Friday, 16 November 2018

A crocodile in the collections!

This week's blog comes from Natalia Vladinova, this year's Conservation Intern and the newest addition to the LHSA team - and she's found a rather strange creature in the collections...

I’m Natalia Vladinova, and I’m a graduate of a five-year Master's Degree in restoration and conservation in Bulgaria at the National Academy of Arts. Guided by my interest in the conservation of objects on paper, I went on to specialize in San Gemini, Italy, gaining in-depth knowledge about the conservation and technology of paper and ink production used in various historical periods and in different social-cultural communities. This experience helped me gain a permanent position as a paper conservator in the largest specialized conservation laboratory for objects on paper and parchment in Bulgaria - the conservation department of the National Library "St. St. Cyril and Methodius".

My experience with the internship has been fantastic. I like the way that it is organized, and I think that so far the two most memorable experiences have been the visit to St Cecilia’s Hall and to the Surgeon’s Hall Museum conservation studios. So far, it has been a great learning and networking experience.

The personal collection of German emigre neurologist Ernst Levin is being rehoused! This is my main task during my internship. My aim is for the collection to be surveyed and rehoused in way that makes it easily accessible for use and cataloguing as part of an upcoming PhD, starting in January 2019.

The collection consists of many loose letters and ones that are still in their original envelopes, lots of greetings cards and postcards, some art sketches, many photographs of the Levin family, and even a sword with a harness! This personal collection is quite unusual for LHSA, and the varied media it consists of makes it a challenging one for rehousing.

If you are interested in the project keep an eye for upcoming peculiarities, such as this postcard:




It depicts a poem from one of the most popular Russian children's poets – Korney Chukovsky. An excerpt from the poem is depicted – a long crocodile putting out a fire in the blue sea with the help of pierogi (filled dumplings), blini and dried mushroom! If you are interested in finding more about the poet check out this research by Anna Vaninskaya.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Archive Internship, 2018


This week, we welcome a new Archive Intern to the LHSA team and, if you're a regular follower of the blog, you may recognise her!


Hi there! I am Vannis Jones, the latest LHSA archive intern, and like many before me, I too have just completed my MSc in Information Management and Preservation at the University of Glasgow. I have been a weekly volunteer in LHSA for a year and ten months (!), so I am delighted to make the jump to an official member of staff, albeit temporarily. My past projects at LHSA have been extremely varied and have included cataloguing small personal collections, oral histories, drawings of surgical instruments (for more about this, see my previous blog post), administrative haematology records, and more. I have also had the opportunity to use Encoded Archival Description, an XML-based standard for encoding archival finding aids, to catalogue tuberculosis case notes.

At my desk in the office
This internship, however, focuses on a medium with which I have little professional experience—photographs. I have catalogued and rehoused the odd photograph in various smaller general deposit collections at LHSA, but I have never had the opportunity to work with a large body of photographs. In this internship, I will be addressing the photograph cataloguing backlog, beginning first with photographs that have been assigned identifiers using a legacy numbering system. Once these photographs are fully catalogued in line with LHSA’s current practices, I will move on to the body of photographs that are entirely uncatalogued. The fun of photograph cataloguing is that photographs tend to be a bit more challenging to decipher than other documentary evidence. It is not at all uncommon for photographs to have no label, date, or any other contextual information to assist in determining its provenance or writing an archival description. This requires a great deal of resourcefulness and creative thinking in order to interpret any visual clues that are present in the photograph. An example from past projects would be photographs of Red Cross nurses—the designs of their uniforms have changed over time, and by comparing photographs of the nurses with online Red Cross resources, it is possible to date these photographs to a relatively high degree of accuracy. I believe this detective work will be one of the greatest (and most exciting) challenges of this project.

Nurses and male staff member from the Edinburgh Royal Maternity Hospital, 1900s (P/PL3/S/061)
An example from this past week of visual clues – the photograph above portrays staff from the Edinburgh Royal Maternity Hospital and Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion, and was found by a member of the public during a house move. It is not labelled in any way, but the nurses’ clothing can provide indications as to their roles. The woman seated in black is a matron, and the other three are nurses. You may notice, however, that one of the nurses has a distinctive belt. Whilst we have not decoded the meaning of this belt, it may indicate that she holds a higher rank or different role from the other nurses. 

Throughout my internship I will also have some exciting professional development opportunities, including liaising with the conservation intern (who you'll hear from next week) on a smaller project or two, visiting other Edinburgh and Lothian repositories, and attending talks related to archives and conservation, to name a few. I am looking forward to further honing my skills I have developed over the past two years during this internship, and I can’t wait to see what fun, quirky, puzzling, and unique photographs await me!


