Chapter 42 – Lauriston., pp.355-363.

[Old & New Edinburgh Contents]

The New University Buildings – The Estimates and Accommodation – George Watson’s Hospital – Founded – Opened and Sold – The New Royal Infirmary – Its Capabilities for Accommodation – Simpson Memorial Hospital – Sick Children’s Hospital – Merchant Maiden Hospital – Watson’s Schools – Lauriston United Presbyterian Church – St. Catharine’s Convent. 

   IN the district of Lauriston we find quite a cluster of charitable institutions; but before treating of the more ancient one – Heriot’s Hospital – we shall describe those edifices which lie between the street and the northern walk of the Meadows. 

   In the city map of 1787, after Watson’s Hospital, the most prominent edifice to the westward, and nearly opposite the head of Lady Lawson’s Wynd and the present cattle market, is Lauriston House, a large mansion, with a lodge and circular carriage approach. Here, at Lauriston, in 1763, died Sir John Rutherford, baronet of that ilk, and the whole space between that house and Leven Lodge was covered by open fields and gardens, till after the beginning of the present century. 

   Owing to the increasing necessity for the further accommodation at the old college, the Edinburgh University Buildings scheme was developed to purchase the sites of Park Place and Teviot Row, at the cost of about £33,000, and to erect thereon in immediate vicinity of the new infirmary, a vast edifice, with complete class-rooms, theatres, and museums, with all the latest scientific improvements, for the medical faculty of the metropolitan university; to re-organise the existing class-rooms of the latter, and to improve them in direct adaptation to the wants of the several professors of arts, law, and theology; to provide increased and more convenient accommodation for the University Library; and to erect a University Hall for the conferring of degrees, the holding of examinations, and for all public academical ceremonials. 

   Trustees for this purpose were appointed, among whom were the Duke of Buccleuch, the Earl of Stair, and Sir William Stirling-Maxwell, of Pollock and Keir, with an acting committee, at the head of whom were the Lord Provost, the Principal, Sir Alexander Grant, Bart., and Professor Sir Robert Christison, Bart., D.C.L. 

   The project was started in 1874, and commenced fairly in 1878. The architect was Mr. R. Rowand Anderson, and the cost of the whole, when finished, was estimated at about £250,000. 

   The first portion erected was the southern block, comprising the departments of anatomy, surgery, practice of physic, physiology, pathology, midwifery, and a portion of the chemistry. The frontage to the Meadow Walk presents a bold and semicircular bay, occupied by the pathology and midwifery department. An agreeable variety, but general harmony of style, characterises the buildings as a whole, and this arose from the architect adhering strictly to sound principle, in studying first his interior accommodation, and then allowing it to express itself in the external elevations. 

   The square block at the southern end of the Meadow Walk, near the entrance to George Square, is chiefly for the department of physiology; whilst the south front is to a large extent occupied by anatomy. 

   The hall for the study of practical anatomy is lighted by windows in the roof and an inner court facing to the north, a southern light being deemed unnecessary or undesirable. The blank wall thus left on the south forms an effective foil to the pillared windows of the physiology class-room, at one end, and to some suitable openings, similarly treated, which serve to light hat and coat rooms, &c., at the other. 

   In the eastern frontage to Park Place, where the departments of anatomy, physic, and surgery, are placed, a prominent feature in the design is produced by the exigencies of internal accommodation. As it was deemed unnecessary in the central part of the edifice to carry the ground-floor so far forward as the one immediately above, the projecting portion of the latter is supported by massive stone trusses, or brackets, which produce a series of deep shadows with a bold and picturesque effect. The inner court is separated from the chief quadrangle of the building by a noble hall upwards of 100 feet long, for the accommodation of the University anatomical museum. It has two tiers of galleries, and is approached by a handsome vestibule with roof groined in stone, and supported by pillars of red sandstone. The quadrangle is closed in to the west, north, and east, by extensive ranges of apartments for the accommodation of chemistry, materia medica, and medical jurisprudence. The north front faces Teviot Row, and in it is the chief entrance to the quadrangle by a massive gateway, which forms one of the leading architectural features of the design. When the building devoted to educational purposes shall have been completed, there will only remain to be built the great college hall and campanile, which are to complete the east face of the design. Including the grant of £80,000 obtained from Government, the whole amount at the disposal of the building committee is about £180,000. 

   For the erection of the hall and tower a further sum of about £50,000 or £60,000 is supposed to be necessary. 

