Friday, 23 December 2011

On Christmas Day in the Morning

Nurses were regularly called upon to participate in activities for the spiritual wellbeing of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh during the 19th Century and well into the 20th Century. At that time, these activities usually drew on the Christian tradition. Nurses regularly said prayers in the Nurses’ home and attended services at the hospital Chapel, formerly part of George Watson’s School. When the hospital moved to Lauriston Place in 1879, Angelique Lucille Pringle the Lady Superintendent of Nurses and her staff, along with Miss Forsyth the last Matron and her staff, contributed £85 3s, 3d to present an organ for the Chapel. At Christmas time nurses performed an annual concert and sang carols to patients on Christmas morning. A piano was placed between wards and the nurses sang around several different locations so that all the patients could hear. The photograph shows nursing and medical staff in the central hall of the Royal Infirmary at 6am on Christmas Morning 1936.

Up bright and early: carol singing at 6am on Christmas morning 1936!
We wish all readers of our blog a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Getting our hands dirty….again!

We recently finished the first phase of treatment to some surgical instrument makers’ drawings from a company that were based just round the corner from the Archive: Gardners of Forrest Road, Edinburgh.

The collection came to us in poor condition. Housed in nothing but an old cardboard box, the loose sheets, sketchbooks and catalogues had accumulated a thick layer of dirt making it difficult to see the drawings. Even the most careful handling meant that we were transferring dirt to other parts of the collection and all over ourselves! Cleaning and re-housing is all part of the process of ensuring that collections are stable once they enter LHSA, and that they are able to be used in future. We blogged about this kind of work in October when we accessioned a large number of index cards, so we're used to getting our hands dirty to help preserve the collections!

The collection before treatment

Each item was carefully surface cleaned and the items re-housed in high quality folders and boxes. This was an incredibly time consuming task, undertaken in stages over the last five months.

We got through a lot of chemical sponges (background) to surface clean the sketchbooks (foreground)

But the hard work has been worth it – the drawings have been revealed and we have discovered that the many of them were designed or commissioned by medical practitioners whose papers we already hold in the Archive!

It’s been a team effort to improve the condition of this fascinating collection: Ruth surface cleaned all the papers, Mariko (one of our previous conservation volunteers) repaired two of the larger sheets, and Fiona and Sandi (our current volunteers) produced custom-made folders.

The collection after treatment

The conservation treatment carried out so far will make this material more accessible, but there’s still a lot more to do. Laura has assigned a collection reference number (GD47), and our archive volunteers will go on to catalogue each item. In the future, GD47 will return to the conservation studio for the second phase of treatment – to repair physical damage to the paper sheets.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Volunteer update: oral history transcription project nears completion

As 2011 draws to a close, it’s a good time to update you on our volunteer programme. 7 people have participated this year, gaining invaluable experience and enabling the Archive to undertake important cataloguing and conservation work. On the archive side, our current volunteers are Claire Kirkpatrick and Lynne MacMurchie who are both hoping to train as archivists in the future. They each came to undertake the one-day taster sessions that we’ve introduced this year and this led to both gaining long-term placements.

Claire and Lynne are about to complete an oral history transcription project, providing access for the first time to engaging testimonies from staff & volunteers at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital whose careers span from the 1920s to 1980s. The interviews were carried out by clinical psychologist Jill Birrell in 1993 in preparation for a book she was to write about Craig House. Due to her untimely death shortly afterwards, they were transferred to LHSA. Now digitised, each of the 21 interviews has been summarised for the catalogue and full transcriptions are underway. In addition, research papers and photographs collected by Jill Birrell have been catalogued. As well as providing an insight into the workings of the Hospital over a 60 year period, the interviews capture something of the social side and the interactions between staff and patients. Opinions are given on a wide range of topics including: the changes brought about by the introduction of the National Health Service in 1948, details of psychiatric nurse and medical training, ghosts, and the treatments given to patients.

Craig House, later the Thomas Clouston Clinic
We’d like to thank all of our volunteers for their hard work this year, and look forward to welcoming them back in 2012! If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer at LHSA, please complete an application form at the foot of the following page: volunteer application form.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Re-ordering Case Notes Phase 2

LHSA’s case notes continue to be re-ordered and audited. The current case note audit follows on from a project for case notes affected in a shelving collapse. All those affected in the collapse have been re-ordered so attention has turned to the rest of them, many of which have not been checked for many years and contain disordered elements. The batch of case notes now receiving attention, and very near to completion, are those from the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (RIE) Ear and Throat collection, dating 1930-1953. The surgeons practicing during these times included Mr JD Lithgow, Dr G Ewart Martin, Dr I Simson Hall and Dr JP Stewart. They include notes regarding what was then the routine practice of removing tonsils and adenoids to much more complicated cases of treating hearing loss and cancer. The case notes were housed loose inside 657 box files. As re-ordering was carried out, a handlist was produced with information about every box file, including the alphabetical sequence, the number of case notes inside and any anomalies in the sequence. Most of the notes have been kept in the original box files for now, with only those inside files which were decaying or damaged re-housed into archival boxes.