Friday, 12 October 2018

LHSA's LGBT Source List


This week our Access Officer Louise is introducing our new LGBT Source List. 

Over the summer I worked to identify and list LGBT related resources that are held within LHSA in order to create a source list for those interested in the LGBT community in the Lothian area. The result can be found on our website:


Although this list is in no way exhaustive it provides a snapshot of the types of LGBT material we have and which collections they can be found within.

The majority of the LGBT material held by LHSA can be found in our HIV/AIDS collection which spans from 1983 to the 21st century. Although the high rate of HIV transmission in Edinburgh in the 1980s was due largely to needle sharing through intravenous drug use, LGBTQ+ groups were also affected and the community was heavily involved in HIV prevention, treatment and care.


Safe Sex leaflet from LHB45/2/5/1/4

We hold the archive of the Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard and the collection covers thirty years of LGBTQ+ history in Edinburgh and beyond. There are restrictions on access to call logs, however the collection also contains magazines and publicity materials that provide stories of support, community and activism.


Front cover of Gay Scotland, Nov 2002


Within the Take Care Campaign collection there are LGBT related materials including operational and administrative papers, educational resources and promotional material including posters, badges, balloons and condoms.  The campaign began in the late 1980s as a response to the high rates of HIV and AIDS within the Lothian area and it worked to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS across all communities. The campaign was jointly launched by Lothian Health Board and Lothian Regional Council and was considered ground-breaking and occasionally controversial. This collection thoroughly documents the entire campaign and includes a wealth of visual material, an impressive reminder of the visual aspect of the response to HIV.


Take Care Campaign Postcard (GD22)


In our Lothian Health Board HIV/AIDS Management Team and Health Promotion Department (LHB45) and Take Care Campaign (GD22) collections we hold material from the Scottish AIDS Monitor (also known as SAM). SAM was a Scottish national HIV charity that was launched in 1983 to help tackle the HIV problem in Scotland by providing preventative HIV education as well as offering both emotional and practical support to those with HIV and those close to them. We have leaflets, reports and correspondence that detail the important work of the charity.

Lothian Gay Men’s Project Half Yearly Report. SAM report by L Devlin, S Ross and N Walbran

We do hope that people find this source list useful and if you would like to book an appointment to view any of the material, or if you have any questions regarding any of the material listed then please get in touch. We would love to hear from you!

... and of course visit our website for details of our other available source lists.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Herdmanflat Hospital

This week, it's Archivist Louise taking a turn on the blog:

This past month has been an extremely hectic one for me in terms of outreach - I've given four talks in three weeks, for example, each one focusing on a different aspect of our work here at LHSA, and yesterday I was out and about at the Royal College of Psychiatrists History of Psychiatry Special Interest Group meeting in Glasgow telling researchers about our extensive collections on Lothian asylums and psychiatric care. 

Our collections from and related to the Royal Edinburgh Hospital certainly are popular with students, academics and genealogists: rarely a week goes by when part of the collection isn't being used in a family history enquiry, or being viewed in the reading room. We do hold fascinating records from other Lothian asylums, though (including an extensive one for the Borders), which also are more than worthy of investigating. So for this week's blog - since one of my recent talks was on the history of East Lothian hospitals - I thought that I would focus on an East Lothian psychiatric institution: Herdmanflat Hospital, once Haddington District Asylum.

More recently a psychiatric hospital serving the whole of East Lothian, Herdmanflat has had a long history, reflected in the archives we hold....

Herdmanflat Hospital, LHSA photographic collection
From reports of the General Board of Control (the committee which inspected all asylums in Scotland from 1857), we know that the hospital opened in November 1866 as Haddington District Asylum on the site of a farm called Herdmanflat. It housed just nine patients then – five male and four female – growing to around 70 the next year, and 138 by 1900.

In 1867, the report of the General Board of Control stated that: ‘The aspect of all gives indications of abundant diet, good management, and constant attention to cleanliness, tidiness and comfort.’ and the inspectors were very happy that ‘each patient is bathed once a fortnight.’ As a district asylum, it served mostly paupers. The report goes on to mention that patients were kept busy: women in sewing, knitting, cleaning or laundry work, men in the gardens, stable and grounds.