   The new Royal Infirmary, on the western side of the Meadow Walk, occupies the grounds of George Watson’s Hospital, and is engrafted on that edifice. The latter was built in what was then a spacious field, lying southward of the city wall. The founder, who was born in 1650, the year of Cromwell’s invasion, was descended from a family which for some generations had been merchants in Edinburgh; but, by the death of his father, John Watson, and the second marriage of his mother, George and his brother were left to the care of destiny. A paternal aunt, Elizabeth Watson, or Davidson, however, provided for their maintenance and education; but George being her favourite, she bound him as an apprentice to a merchant in the city, and after visiting Holland to improve his knowledge of business, she gave him a small sum wherewith to start on his own account. He returned to Scotland, in the year 1676, when he entered the service of Sir James Dick, knight, and merchant of Edinburgh, as his clerk or book-keeper, who some time after allowed him to transact, in a mercantile way, certain affairs in the course of exchange between Edinburgh and London on his own behalf. In 1695 he became accountant to the Bank of Scotland, and died in April, 1723, and by his will bequeathed £12,000 to endow a hospital for the maintenance and instruction of the male children and grandchildren of decayed merchants in Edinburgh; and by the statutes of trustees, a preference was given to the sons and grandsons of members of the Edinburgh Merchant Company. The money left by the prudent management of the governors was improved to about £20,000 sterling before they began the erection of the hospital in 1738, in a field of seven acres belonging to Heriot’s Trust. 

   George Watson, in gratitude for the benefits conferred upon him in his friendless boyhood by his aunt Elizabeth, ordered that on application for taking children into his hospital, those of the name of Davidson should have a preference, as well as those of Watson. In June, 1741, twelve boys were admitted into it: in three years the number amounted to thirty; and in 1779 that number was doubled. 

   Watson’s Merchant Academy, as it was named in 1870, underwent a great change in that year. The governors of the four hospitals connected with the Merchant Company, taking advantage of the Endowed Institutions (Scotland) Act, applied for and obtained provisional orders empowering them to convert the foundation into day-schools, and it was opened as one. The edifice was sold to the Corporation of the Royal Infirmary, and the building formerly occupied as the Merchant Maiden Hospital was acquired for, and is now being used as, George Watson’s College School for boys. 

   The building was long conspicuous from several points by its small spire, surmounted by a ship, the emblem of commerce. Here, then, we now find the new Royal Infirmary, one of the most extensive edifices in the city, which was formally opened on Wednesday, the 29th of October, 1879, the foundation stone having been laid in October, 1870, by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales. 

   The situation of the infirmary is alike excellent and desirable, from its vicinity to the open pasture of the Meadows and Links, the free breezes from the hills, and to the new seat of university medical teaching. The additions and improvements at the old Royal Infirmary, and the conversion of the old High School into a Surgical Hospital, were still found unfitted for the increasing wants of the Corporation as the city grew in extent and population, as the demands of medical science increased, and the conditions of hospital management became more amplified and exacting; and the necessity for some reform in the old edifice in Infirmary Street led to the proposal of the managers for rebuilding the entire Medical House. When those contributors met to whom this bold scheme was submitted, complaints were urged as to the wants of the Surgical Hospital, and it was also referred to the committee appointed to consider the whole question. 

   The subscription list eventually showed a total of £75,000, and a proposed extension of the old buildings, by the removal of certain houses at the South Bridge, was abandoned, when a new impetus was given to the movement by the late Professor James Syme, who had won a high reputation as a lecturer and anatomist. 

   His strictures on the state of the Surgical Hospital led to a discussion on the wiser policy of rebuilding the whole infirmary, coupled with a proposal, which was first suggested in the columns of the Scotsman, that a site should be found for it, not near the South Bridge, but in the open neighbourhood of the Meadows. The Governors of Watson’s Hospital, acting as we have stated, readily parted with the property there, and plans for the building were prepared by the late David Bryce, R.S.A., and to his nephew and partner, Mr. John Bryce, was entrusted the superintendence of their completion. 

   In carrying out his plans Mr. Bryce was guided by the results of medical experience on what is known now as the cottage or pavilion system, by which a certain amount of isolation is procured, and air is freely circulated among the various blocks or portions of the whole edifice. “When it is mentioned that of an area of eleven and a half acres – the original purchase of Watson’s ground having been supplemented by the acquisition of Wharton Place – only three and a half are actually occupied with stone and lime, and that well distributed in long narrow ranges over the general surface, it will be understood that this important advantage has been fully turned to account. While the primary purpose of the institution has been steadily kept in view, due regard has been had to its future usefulness as a means of medical and surgical education.” 

   Most picturesque is this now grand and striking edifice from every point of view, by the great number and wonderful repetition of its circular towers, modelled after those of the Palaces of Falkland and Holyrood, while the style of the whole is the old Scottish baronial of the days of James V., the most characteristic details and features of which are completely reproduced in the main frontage, which faces the north, or street of Lauriston. 