Case Notes in original boxes, after re-ordering
As always, there are peculiar finds that are made when checking through such material. Some interesting finds amongst the notes have been early recommendations from a doctor that a patient should cut down smoking, a small collection of previously unknown RIE case notes from 1918-1919, and pages from the Eagle Annual 1958!

This particular collection contains approximately 140,000 case notes and now it has been (nearly!) re-ordered is more accessible and ready for future conservation work.

More information on case note re-ordering can be found on our website: Case Note Re-ordering web pages.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Best foot forward

Front cover of programme

This week we have received a charming accession which will be added to our Edinburgh Foot Clinic and School of Chiropody collection. It consists of the programme for the Clinic’s AGM and the visit of HRH, the Duke of Kent on 30th May 1935. Enclosed with the programme, which measures approximately 9cm by 5cm, was a photograph of the Duke meeting nurses at the clinic.

The Edinburgh Foot Clinic was opened in 1924 by Miss Catherine Norrie and her sister Mrs Margaret Swanson to treat ‘minor foot ailments of the working class’. Situated at 1a Hill Place, it was open for two or three half days each week and was staffed by volunteers. Patients paid a minimum charge of 1/- and, if possible, an extra donation. In 1928 the Clinic moved to 81 Newington Road, due to increased demand for its services and the consequent need for larger premises. During World War II mobile chiropody units were set up for the Services. By 1948 the Clinic was open on all week days and on Wednesday evenings. It still catered mainly for working class patients. Most applied for treatment directly to the Clinic, although some were referred by their GPs. The National Health Service took over the running of the Clinic in 1948. You can view the full catalogue on our website: Edinburgh Foot Clinic Catalogue.

HRH the Duke of Kent meets nurses

Friday, 18 November 2011

Promoting LHSA’s Preservation Policy: a paper conservator’s perspective

Yesterday I gave a presentation as part of the RLUK/PAC training day: writing and using a preservation policy. LHSA’s experiences of producing and implementing a policy of this kind were shared with 16 delegates from organisations near and far, from St Andrews to Stockholm!

The event was hosted by the National Library of Scotland and most of the day was given over to showing the delegates what should be in a preservation policy and how to go about writing one. I was last up with a short, informal presentation using LHSA as a case study. We finalised our policy in 2007 (a summary version is available on the LHSA website), and it has been the foundation for all our preservation and conservation work on the collections since.

I talked about why LHSA felt a policy of this kind was important (to formalise our responsibility for the care and use of the collections) and what the aims of the policy are (to outline LHSA’s approach to the care of the collections, both present and future, and to detail current conditions and conservation work). I also described how it had been used to underpin our conservation programme and as part of the induction process for new staff. The policy has also been used as supporting evidence for applications to external funding bodies and in my own professional accreditation. I finished up the talk with some thoughts about what we might do with and to the policy in future and gave the delegates some top tips!

The training day was a great opportunity to meet other professionals and share some of LHSA’s experience in this important area for the preservation of our cultural heritage.

Friday, 11 November 2011

LHSA's War Records

LHSA contains many records relating to the First and Second World Wars. A number of Edinburgh’s medical practitioners worked in military hospitals and many injured soldiers were treated in Edinburgh on their return from battle. The hospitals treated soldiers from many of the allied nations, as well as prisoners of war. A full list of LHSA’s First and Second World War records can be found on our website: The Two World Wars Source List. We have selected two items from the collection to show on Armistice Day.

The Leith Roll of Honour (our ref: LHB6/38/1-5) is a list of over 2,200 people from Leith who died during the First World War. As part of his research into the graves and memorials of those named on the Roll of Honour, a private researcher, Andrew Grant, compiled an anthology of Great War poetry selected from the Leith Observer. A copy of the anthology is available to view in the Archive. This poem is by the Leith writer JB Symons who worked under the pseudonym, ‘Restalrig’.

The Lads o’ Leith

When history, in the days to come,
Records the mony deeds
That in this war hae struck us dumb
(While mony a sair he’rt bleeds),
Auld Leith will show a roll o’ fame
As gallant as the lave;
For mony a lad wha’s left his hame
Has found a hero’s grave.