People often imagine the Victorian asylum as a grim place – a Bedlam type institution with little joy. Our records from psychiatric hospitals have evidence to dispel this, though – in Haddington District Asylum, we know there were evening amusements, dancing, public readings, a library, exercise within and outside the grounds, and even excursions. Herdmanflat was brought into the NHS in 1948, managed by different local boards until it came under the larger umbrella of Lothian Health Board in 1974 (the predecessor to NHS Lothian)

So what records do we hold for Herdmanflat? We do have some administrative records, like this 1869 booklet of rules and regulations...
Haddingtonshire District Lunatic Asylum: Rules and Regulations, 1869 (LHB47)
But we have most records from Herdmanflat for its patients, in the form of registers, admission papers and cases. These span 1866 to 1993 in all, with some types of records being better represented than others. One of the most interesting groups of records for genealogists, though, are the patient case books that we hold, which record each patient admitted to the hospital from 1866 to 1915. Here’s one for Alexander Tulloch, for example:

Casebook entry: Alexander Tulloch, 1890 (LHB47/1)
Aged just 34 in March 1890, Alexander  had emigrated to Florida from Haddington, but came home to East Lothian since his wife noticed him becoming forgetful and getting himself lost. When this continued on his return to Haddington, Alexander was admitted to the asylum, where he was found to be suffering from general paralysis of the insane, final stage syphilis causing physical paralysis and dementia – a common diagnosis then. He died in the asylum two years later.

We also have some letters written by patients, which were found in the case books. It was common practice in the nineteenth century that, authorised by Lunacy Acts, letters from patients could be confiscated by head of asylums. There were several possible reasons for this: to avoid distressing relatives, to avoid giving a potentially bad name for the hospital, to head-off any warnings of dangerous intent or suicide or because the letters simply did not make sense. This one is from W A Swales writing in 1893, describing Haddington District Asylum as a ‘living grave’, and protesting his sanity:
Letter from W A Swales, 1889 (LHB47/1)
We have over one thousand patient letters from the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, but for Herdmanflat, we don’t have many. There could be a number of explanations: that they did not survive, not many letters were written, or perhaps more letters were sent out from Herdmanflat: maybe in an institution with fewer private patients and less reliant on fees and public donations, there was less of a need to keep up appearances.

If you'd like to explore our collection from Herdmanflat, you can do so here.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Accessing accreditation

LHSA Manager, Ruth, was out and about on Monday, spending part of the afternoon at the National Records of Scotland’s General Register House, helping the Scottish Council onArchives deliver a workshop that introduced Archive Service Accreditation to a group of archivists and collection managers interested in undergoing the process.

Janice Tullock (a freelance archive consultant) led the session, providing an overview and working through the three main sections of the online application form. By the time I had arrived, she had already got the participants thinking about they did and didn’t have in place for an accreditation application (through the medium of a multi-coloured post-it note exercise!), and my contribution was a 20-minute slot in which I described why we had wanted to apply for accreditation, how we’d gone about it and what benefits we had seen from becoming accredited.  

Archive Service Accreditation is administered by a partnership of key archive sector bodies, with the National Records of Scotland and the Scottish Council on Archives representing Scotland. It is a single UK-wide accreditation scheme for archive-holding organisations across the UK: it defines good practice and identifies agreed standards within the archive sector. For more information please see The National Archives website: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/archives-sector/archive-service-accreditation/.

LHSA was awarded Archive Service Accreditation in 2014 and we recently underwent the compulsory three-year review, retaining our accreditation until 2021 when we’ll have to re-apply. It was a substantial piece of work, but the team pulled together to contribute key elements to the application and assessment day, and we’ve enjoyed having this recognition of the high quality of our collections management and services. I hope I was able to take a little bit of the mystery and/or trepidation out of the process for the workshop attendees by sharing our experiences, and I’ll look forward to seeing the announcement of their successful accreditation applications in the future!





Friday, 31 August 2018

The humble beginnings of the Western General Hospital!


2018 is a very special year for the Western General Hospital as it celebrates its 150th anniversary! In this blog our Access Officer Louise looks at the origins of this century and a half old hospital.


The Western General has its roots in the 18th century. St Cuthbert’s Poorhouse opened in 1761 to serve the parish, however by 1865, alongside a growing dissatisfaction with the general standard of poor relief in the country, the poorhouses of the City, the Canongate, and St Cuthbert’s, were reviewed by the City’s Medical Officer. Sir Henry Littlejohn found the poorhouses of the city to be in a derelict state and proposed a controversial plan to merge the existing poorhouses to create a new and larger building. His plans were rejected and an argument for a separate poorhouse for St Cuthbert's found support. The result was the opening of the Craigleith Hospital and Poorhouse in 1868.

Craigleith Hospital and its grounds (GD28/8/1)


The building served the poor of the local parish for over four decades until 1914 when the outbreak of the First World War saw it transformed into the 2nd Scottish General Hospital. The poorhouse patients were subsequently transferred to Craiglockhart Hospital, and Craigleith became dedicated to caring for sick and wounded British service men. To cope with its new role as a Military Hospital the building saw a number of transformations and extensions with the building of a large operating theatre and recreational hut.

