Nov 242020

2 St Mary’s St, EH8 8AA

2 St Mary`s Street
2 St Mary`s Street

2 St Mary’s Street was the first building erected under the 1867 Edinburgh Improvement Act. The act was the achievement of William Chambers (1800-1883), Lord Provost of Edinburgh and Sir Henry Duncan Littlejohn (1826-1914), the first Medical Officer of Health for the city. In 1765, Littlejohn published his Report on the Sanitary Condition of the City of Edinburgh, in which he demonstrated, using innovative statistical methods, the effects of population density, poverty, and sanitary conditions on the health and life expectancy of people. The Report helped persuade city officials to act. Legislation was passed to widen streets, clear congested housing sites, improve water supply, and monitor more closely the quality of food, among other things. However, in practice, the Improvement Act was used to legally demolish the poorest tenement dwellings in Old Town, which were replaced by housing for artisans, tradesmen, and the `superior` working classes. The large-scale slum clearance, although celebrated for its sanitation improvements, reduced the amount of available housing and displaced much of the city’s poor, ultimately shifting, rather than solving, the housing problem.

Upper College Wynd before demolitions, by Archibald Burns, 1871 (Scottish National Portrait Gallery)
Upper College Wynd before the demolitions associated with the City Improvement Scheme,
photograph by Archibald Burns, 1871
(Scottish National Portrait Gallery)
Crumbling houses on Cowgate by William Donaldson Clark, c.1860 (Scottish National Portrait Gallery)
Crumbling houses on Cowgate near the pillars of George IV Bridge, photograph by William Donaldson Clark, c.1860
(Scottish National Portrait Gallery)

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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