An’ mony and ane wha’s bore the brunt
Against oor treacherous foe,
May leave tae tell he saw the front
An’ helped tae lay him low.
The scene will ever wi’ him dwell –
Sic thochts impress the mind;
This twentieth century living hell
A’ ither fechts maun blind.

Oor ain auld port, in days lang syne,
Stood mony months o’ siege;
Oor trusty sires drawn up in line
Proved warriors brave and liege.
An’ ance again the lads o’ Leith
Gang forrit wi’ a will,
An’ laurels shall their brows bewreath
As they show deeds that thrill.

But still we’ve room for mony mair –
We’ve got to see this through;
So come along an’ dae your share
An’ join the gallant crew.
“The mair the merrier” they say,
So ilka lad that’s free
Jist show your cronies whit tae dae
To gain the famed V.C.

Nae hunkerslidin’s wanted noo,
Just show the auld Leith speerit;
There’s no a toon, least very few,
That ever yet cam’ near it.
We’ve aye been kent as bein’ game
(Auld Reekie kens this weel),
So let’s forever keep the name
An’ ance mair upward spiel.


(Published 28th Nov. 1914)

LHSA also contains a number of editions of the Craigleith Chronicle (our ref: GD1/82). This First World War magazine from the Second Scottish General Hospital, Craigleith, contains stories, poetry and drawings produced by the patients while recovering from their injuries. The pictured article from Vol.1 no. 3 tells of a soldier opening his emergency rations and pondering the possibility of his piece of cheese carrying his packs for him! This highlights the hardships faced by the soldiers and their means of coping with them using humour.

Tommy's Tit-bit from the Craigleith Chronicle, April 1915

The Craigleith Chronicles are progressively being digitised and put on the LHSA website (take a look at Vol 1. no.2 ).

Friday, 4 November 2011

Revolution in the air

This week, as part of our regular outreach work, Laura gave a talk to Corstorphine Women’s Guild, focusing on the role of women at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (RIE) in the period 1870-1950. This was a time which saw huge changes in medicine, and with the opening of the then brand new building at Lauriston Place in 1879, the Hospital was at the forefront of healthcare in Edinburgh. At this time, not one, but two revolutions were underway for women associated with the Infirmary: radical changes to nursing and the challenge for women to receive medical training.

Florence Nightingale’s Training School for Nurses at St Thomas’ Hospital in London was opened in 1860. It was a step which introduced a greater degree of professionalism to nursing, turning it into a career for educated women. There was a movement to formalise procedures and create high standards for all nurses to attain. Taking note of these changes, the managers of the RIE instituted a probationary period of training and a higher wage to attract “a better class of woman” to the profession. A Lady Superintendent of Nurses, Elizabeth Barclay, was appointed in 1872, and the RIE Nurse Training School was founded in the same year. The School gained an excellent training reputation, and RIE-trained nurses went on to take up positions the world over.

Whilst these changes in nursing were taking place, another set of women were fighting hard to overcome institutional barriers. Female medical students, recently given permission to receive a medical education at the University of Edinburgh in 1869, were effectively prevented from completing their training when the RIE refused to allow women the clinical instruction necessary for qualification. Whilst a wider public debate raged on the issue, Peter Bell, clerk to the managers sent a letter to all medical and surgical staff asking whether they were in favour of admitting female students on the same terms, and at the same times, as male students. Of the 19 responses we hold in the Archive, only 3 were in favour. William Walker’s letter (below) typifies the response of the majority; not only did he think that examination by a mixed class of students would be “repugnant to patients” but also that “many examinations and operations are offensive in nature and could not be undertaken before a mixed class without violating the feelings of propriety and decorum”. 
William Walker's letter
Despite this, in December 1872, the Board passed a motion to allow female matriculated students of the University to receive clinical instruction but at a separate hour to the male students and only in certain wards.  However, they were not permitted to view post-mortems, to see major surgical operations nor to act as clerks and dressers. Not to be deterred, an increasing number of women went on to gain medical degrees.

Friday, 28 October 2011

A new volunteer joins LHSA

On Tuesday we were delighted to welcome another new volunteer to the conservation studio, Fiona. Both Fiona and our other conservation volunteer, Sandi (who joined us a couple of weeks ago), will be blogging regularly to let you know what they’ve been working on. So, over to Fiona….

I’m nearing the end of my first day as a volunteer here and feel a huge sense of satisfaction at what I’ve achieved!

This morning I have to admit I was feeling a little nervous, but I needn’t have worried at all! I was started off gently with a tour of the department and introductions to some of the (very friendly) people I’ll become familiar with while I’m here. I then settled down with a folder of information I need to know about handling the wonderful variety of documents and objects I may come across. I think the folder and I will become close friends - Ruth, Sandi and I are going to pad it out with our notes on treatments and a record of what we’ve been doing.

