This circular walk is roughly 3 miles long and will take you round some of the homes and hospitals from Edinburgh's medical past.

Dr Roger Smith FRCPE provided the audio and the information based on a tour he does for the Geriatric Medicine course.

He was a Consultant Physician in Geriatric Medicine based at the Royal Victoria and Western General Hospitals before retiring in 2002.

Follow the directions below and then stream the audio once you arrive at the location, you can expand the notes for some extra historical information.


Start - 9 Queen Street

Head west on Queen St toward Hanover St

1) James Young Simpson - 52 Queen Street

Play Audio Track


Born 7th June 1811 7th child, GP too late for delivery but still charged 10/-(50pence) – Died 1870 aged 59

Age 4 - went to school

Age 14 - went to University and studied Greek

Age 16  - changed to medicine

Age 21  - graduated MD

Interests - pathology and midwifery

Age 25  - Appointed Deputy Professor of Pathology

Age 28  - Appointed Professor of Midwifery

1845 - Bought 52 Queen Street

Aware of problems of pain and had an interest in anaesthesia

1798 Humphrey Davy experimented with Nitrous Oxide

1842 Long and Jackson in USA had experimented with ether

1844 Morton and Wells used ether in dentistry and in Jan 1847 used ether to deliver a patient.

1847 Flowers in France had experimented with chloroform in animals

4th Nov 1847 Matthews Duncan, George Keith and James Young Simpson tried chloroform after dinner. There was initial hilarity then happiness followed by loquaciousness and quietness then unconsciousness.

8th Nov 1847 Chloroform was first used on an obstetric patient Jane Carstairs who reported she had had a good sleep!

12th Nov 1847 Chloroform was used on a 5 year old boy with a necrosed radius. Mortality from operations at that time was 66% but fell to 33% with the use of chloroform.

April 1853 Chloroform was given to Queen Victoria to deliver Prince Leopold her 8th child. She was so pleased she immediately got pregnant with her 9th child!

1850 Simpson was appointed Physician for Diseases of Women and Infants in the New Surgical Hospital


When ready head west on Queen St toward N Castle St

Continue onto Albyn Pl

Slight left onto N Charlotte St

Turn right onto Charlotte Square

Continue straight to stay on Charlotte Square

Destination will be on the right

2) Joseph Lister - 9 Charlotte Square

Play Audio Track


Born in England 1827 - Died in London 1912 aged 85 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

1847 graduated in Arts in London

1852 graduated in Medicine in London

He came to work in Edinburgh with James Syme (the well-known surgeon).   The best way to progress your career at that time was to marry your chief’s daughter and that was what Lister did. He married Agnes Syme. His career never looked back!

He was horrified by infection and gangrene. Treatment was helped by use of chloroform which allowed more complicated operations.

In 1860 he moved to the Chair of Surgery in Glasgow aged 33.

Started using carbolic lotion which was normally used for cleaning drains but found it was too powerful. After dilution it could be used with dressings initially with fractures and abscesses. The mixture was carbolic lotion, olive oil, paraffin and wax. This treatment was not accepted by all.

In 1869 Lister was appointed Chair of Surgery in Edinburgh aged 42.

In 1874 he met Louis Pasteur. 

He developed the Lister Antiseptic Technique that led to Listerine.


Head southwest on Charlotte Square toward Glenfinlas St

Destination will be on the left

3) Robert Philip - 44 Charlotte Square

Play Audio Track


In March 1882 Koch gave his historic lecture in Vienna on the aetiology of Tuberculosis. He demonstrated that TB was due to infection with a bacillus – mycobacterium tuberculosis.

In July 1882 Robert Philip graduated in Medicine with Honours at Edinburgh University. Later that year he travelled to Vienna to learn more about the bacillus and Koch’s work. He realised that most people must be infected but only a minority of people developed the overt disease – therefore there must be healing and patient resistance.

Philip came up with the Directory of TB encompassing 3 aspects of each case:

Details of patient including full clinical examination

Details of patient’s environment – cleanliness, ventilation, overcrowding, nutrition etc

Tracing patient’s contacts – who was source of infection and whom had patient infected

i.e. Problem Orientated medicine 100 years before it was invented by Weed!

This developed into “The Edinburgh Scheme for Control of TB”:

Central Clinic – Bank Street 1887 “The Dispensary”

Hospital – the “Sanatorium” for early cases

Hospital for advanced cases

Farm colony for rehabilitation after sanitorium care


When ready head east on Charlotte Square toward S Charlotte St

Turn right onto S Charlotte St

Turn right onto Princes St

Turn left onto Lothian Rd

Destination will be on the left

4) Watch Tower Kings Stables Road

Play Audio Track


In early 1800s there were 2 Anatomy Schools one run by a Dr Knox and the other by the University under Professor Monro Tertius. His father and grandfather had also been Professors of Anatomy.

In 1826 Anatomy was made a compulsory part of the medical curriculum. As there were about 500 students it became increasingly difficult to secure the necessary material.

Grave robbers had been common for 100 years. They dug a hole at the head end of the grave and all the earth was placed on a canvas sheet (leaving no trace). Two broad iron hooks were pushed under the coffin lid breaking off part of the lid. The body was removed, put in a sack, the shrouds returned to the coffin and the hole filled in. Nobody the wiser! The whole process took less than an hour. The body was then sold to the Anatomists.

The Watch Tower was erected by the families of those buried in the cemetery and manned at night to look out for grave robbers.


