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

Site of hospital today

Meadowside House, 7 Lauriston Lane, Edinburgh EH3 9EN

On 15th February 1860, the Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children opened its doors at 7 Lauriston Lane with 20 beds and a dispensary. Three years later, in 1863, it was given royal patronage by Queen Victoria and moved to Meadowside House which increased its capacity to 40 beds. The opening of the hospital meant that Edinburgh at last fell in line with other cities worldwide who had opened hospitals dedicated to children.  Given Scotland’s alarmingly high child mortality rates – in the late 1850s, almost half of Scottish children died before their sixth birthday – such as hospital was sorely needed. One of the original team of four doctors at the hospital was Dr Henry Littlejohn. Like Professor Alison, Dr Littlejohn would go on to become an important figure in public health in Edinburgh. He was appointed Edinburgh’s first Medical Officer of Health, the first role of its kind in Scotland, and the conclusions of his ‘Report on The Sanitary Conditions of the City of Edinburgh’ that he published in 1865 were key to providing the motivation for the founding of the Edinburgh Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor.

Royal Hospital for Sick Children, 1890









Photo credits: Lucy Ridley, Our Town Stories Collection