to the left of the staircase, there is an early 17th-century chamber pot on display, excavated from below the buildings of Old Town. Before the introduction of water closets, human waste collected in chamber pots was often tossed onto the streets by maids calling out `guardyloo` (from the French expression `prenez garde à l`eau` or `watch out for the water`), a custom going back to the Middle Ages. This lack of efficient waste management created major problems as the population grew. In 1749, the `Nastiness Act` was passed, restricting the tossing of refuse (or `fulsies`) to the hours between 10 pm and 7 am. Dust carts were introduced and scavengers employed to clean up the streets. Nonetheless, poor sanitation in Old Town remained an issue well into the 19th century, leading to frequent outbreaks of cholera and fevers.

`If any one, from his windows, or doors, or otherwise, shall throw sweepings, foul water, or other nastiness, … by which he tears or defiles the cap or coat of any one passing, that passenger, so injured, may demand and make good in law a double compensation for his damage. But this double reparation cannot be awarded, if the way was not a public one, or if the individual solemnly and fairly proclaimed what was coming, by crying, “Garde l`eau.”` From the 16th-century Flemish manual of criminal law Praxis rerum criminalium by Joost de Damhoudere (Louvain, 1554), cited in Reekiana, or Minor Antiquities of Edinburgh by Robert Chambers (Edinburgh, 1833).

Early 17th-century chamber pot (The Story of Edinburgh in 101 Objects
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Nov 232020

Tolbooth, Cannongate, Edinburgh

View of Royal Mile and Tolbooth

The stretch of the Royal Mile running from Castle Hill to Blackfriars Street is the oldest part of Edinburgh. Chartered as a royal burgh in the 12th century, the medieval town core saw an immense population boom, growing from an estimated 2,000 inhabitants in the 12th century, to 15-20,000 in the 15th, and upwards of 50,000 by the 17th century. The problems caused by severe overcrowding within the medieval town walls intensified as the city expanded north in the second half of the 18th century. As the well-to-do moved out into the elegant Georgian buildings of New Town, the living conditions of the poor who remained in Old Town rapidly deteriorated. By the 19th century, the district had arguably turned into the worst slum in Britain. This tour will offer a glimpse into the public health issues that arose from overcrowding, poverty, and civic negligence, and review some of the innovative measures developed in the 19th century by city administrators, public health officials, social reformers, and philanthropists to remedy them. 

Bird`s eye view of Edinburgh in 1647 by James Gordon of Rothiemay (The National Library of Scotland
Plan of New Town from A Collection of Plans of the Capital Cities of Europe by John Andrews 1771 (The National Library of Scotland The plan shows the contrast between the winding narrow passages of Old Town, and the wide, airy Georgian boulevards under construction in New Town.
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Oct 212020

Museum of Edinburgh, 142-146 Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DD

A newly commissioned poem written by Edinburgh based poet Jeda Pearl Lewis, titled ‘Beloved Black’ the text begins

Black is the absorption of all visible light
You are life
You are the scattered dust of stars, full-spectrum,
generating the cosmos throughout spacetime
You are a gift

Jeda Pearl is a Scottish-Jamaican writer & poet and a Programme Manager for the Scottish BAME Writers Network. In 2019, she was awarded Cove Park’s Emerging Writer Residency and shortlisted for the Bridge Awards. Her writing is published by TSS Publishing, Momaya Press, Tapsalteerie
and Shoreline of Infinity.

Jeda Pearl Lewis

Find out more

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Oct 202020

The Queens Hall, Clerk St, Newington, Edinburgh EH8 9JG

The problem of police brutality in Black and Brown communities has become a very frustrating issue. Part of the reason for exasperation lies with the fact that we are divided as a country when it comes to the notion of responsible policing. This became apparent when the “Black Lives Matter” movement was quickly met by obstinate supporters of police officers, rebelliously retorting chants of “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter.”

Playing with the misleading statement “all lives matter” I would like to take off one letter changing the statement to “all li es matter” which I find simple but strong.

Rudy Kanhye is a French Artist, curator and writer. Masters graduate of Glasgow School of Art, Rudy developed his practice around the dialogue between cultures, people, past, present and what the future could be. Working primarily with themes related to identity, history, and popular culture. His work focuses on framing and context.

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Aug 102020

9 Sciennes Rd, Edinburgh EH9 1LF

Royal Hospital for Sick Kids (2017, CC-SA by Kim Traynor)

The Royal Hospital for Sick Children (RHSC), also known as ‘Sick Kids’ was established at this location on Sciennes Road in 1895. At that time, the life expectancy for children under 5 was particularly low. In response, Dr. John Smith campaigned for a designated children’s hospital to be run by volunteers and used to train new doctors. In 1863, the hospital was opened in Meadowside House and was the first in Scotland dedicated to the care of only children. Despite having a purpose-built fever room, an outbreak of typhoid in 1890 required the hospital’s patients and staff to be moved to a temporary location. After further inspection Meadowside House was deemed unsuited to house patients again and was closed. The current location, previously a maternity hospital designed by Scottish architect George Washington Browne, was then acquired. Dr Joseph Bell, who was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s inspiration for Sherlock Holmes, was the first appointed surgeon at the hospital in 1887 and remained there until his retirement.

Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children in 1960.
Photo of the MacKay Smith Ward from the Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children, c.1935.
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Aug 102020

Longmore House, Salisbury Place, EH9 1SH

Longmore House is now the head office of Historic Environment Scotland.

Longmore Hospital (now Longmore House) was the first hospital for “incurables” in Edinburgh. Opened in 1875, the hospital took on patients requiring long-term care that the Royal Infirmary was not equipped to provide. In 1891, a new east wing opened with two 14 bed wards, nurses’ quarters and kitchens and a two-storey west wing was added with a basement in 1899. The top two floors housed a new kitchen, laundry room, chapel and mortuary while the basement was reserved for tuberculosis patients. In 1903, the hospital received a royal charter from King Edward VIII and officially became the Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Incurables. It joined forces with Liberton Hospital on Lasswade Road in 1906, to allow for even greater capacity. Longmore remained a hospital until 1991, when its services were moved to the General Western Hospital. In 1994 the building was converted into office space for Historic Environment Scotland. Liberton Hospital is still in operation as a hospital for geriatric care.

Longmore Hospital image from a pamphlet.
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Aug 102020

Royal Edinburgh Hospital: Tipperlinn Road, EH10 5HF

The redeveloped entrance to the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.

The Royal Edinburgh Hospital is a psychiatric hospital. The hospital was founded by Dr Andrew Duncan, who was moved by the death of a patient, 24-year-old poet Robert Fergusson, to open a hospital that cared for the mentally ill with greater dignity. Originally called the Edinburgh Lunatic Asylum, the hospital opened its doors in 1813. The first superintendent of the hospital was Dr William Mackinnon. He encouraged patients to use their trades and skills, such as animal care, carpentry, and tailoring. The hospital’s patients even started producing a magazine called The Morningside Mirror. In 1889, New Craig House was built by the designs of Dr Thomas Coulston. He believed that for successful treatment it was important that patients’ surroundings be bright and pleasant. The new building was meant to replicate the feeling of staying in a luxury country house, rather than an institution. The facility was built to accommodate the hospital’s wealthiest patients, the layout of New Craig House, therefore, includes quarters for personal staff. Craighouse quickly became the largest mental health facility in Scotland and remains unrivalled in Scottish hospital architecture to this day. In 1972, Old Craig House was renamed the Thomas Coulston clinic. The Royal Edinburgh Hospital is being redeveloped from

Photo showing the back of Craig House from the grounds.
Memorial to notable figures in the development of mental health care in the grounds of the Edinburgh Royal Hospital. The bust is of the French doctor, Philippe Pinel (1745-1826), whose humane approach to patient care was a major influence on the Hospital’s founders. The medallion at the top right portrays Dr Andrew Duncan who was the driving force behind its creation following the disgust he felt at the death of his patient, the poet Robert Fergusson, in the horrible conditions of the old Edinburgh bedlam. Although Duncan’s original building from 1807 no longer exists, the hospital contains an Andrew Duncan Clinic named in his honour.
(2010, CC-SA by Kim Traynor)
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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

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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

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Jan 152019

Photograph of the entrance to the shore path

The entrance to the shore path

Walking Path, West Shore Road, Edinburgh EH5 1QG

On October 16th, 1939, the skies over Granton’s shoreline were filled with enemy bombers. In the first major raid against Britain of WWII, the German Luftwaffe sent twelve Junkers Ju88A-1s to intercept Royal Navy Battleship HMS Hood. Approaching from the west, the bomber crews saw they were too late – a battleship already safely docked in Rosyth Dockyard. Seeking alternative targets, the Junkers dived to attack shipping in the river below. With total surprise they dropped their bombs unopposed, narrowly missing HMS Edinburgh and HMS Southampton. Wave after wave of bombing harried the desperately zig-zagging ships. Then a shock… Spitfires! The raiders had been briefed there were no Spitfires in Scotland. Now two squadrons of them swarmed in defence. The bombers broke and fled for their lives, chased back down the river or across Edinburgh at rooftop height. Citizens dived for cover as machine guns rattled and bullet casings cascaded onto the streets. Two bombers were shot down into the Forth, their surviving crew rescued by local fishing boats. The 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron had claimed the first ever Spitfire victory. Edinburgh’s skies were safe, but disaster had only narrowly been averted.

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