Next, Ruth showed me how to make a four-flap document folder to re-house loose sheets in. After making some notes and asking lots of questions, I had a very slow and careful try at making one to hold some fairly large sheets which had just been flattened after being stored rolled up for a long time. It worked! The sheets fitted nicely inside and it looked neat! I tried a second and as this time I felt a bit more confident, Ruth gave me slightly more complicated contents - some sheets that had been folded, making the pile very up-and-down in depth. With a little trimming to get a perfect fit, my second folder worked well too! I am very pleased and really enjoyed the crafting and problem-solving involved in folder making. It is nice to know the documents I packed up today will be there for someone to refer to in years to come.

Fiona working on her second folder
I can’t wait to come back and do some more!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Re-housing of Dermatology Index Cards

This week LHSA has received an accession of patient index cards: more than 100 drawers’ worth! These were originally from the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh Dermatology Department, but kept more recently at the Western General Hospital where NHS Lothian’s dermatology services are now based. The index cards date from approximately 1904-1967 and record the patient’s details with a brief synopsis of diagnosis and treatment. They often contain other information such as charts and correspondence. Included in the accession were also a small number of case notes and registration cards.

The drawers as they arrived were completely disordered, dirty and did not provide adequate protection for the contents, so a decision was made to re-house the cards immediately. Firstly, the drawers had to be ordered chronologically, decade by decade. It was found that there was a main year by year patient sequence plus a number of other sequences relating to x-rays and to particular practitioners, therefore it was decided to create one chronological sequence first, followed by these additional sequences and any drawers that had no identification.

Index Cards on arrival

The index cards were surface cleaned with a soft brush and checked for the presence of pests then placed in archival boxes in order. Each archival box can house the contents of more than one original drawer so a note was kept of which drawers’ contents had been placed in each box and a slip of archival paper was placed at the start of each run of index cards in the box with the original drawer’s title. Not all the index cards were of the same size therefore they were orientated accordingly to fit and two different box sizes were used. The archival boxes were numbered in pencil as they were filled and then the box content notes were typed onto a labelling sheet and neat labels were printed and attached to the boxes.

Index Cards during re-housing
Now that the index cards have been re-housed they take up less space, they are more accessible and are protected from further damage. The next step will be cataloguing them to make their research potential widely known.

Friday, 14 October 2011

New conservation skills & tired neurons

One of our new conservation volunteers, Sandi Phillips, tells us about her first day in the Archive this week…

“I’ll be volunteering one day a fortnight here for the foreseeable future. My first task was to read the Conservation guidelines, Health & Safety issues, treatments and proper documentation concerning any projects undertaken. Ruth, the Paper Conservator, then demonstrated how to make a 4 flap folder from archival card. It took me a long time to gain the correct spatial awareness for this task. Perhaps Ruth will keep my first effort to show future volunteers ‘how not to do it’! (Assistant Archivist’s note: if it’s any consolation Sandi, I struggle to cut card with a scalpel!).

Having created my first proper folder I then had to make a housing for a cardboard/metal clipboard which proved to be an even bigger challenge for my tired neurons. That said, I had an extremely enjoyable day working in the 5th floor studio which has got a brilliant view across the Meadows to the Pentland Hills. Everyone was very welcoming and I hope Ruth will have me back in a fortnight’s time.”
Sandi taking the measure of an archival box 
LHSA has several new volunteers starting in the next month and we hope they all enjoy their first day as much as Sandi. If you’re interested in volunteering with us and learning valuable archival and conservation skills, please fill in one of our volunteer forms, available at the foot of our Services and Access web page.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Medical masterpieces?

Today Laura and Ruth have been identifying items in the LHSA collection for potential future display in Edinburgh University’s ‘Masterpieces’ exhibition series.

The current programme for the Main Library’s Exhibition Room includes three exhibitions held over a number of years that showcase iconic items in the University Collections. The first exhibition, ‘Masterpieces I’, ran from December 2009 to March 2010, in which LHSA’s 1736 Charter for the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh was displayed. The next exhibition is planned for March 2012, and the shortlist of items going on display will be decided next week. Large exhibitions like ‘Masterpieces II’ need a lot of preparation prior to installation, and object selection is the first stage of a long process.

Contenders to go on display include letters by Florence Nightingale, first editions of texts on midwifery and the Leith Roll of Honour for the First World War. Material from LHSA’s HIV/AIDS collections have been granted automatic entry into the exhibition because of their recent addition to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register!