Craigleith Operating Theatre c.1914-1918 (GD28/8/1)


After the war ended Craigleith returned to its role as a Poor Law Hospital in 1919 and it is between then and 1939 that the origins of the Western General Hospital began. In 1928 Craigleith started being used for general hospital purposes, and after the passing of the Local Government (Scotland) Act in 1929 the Parish Councils were abolished. The hospital was then taken over by the Public Health Committee on 16 May 1930. Craigleith, Pilton and Seafield Hospitals were then renamed to Western General, Northern General, and Eastern General Hospitals in 1932 under the new banner of Municipal General Hospitals.

Preparations were then made to expand the hospital as it began to admit medical and surgical patients, as well as children. New departments were opened for a variety of different treatments including massage, dentistry, and urology, the entire drainage system was renewed, and in stark contrast to its days as a Poor Law Hospitals, patients who were able to were expected to pay for their time in the hospital.

Annual Report of the Public Health Departments and various Sub-Department for the year 1932 (GD28/7/2)

Since its beginnings as a Poor Law Hospital, the Western General has survived two world wars, enjoyed the benefits that were brought by the introduction of the National Health Service, and developed into a hospital that now hosts a number of specialist units. In the coming months we will be bringing your more blogs relating to the the history and achievements of the hospital.

To mark the anniversary here in LHSA we are working on a collection of oral histories from staff who have worked at the Western General Hospital. Our archivist Louise Williams has already recorded a number of interviews and a team of enthusiastic volunteers have been tasked with cataloguing and part transcribing the recordings. For more information on this check out our last blog! You will also hear more from our volunteers and the project in the coming months, but in the meantime take a look at what other 150th celebrations are happening by visiting: https://westerngeneral150.blog/

Friday, 17 August 2018

Voices in the corridors...

This week, Archivist Louise has been creating some new content for the archive...

Back in 2011, I took a vocational course run by the University of Dundee called Sound and Vision, about how to manage audio-visual media in the archive. Before I decided to train to be an archivist, I'd worked in the cinema sector for a number of years, and I went on the course being primarily interested in visual culture. However, a major part of the syllabus involved oral history - and soon learning about the methods of and reasons behind recording individuals' personal testimonies to keep for future generations became my favourite aspect of the course. We learnt the best methods of taking an oral history, how to produce a summary of it for potential users, and how to transcribe it to make it even more accessible (the last part is a labour of love and takes hours upon hours!)

Whereas we do hold some film archives here at LHSA (like this 1930s' film of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, for example), an increasing part of my job recently has involved adding to the archive with oral testimony from those who've been closely involved in healthcare in our region in the recent past. For example, I'm currently interviewing former members of (then) Lothian Health Board staff about the challenges of fighting the 1980s HIV epidemic in Edinburgh  - we have 13 interviews to date, and more in the pipeline for the coming months.

I've also been using my oral history training in a project to celebrate the 150th birthday of the Western General Hospital, of which I'm sure you'll hear more this year. Although the Western only acquired its current name when the local authority took over the running of the old poor law infirmaries from 1930, its history as a hospital goes back to 1868, when St Cuthbert's Poorhouse relocated to the site from its former home at the West End of Princes Street.

The Clock Tower building of the Western General Hospital, when it served as a military hospital during the First World War (GD8/8/1)
As part of the commemoration of this long history, LHSA has been asked to record memories of medical staff who have worked at the Western General Hospital, in the form of longer oral history interviews to be kept in the archive. Some of the interviews have taken place here at the Main Library, but last week I was lucky enough to visit the Western on a beautiful summer day to conduct interviews with former staff who had been part of the hospital's recent past. 

One of the many lions represented in the older buildings at the Western General Hospital, taken on my visit last week.
One of my interviewees, David Boyd, is a ninety-three-year-old retired Consultant. He has worked at the Western for several stints in his career - from a student rotation in 1948, to a Registrar post in the Endocrine and Metabolic Unit from 1959 and as a Consultant in General Medicine by the 1970s. Mr Boyd's interest in general medicine means that he has had a long and varied career, covering many different specialisms, geographical locations (even Glasgow!) and has worked with some of Edinburgh's most notable medical names.

For example, in the 1950s, Mr Boyd held a Registrar post in respiratory medicine, working with Professor (later Sir) John Crofton, who pioneered the 'Edinburgh method' of treatment of tuberculosis, pairing a combination of drugs with active monitoring, which at last offered an effective cure for the disease. He describes his time working with Crofton in this excerpt.

We'll be arranging to record more interview through the rest of this commemorative year, and we're hoping to enlist the help of some volunteers from our well-established programme to catalogue the interviews and transcribe some of the key sections. As our volunteers uncover the stories about the people who have made the Western General Hospital over the years, keep your eyes (and ears!) on the blog to learn more!