   The facade here presents a central elevation 100 feet in length, three storeys in height, with a sunk basement. A prominent feature here is a tower, buttressed at its angles, and corbelled from the general line of the block, having its base opened by the main entrance, with a window on either side to light the hall. 

   The tower rises clear of the wall-head in a square form, with round corbelled Scottish turrets at the corners, one of them containing a stair, and over all there is an octagonal slated spire, terminating in a vane, at the height of 134 feet from the ground. On the east and west rise stacks of ornamental chimneys. The elevations on each side of this tower are uniform, with turrets at each corner, and three rows of windows, the upper gableted above the line of the eaving-slates. 

   From each side of this central mass there are three floors of corridors, affording access to the wards of the Surgical Hospital, and to the front view appear as so many ranges of triple-windows surmounted by a balustrade of stone. Each of these passages is twelve feet wide, and run from end to end of the buildings; and there branch out towards Lauriston four blocks of wards, 128 feet long by 33 wide. Each comes to within some 35 feet of the pavement, presenting a front of eight Holyrood towers, with four crowstepped gables between. The masonry is hammer-dressed stone and dressed ashlar. 

   On the south side of the main corridors are two blocks that project to the south, and between them are two class-rooms, also entering from these corridors, with a theatre for operations in rear of the central block, while immediately to the south of all this are the old buildings of Watson’s Hospital, remodelled for administrative purposes. 

   The Surgical Hospital forms a pile of building with a frontage of 480 feet, combining a picturesque group of round towers, and corbelled tourelles, over all of which rises the lofty spire. 

   The Medical Hospital occupies that portion of the ground nearest to the northern walk of the Meadows, and most simple are its arrangements. It consists of four pavilions lying east and west, parallel to each other, at distances of about 100 feet apart, with their eight towers facing the Meadows, repeating the architectural features of the Lauriston front at their northern ends, all connected by a corridor, the flat roof of which becomes available as an open gallery. 

   Each of all these separate blocks or pavilions, besides their attics and basements, have three floors, each of which constitutes a ward, or separate and independent hospital, capable, if necessary, of complete isolation. The floors are connected by a spacious staircase, and each opens out from the wide corridor, at right angles to its upper end; and two hydraulic hoists run from the basement to the top of the block – one for sending up meals from the general kitchen, and the other large enough to hold a bed for the conveyance, up or down, of a helpless patient. There are also shoots for soiled linen and sweepings and ashes. In short, everything is considered, and no comfort seems to have been forgotten, even to a complete set of fire-extinguishing apparatus. 

   For the nurse in charge of each department there are comfortable apartments, one of which, by a glazed opening, commands a view of the ward. As a precaution against the germs of disease, the walls are cemented and faced with parian, while the floors are of well-varnished Baltic pine. Galton grates are extensively used, with a view of obtaining the fullest benefit of all the fires. 

   A well-lighted class-room enters from the south side of a ground-floor corridor, where 300 students may have the advantage of clinical demonstrations; while a similar room, with accommodation for 200, holds a corresponding situation on the female side. A short passage from the entrance hall leads southward to the great operating theatre, which is capable of holding about 500 students, and has retiring rooms in it, one specially for the administration of chloroform. A wing of Watson’s Hospital has been allocated as the nurses’ kitchen and dining-hall, the housekeeper’s rooms, and those of the lady superintendent and her assistant. In the west wing are the dining-room, library, and private apartments of the resident medical staff. 

   In the north-west corner of the grounds, and apart from the general edifice, is a group of buildings, with a frontage to Lauriston of 150 feet, which though detailed in a less florid style, yet harmonise with the general design. This is the department for Pathology, the principal feature of which is an ample-sized theatre for lectures, seated for 220 students, and having microscopic and chemistry rooms, &c., attached. Near it is the mortuary, the walls of which are lined with white glazed bricks. It is in direct communication with the Surgical and Medical Hospitals, from both of which the bodies of the dead can be conveyed thereto, unseen by the other patients, through an underground passage. 

   To the washing-house, in another building, the soiled linen is conveyed through a tunnel, and subjected to a washer worked by steam, a mechanical wringer, and a drying chamber of hot air. Beside it is the boiler-house, for working the heating apparatus generally and the hydraulic machinery of the hoists, which latter is effected by a steam-engine of 32 horse-power. 

   A residence for the superintendent, commodious, and harmonising with the general buildings, has been erected near the Meadow Walk, in rear of the Surgical Hospital. 

   In regard to its capabilities for accommodation, we may state that of the eighteen wards in the surgical departments there are fifteen which will accommodate sixteen patients, including private beds. In the medical house are twelve wards, each capable of receiving twenty-three patients. Including the ophthalmic, accident, and D. T. wards, together with the reserved beds, there is a total of 600, or 140 over the daily average of patients treated in the last year of the old infirmary. The amount of space provided for each patient varies from 2,350 feet to 2,380, as compared to the 1,800 cubic feet allowed in St. Thomas’s Hospital, London, and 1,226 cubic feet in Fort Warren, Massachusetts. (Scotsman, 1879, &c.) 