Looking at the Leith Roll of Honour for possible inclusion in the 'Masterpieces II' exhibition for 2012

For more information about the Infirmary’s Royal Charter, please see our website.

‘Singing the Reformation’ is the current display in the Main Library Exhibition Room (30 George Square), entrance is free. Further information is available at

Friday, 30 September 2011

A visit to the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh Library

This week, Stephen visited the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE) Sibbald Library. Iain Milne, the Sibbald Librarian, gave a party of visitors a tour of the facilities. This was organised by Edinburgh Library and Information Services Agency (ELISA) Staff Development Group.

The RCPE was a society of medical practitioners who began meeting up to agree standards of good practice and thus improve the profession. The Library has been in existence since 1682, just one year after the RCPE’s formation, and was intended to provide a literature resource of the most current medical theory and practice.

The Library moved to its present location in Queen Street in the 19th century and continued to be a contemporary resource until the 1960s, when this status was gradually eroded by the free availability of medical journals from the United States. Since the late 20th century the Library has mainly been used as a historical resource. It is housed in an A listed building of beautiful wooden panelling, balustrades and marble statues.

Alison Scott, Archivist, explained some of the work she has been doing. The Wellcome Trust have funded a project to catalogue the archive collection, which includes international correspondence and notes regarding the diagnosis of patients by the famous 18th-century physician, William Cullen. A University of Glasgow project is digitising the Cullen papers and it is planned that they will be available online next year. Alison worked at LHSA until earlier this year so the visit was a good opportunity to see where she has moved on to.

Visits to other libraries such as these are important as it means that LHSA staff have a better awareness of what other local resources on medical history are available, and can direct archive users to exactly the information they need. Many records in LHSA were produced by Fellows of the RCPE, therefore there is considerable crossover between the collections of the RCPE and LHSA.

To find out more about the RCPE Library please see

Friday, 23 September 2011

The Power of the Pence

 “The days are dark and fateful. As a nation we carry on under the devastating realities of a world at war…our Hospitals, more than ever as sanctuaries of healing and restoration, are prepared to render the uttermost service to the maimed and injured, thus saving lives and bringing immediate relief to stricken humanity…Meanwhile, the call comes to all within the Infirmary’s region and sphere of service to help to sustain this great work on the home-front in keeping with the courageous spirit of the times”.

You may have guessed that Russell Paton’s Communications Team didn’t ask him to condense his message into 140 characters or less. Thankfully the Organising Secretary of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh wasn’t tasked with communicating to the Twitter generation but with writing a foreword for ‘Our Record of Service’, a souvenir brochure published by the Hospital in 1941 which we have accessioned into the Archive this week. 

Front Cover

At that time “the largest voluntary hospital in the Empire”, it published this booklet to celebrate its efforts on the home front during WW2 and to encourage readers to contribute to its funding. At a time before the introduction of the National Health Service, all of the pennies raised counted. 

Appeal for donations
Priced at 6 pence “or whatever more you can afford”, it contains messages from the Lord Provost, the Board of Managers, nursing and medical staff about the importance of the Hospital within Edinburgh and Scotland. The articles describe the work of the League of Subscribers, the numbers of patients treated annually and where they came from. Alongside these are beautiful illustrations, including a cartoon by the notable artist Tom Curr. There are poems and even a look at what the future maternity services of 1991 might look like. If you’d like to view the booklet, or any other parts of our collections, please contact us.

Friday, 16 September 2011

LHSA says au revoir to one of our long-standing volunteers

This week Mariko Wanatabe leaves her volunteer position with LHSA after working with us for a day a week since March 2010. In that time Mariko has been trained by Ruth, the Paper Conservator, in basic cleaning, repair, pressing and re-housing techniques and has worked on a wide range of LHSA collections under Ruth’s supervision.

Mariko has helped check and house new accessions, and provide long-term storage for some of the objects. She has surface cleaned, repaired and re-housed architectural plans, and humidified and pressed loose sheet hospital staff records, which have then gone on to be catalogued.

Mariko repairing an architectural plan
Mariko’s volunteer work has provided her with some excellent experience for her future career in conservation and has also helped support one of our core services – ensuring that the collection remains in good condition and is accessible for future research.

Mariko leaves us to take up a place at West Dean College to train to be a book conservator – we wish her all the best and hope to see her again when she is next in Edinburgh!

We’re also delighted to announce that the ‘Unsung Heroes’ exhibition in the CRC’s display wall has been extended until 28 October 2011. New artworks by Edinburgh College of Art staff and students are exhibited alongside the items from LHSA’s collections that inspired them. The exhibition is free, and open 9-5pm Monday to Friday in the Centre for Research Collections (Edinburgh University Main Library, 30 George Square, EH8 9LJ).