When ready head south on Lothian Rd toward King's Stables Rd

Turn left onto King's Stables Rd

Turn left onto Grassmarket

Destination will be on the left

5 A & B) Burke and Hare – The White Hart and The Last Drop Grassmarket

Play Audio Track A then walk along the Grassmarket to The Last Drop and listen to track B

The White Hart

The Last Drop


William Burke and William Hare found an easier and cleaner way to supply bodies to the Anatomists.

They were Irish workers who had come over to work on the Union Canal being built between Edinburgh and Glasgow. They lived in the lodging house owned by Hare.

A lodger died owing Hare £4. Burke and Hare sold the body for £7.

They used to pick up women in the White Hart Inn and lure them back to their lodgings, made them drunk then suffocated them rather than strangling. The bodies were sold to Dr Knox.

There are two stories about their downfall. One was that a student recognised a prostitute he knew (Mary Paterson) on Dr Knox’s table and called the police. The other (and more likely) was that on Halloween 1828 a Mary Docherty was taken back to the lodgings along with friends James and Ann Gray. They all drank heavily and the Grays left around midnight but came back the next morning as Ann Gray had left her handbag. She found the body of Mary Docherty under the bed. Her body was subsequently found at Dr Knox’s school and identified by James Gray. Game up!

Burke and Hare were arrested but Hare turned King’s evidence and saved his life. Burke was found guilty of murder and executed in front of 20,000 spectators who paid between 5 shillings and 25 shillings to watch on 28th January 1829. His body was dissected by Professor Monro III.

The Grassmarket was the site of the public gallows.

The St Andrews Cross in rose coloured cobblestones marks the spot.

“For the Protestant Faith on this spot many martyrs and covenanters died” refers to the religious “wars” that went on in the 16th century.

In 1727 Maggie Dickson from Inveresk (near Edinburgh) was found guilty of child murder and sentenced to death by hanging. After hanging for the allotted time her body was cut down and placed in a coffin by her friends. The coffin was put on a cart and trundled down the road. However the jolting of the cart on the cobbles revived her heart and she survived. Was this the first reported case of cardio pulmonary resuscitation?!

As she had been hanged for her crime and survived she was free and went on to have several children. She is known as Half Hangit Maggie.

The Last Drop Inn is a reminder of these days. Above are 3 windows from which the better off could watch. This was where William Burke was hanged. Were these the 25 shilling seats?!


When ready head up to W Bow

Turn left onto Cowgatehead

At the roundabout take the 1st exit onto Cowgate

Turn right onto Robertson's Close

Stop in the Close

6) First Royal Infirmary - Robertson’s Close

Play Audio Track


In 1725 a public appeal was launched to build an infirmary. The aim was to raise £2k to erect and maintain the new infirmary.

In February 1728 the sum was reached and a house bought in Robertson’s Close. It was known as the “Little House”.

On 6th August 1729 the Infirmary of 6 beds opened and was destined to become the largest voluntary hospital at that time. It was the first infirmary in Scotland.

The first patient was an Elizabeth Sinclair suffering from anaemia.

It was staffed by 1 Physician and 1 Surgeon.

The cost of its upkeep in the first year was £97 19s 7d (£97.98 in current money). There was a strong oak box known as the ”Charity Box” with an iron fitting and 2 locks and a hole in the top for contributions which were encouraged from patients, their relatives and friends. After 3 months £4 6s 6d (£4.32) had been donated. The Charity Box is all that remains from the Little House.

On 26th August 1736 the infirmary received the Royal Charter.


When ready head south on Robertson's Close toward Infirmary St

Turn left onto Infirmary St

7) Second Royal Infirmary - Infirmary Street

Play Audio Track


In November 1736 the managers of the Royal Infirmary bought Thomson’s Yards for £420. It was formerly the property of the Dominican Order of Black Friars.

It was planned to build a new Infirmary to cope with 228 patients. It was built on 4 floors. The ground floor was for admission and 12 “cells” for “insane persons”. The other 3 floors were six 24 bedded wards in the main block and six 12 bedded wards in each of the wings.

In December 1741 the Second Royal Infirmary was opened but not completed until 1748.

In 1743 the managers gave up the lease of the Little House.

In 1829 High School Yards was purchased and the New Surgical Hospital and Operating Theatre for 400 students built. It opened in 1832 with72beds which were increased to 103.

In 1879 the second Royal Infirmary was closed.

In 1884 it was demolished. The gate, balustrade and stone steps were removed and placed in railings on the north side of Drummond Street where they can be seen today.


When ready walk north-east on Infirmary St towards Old Infirmary Ln

Turn left to stay on Infirmary St

Turn right onto High School Yards

8) Lock Hospital - High School Yards

Play Audio Track


In the far corner next to Dr Knox’s School of Anatomy is the Lock Hospital which was a charitable institution for destitute girls. Most had venereal disease.

James Young Simpson was one of three attending physicians.

The young ladies were treated and discharged but were not allowed to be re-admitted.

Agnes Thomson was a patient and she helped out as a nurse. Simpson found her a job as a maid in the country but after 3 months she left to return to Melbourne House which was a house of ill repute. She developed VD again. Initially she was refused admission to Lock Hospital but Simpson “persuaded” the Trustees to allow her readmission by going to the press.


To complete the circular route head south-west on High School Yards towards High School Wynd

Turn right onto High School Wynd

Continue onto Blackfriars St

Turn left onto High St/The Royal Mile

Turn right onto North Bridge/A7

Turn left onto Princes St

Turn right onto S St Andrew St

Continue straight onto St Andrew Square

Continue onto N St Andrew St

Turn left onto Queen St

Destination will be on the left

End – 9 Queen Street