   The Infirmary was inspected by the Queen on the occasion of her visit to Edinburgh in connection with the Volunteer Review of 1881. 

   The Edinburgh Royal Maternity and Simpson Memorial Hospital – so called as a tribute to the noble name and memory of the late Sir James Y. Simpson – was erected in 1878, for the accommodation of this most important charity, at the corner of Lauriston Place and Lauriston Park. 

   Meadow-side House, the hospital specially devoted to sick children, is in Lauriston Lane, and in the most sunny portion of the grounds. It is a humane and useful charity; its directors chiefly consist of medical men, a matron, and a committee of ladies, with a complete medical staff of resident, ordinary, and consulting physicians. 

   Immediately adjoined to where this edifice stands, there was erected in 1816 the Merchant Maiden’s Hospital, the successor of that establishment which was endowed by Mrs. Mary Erskine, incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1702, and which we have described in a preceding chapter, as being in the vicinity of Argyle Square. That old building had long been found inadequate to its objects, and its vicinity having become crowded with houses, the governors, zealous for the comfort of the young ladies under their care, purchased three acres to the west of Lauriston Lane, which is a southern continuation of the ancient Vennel in a spot, which we are told, in 1816, “united all the advantages of retirement and pure air, without an inconvenient distance from town.” (Scots Mag., 1816). 

   Erected from designs by Mr. Burn, this edifice is still a very elegant one, 180 feet long by 60 deep, with a bow of 36 feet radius in its north front. Its style is purely Grecian. The central portico of four fine Ionic columns faces the West Meadow, and is detailed from a small temple on the Ilyssus, near Athens. The windows on the lower storey are double arched, and the superstructure has an aspect of strength and solidity. The foundation-stone was laid on the 2nd of August, 1816, in presence of the governors and the preses, William Ramsay, a well known banker, and the total expense was about £9,000. 

   On the principal floor, as it was then laid out, was an elegant chapel and governors’ room, 30 feet in diameter and 22 feet high; one school-room, 52 feet long by 26 wide; and two others of 42 feet by 24; with, on the upper floors, the nursery, bed-rooms, music, store and governesses’ rooms. The building was opened in 1819, and two years after contained 80 girls, its annual revenue being then about £3,000 sterling. 

   In 1871 another hospital for the girls was erected elsewhere, and the edifice described was appropriated for the use of George Watson’s College Schools, with an entrance from Archibald Place. The design of these schools is to provide boys with a liberal education, qualifying them for commercial or professional life, and for the universities. Their course of study includes the classics, English, French, and German, and all the other usual branches of a most liberal education, together with chemistry, drill, gymnastics, and fencing. The number of foundationers has been reduced to 60, at least one fourth of whom are elected by competitive examination from boys attending this and the other schools of the Merchant Company, and boys attending these schools have the following benefits, viz. 1: A presentation to one of the foundations of this, or Stewart’s Hospital, tenable for six years; 2. A bursary, on leaving the schools of £25 yearly for four years. 

   The foundationers are boarded in a house belonging to the governors, with the exception of those who are boarded with families in the city. When admitted, they must be of the age of nine, and not above fourteen years. On leaving each is allowed £7 for clothes; he may receive for five years £10 annually; and on attaining the age of twenty-five a further sum of £50, to enable him to commence business in Edinburgh. 

   The Chalmers Hospital, at the south side of the west end of Lauriston Place, is a large edifice, in a plain Italian style, and treats annually about 180 in-door, and over 2,500 out-door patients. It was erected in 1861. George Chalmers, a plumber in Edinburgh, who died on the 10th of March, 1836, bequeathed the greater part of his fortune, estimated at £30,000, for the erection and the endowment of this “Hospital for the Sick and Hurt.” 

   The management of the charity is in the hands of the Dean and Faculty of Advocates, who, after allowing the fund to accumulate for some years, in conformity to the will of the founder, erected the building, which was fully opened for patients in 1864; and adjoining it is the new thoroughfare called Chalmers Street. 

   The Lauriston Place United Presbyterian church, a large and handsome Gothic structure at the corner of Portland Place, was built in 1859; and near it, in Lauriston Gardens, is the Catholic convent of St. Catharine of Sienna – the same saint to whom the old convent at the Sciennes was devoted – built in 1859, by the widow of Colonel Hutchison. It is in the regular collegiate style, and the body of the foundress is interred in the grounds attached to it, where stands an ancient thorn-tree coeval with the original convent. 

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