Friday, 9 September 2011

Dental Hospital Photographs

We have recently completed the cataloguing and re-housing of a folder of photographs from the Edinburgh Dental Hospital and School (our ref: LHB25). These mainly date from the 1950s and feature a variety of views of, what were then, brand new facilities in Chambers Street. Each photograph has been described and given a reference number in a catalogue. The photographs feature dental treatment rooms, lecture theatres, the waiting room and a great variety of medical equipment. 

The Dentist's Chair
The images present efficient, clinical workspaces and a distinctive feature is the use of frosted glass screens to enable as much natural light through as possible, whilst retaining privacy for the dentist and patient. A Dental Hospital and School was established in 1878 in Brown Street, now Chambers Street, by the Edinburgh Dental Dispensary in co-operation with the Scottish Dental Education Committee, and apart from a move to Lauriston Place from 1889-1894, remained on this street until its closure in 1994. To conserve the photographs, each one has been placed in a protective polyester-based Melinex© sleeve within an acid free archival box, with the reference number attached to each sleeve. In this way the photographs can easily be accessed and identified when an enquirer requests an image on a particular subject.

Frosted glass screens provide privacy for patients

Friday, 2 September 2011

Engaging with our archive peers & the wider community: looking backwards, moving forwards

This week has seen the Archives and Records Association annual conference taking place in Edinburgh. The theme is ‘advocating for archives and records’, a highly relevant topic in this time of cutbacks. LHSA staff have all attended at least one day of the conference and found the presentations to be stimulating and thought-provoking. It was great to see how archives across the world are engaging with their users, arguably advocating the importance of their records through both traditional means and new social media, creating a community of users who in turn value and advocate for the archives. One of the key messages from a duo of French archivists was that in this age of information overload, an archivist’s skills of finding the right thing at the right moment are more relevant than ever. 

Nurses in the Florence Nightingale Nurses' Home, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh
Tomorrow, Laura will be presenting a talk to a group of nurses celebrating the 55th anniversary of the day they started their training at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh on the 3rd of September 1956. Her talk will cover a brief introduction to the Archive, followed by a look at the history of nursing in the hospital. It will feature an excerpt from a silent film called ‘The Ever Open Door’, made in 1938 to raise funds for the hospital in the days before the advent of the NHS. You can see the film in full by visiting our website: The Ever Open Door

Friday, 26 August 2011

Old archives and new artworks

Our year-long ‘Unsung Heroes’ project is coming to a close with a new exhibition in Edinburgh University Main Library. This showcases historic badges from LHSA’s collections, and artworks from Edinburgh College of Art (eca) students and staff that have been inspired by them, before permanent display in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

The 'Unsung Heroes' exhibition
The exhibition is in the reception of the Centre for Research Collections, on the sixth floor of the Library ( 30 George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9LJ). Entrance is free, and the exhibition will run until 24 September 2011. It’s a great opportunity to see some of our collections and some beautiful pieces of enamel work by talented artists. You’ll also get the chance to look at a selection of their sketchbooks and preliminary pieces to see how the design process evolves.

New artwork and several of our badges on the top shelf and a sketchbook below
The project has also had an oral history element – retired and current Royal Infirmary nurses have been interviewed and their stories have helped the creation of new pieces by our eca partners. The testimonies will come to us once the project is finished. For those of you with smartphones, extracts are available via QR tags in the exhibition.

‘Unsung Heroes’ has been a fascinating project to be involved with. For more information please see the project page on our website (Unsung Heroes project page). It has brought the Archive to a new audience and the collections have been used in exciting new ways as a result.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Charting our cataloguing progress

One of our hardworking volunteers, Louise, has recently completed cataloguing the Papers of Amelia Nyasa Laws (our ref: GD18). Dr Laws had a widely travelled and varied life and career. Born in 1886 in Nyasaland (now Malawi), she was educated in Edinburgh and Rome. She worked as a masseuse in a French field hospital in the First World War then later worked in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. She graduated from the University of Edinburgh with an MB ChB in 1930. She did further training in Physiotherapy in Brussels, Orthopaedics in Hanover and specialised in Osteopathy in London. She practiced as an Osteopath in London until her retirement in 1959 and after this she lived in Edinburgh where she still continued to receive patients until the age of 90. She died in 1978. The collection comprises of Amelia’s case notes, lecture notes, glass plate negatives, anatomical charts, objects, books and personal effects. The completion of the cataloguing of these documents means that all of Dr Laws’ papers are now more accessible for future generations to learn about her story.

Part of chart showing sections of the iris (GD18/10/9)
Dr Laws took a keen interest in iridology (often examining the eyes of her patients).  Above is part of a coloured chart showing sections of the iris and its relationship to parts of the human body (part of GD18/10/9), which was published by Kr├╝ger and Co. in 1924. Included in the collection are Dr Laws’ handwritten notes regarding this chart dating from 1924-1929.

Friday, 12 August 2011

User services update

Up to the end of July this year we’ve had 80 readers who between them have made nearly 200 visits and consulted 951 items! Our readers have come from all over the UK and Ireland, from mainland Europe and further afield from the USA, Australia and Canada. A wide range of topics have been researched: students from Edinburgh College of Art have used Archive material to inspire their artwork to be displayed in the forthcoming Unsung Heroes exhibition (see blog of 13th May), records of the Edinburgh Royal Maternity Hospital have been used as part of a birth weight study to examine the effects of birth weight, amongst other things, on cognitive ability in old age. We’ve also had retired nurses looking at their nurse training records from the 1940s and 1950s; it’s often a shock for them to see the comments made by the matron, or a photo of their younger selves! LHSA shares reading room facilities at the Centre for Research Collections, Edinburgh University Library which offers a bright, modern area in which to consult records and is free to use.

An item recently consulted in the reading room (from the Royal Edinburgh Hospital Physician Superintendents' collection)

We’ve also received 356 remote enquiries, usually by email or through our website, from all corners of the globe. There are requests for images of our material to be used in publications, guidance on records retention schedules for NHS staff, advice on conservation and a whole host of academic and local history queries. These have come from a wide range of sources including the NHS, the media, other archive services, students and academics. Many enquiries are from family historians looking for information on an ancestor’s stay in hospital, or as an employee of a hospital. No two enquiries are the same and they provide an opportunity for staff to learn more about the material held in the Archive and to develop research techniques.

To make an appointment to view LHSA records, please email us at or call on tel: 0131 650 3392

Friday, 5 August 2011

x-rays: tackling long-term preservation

The orthopaedic case notes from the Princess Margaret Rose Hospital (ref: LHB30 CC/131) originally contained many x-ray photographs of patients’ limbs as their treatment progressed. The case notes date from 1932-1958, a period when x-rays were produced on unstable acetyl acetate, which slowly deteriorates over time giving off a characteristic vinegar smell. This reaction can be stalled but not halted therefore a digitisation project was carried out during 2004-2005 to make electronic copies of all of the x-rays. The digital images were stored on DVDs, however, they also deteriorate over time and run the risk of becoming unreadable if they get scratched.

A back-up procedure for LHSA’s digital images has been introduced to secure preservation over the longer term. Digital images at preservation standard (TIFF) are extremely large (sometimes over 4 gigabytes on each x-ray DVD) so they cannot be saved onto an ordinary PC, therefore a stand-alone hard drive is used to store LHSA’s larger digital files.

This week each of the x-ray DVDs has been copied to this hard drive to provide a back-up copy of the x-rays for the Archive, a process that takes about 15 minutes per DVD. Since the degraded x-rays could also damage the rest of the Archive collection and they are now copied, the originals will be disposed of in accordance with secure waste procedures to meet confidentiality legislation.

Stephen transferring x-ray images to the external hard drive

Friday, 29 July 2011

Flying high with the ARMS pilot

Last year, we joined a group to trial run the Archives and Records Management Framework (ARMS) – a self-evaluation scheme to assess archive services. ARMS is still in development and is led by the Scottish Council on Archives (SCA). For more information about the process, please see

In June we filled in the paperwork for our contribution to the ARMS pilot, providing information on how we make sure that the collections are preserved and listing evidence to support our self-evaluation.

Yesterday the validation team visited us to look at the documentation for our self-evaluation and assess it. The team was made up of representatives from SCA, the National Records of Scotland, and Glasgow City Archives. In the four hours the team was with us, we discussed LHSA’s accession policy, storage conditions and planning in the event of a disaster. The team also had a tour of one of our stores and the exhibition room. At the end of the visit we talked about ARMS itself and how it might be improved after the pilot phase is finished.

In general the validation team agreed with our own assessment of the quality of LHSA’s services to preserve the collections. They seemed impressed by the work already undertaken and by the direction planned for the future.

But our work with the ARMS pilot is not quite over yet! We'll receive a report of the validation team's findings soon, and be invited to a meeting for all the archives involved in the pilot to discuss further development of ARMS.

Friday, 22 July 2011

New accession: NY v TB

Last month we received a call from the Royal Victoria Hospital asking us to collect some historical items found within their offices, including this book prepared for the fifth International Congress on Tuberculosis (TB), held in Washington D.C. from 21st September to 12th October 1908.

Front cover
 Part report and part scrap book, it sets out the measures taken to tackle TB by the Department of Health in New York, a city of over four million people by 1907. It contains a range of sample information notices, dispensary cards and forms to be completed by medical practitioners. The educational resources reflect the twin aims of firstly, trying to prevent the spread of the disease, (chiefly rallying against the “filthy habit of spitting”, and secondly containing and treating those who found themselves with the disease. It reflects the challenges of trying to communicate this message to a diverse population: all of the notices and forms are in several languages including German, Italian, Russian, Greek and Polish.

"No Spitting" leaflet in Italian
The chart below bears strong similarities to the famous Edinburgh Scheme devised by Sir Robert Philip of the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) some years earlier. Dr Philip had set up the first TB dispensary in the world and helped to found the RVH in 1894. It is likely that he or another doctor from the RVH attended the Congress and brought this item back to the hospital, where it remained for over 100 years before being transferred to LHSA.

NY's Scheme against TB

Sir Robert Philip's "Edinburgh Scheme"
For more information on the RVH, please see our catalogue: RVH catalogue.
For more information on the history of TB treatment, please visit our Tales from the Archive pages: Tales from the Archive: treatments for TB.

Friday, 15 July 2011

From conservation to cataloguing, and back again

This week Ruth, our Paper Conservator, carried out preliminary treatment of an accession that came to LHSA last year – some minutes of meetings held at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital (REH) in the 1950s. They had accidently got wet before they were accessioned by us, and were in pretty poor condition. There was lots of damage caused by mould and the papers had stuck together in a solid block!

The box of damaged papers

This meant that the minutes couldn’t be catalogued until they had been separated and cleaned. It took a long time as rusty metal paperclips had to be removed and each sheet separated from the one next to it by sliding a very thin spatula between them and then prising the top sheet free. This had to be done very carefully to make sure that Ruth didn’t cause any more damage to these already fragile papers.

While Ruth was separating the papers she found an excellent illustration of why pink tying tape shouldn’t be used in archives! The water had made the dye run and there was a perfect impression of the tied bow on the paper beneath the pink tape.

The pink tape that had been tied round some of the papers
The effect of the pink dye

Ruth then cleaned the papers and re-housed them, and they will now be added to the catalogue of our extensive holdings that relate to the REH.

The papers after they had been separated, cleaned and re-housed
These papers need more conservation treatment to make them easily usable without risk of causing further deterioration, but this will be carried out once they have been catalogued.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Conserving, re-housing and cataloguing architectural plans

An important task completed recently was the conservation and re-housing of about 70 architectural plans. These had been rolled when they were taken into the Archive, and they were difficult to access and identify without damaging them.

Plans before treatment
The first job was to conserve the plans. Surface cleaning and tear repair were carried out by Ruth, the Paper Conservator, with help from specially trained volunteers. The plans were then pressed so that they could be stored flat in transparent sleeves made of inert plastic (Melinex®).

Stephen, the Archive Assistant, made sleeves for each plan by welding two rectangular sheets of Melinex® on three sides. For plans below a certain size pre-cut sheets were used, but for the larger ones the Melinex® was measured and cut to size from a roll using a scalpel. Ruth then carefully slid each plan into its sleeve and attached an identifying label to the bottom right corner.

The re-housed plans were then carried in bundles of about 15 in a plan carrying folder to their new permanent home: a plan chest in a climate controlled store room. Laura, the Assistant Archivist allocated empty drawers for the plans to go in and recorded all the changes of location into the Locations Database, before identifying suitable plans for small cataloguing projects.
Newly conserved plans in the plan chest
Our most recent one-day volunteer, Lynne who featured in last week’s blog, began to catalogue these plans so that our readers can easily identify and select the ones they want to view. We will continue to catalogue the conserved and re-housed plans to ensure that they are accessible for research use.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Spreading the word

This week we’ve been busy promoting the Archive to family historians and trainee archivists alike.

On Saturday we had a stall at the Scottish Association of Family History Societies conference and fair. This was a chance for us to speak to family history researchers about the wealth of information that can be found within our collections. The fair attracted a big crowd; we came away lighter on the pencils and postcards front (which were a big hit) but picked up lots of new enquiries!

Stephen and Laura at the SAFHS Fair
On Friday we were joined by Lynne MacMurchie for a one day volunteer placement. Following on from the success of trials earlier this year, we were able to offer Lynne the chance to spend a day in the Archive and provide a taster of what it’s like to work here.

After a tour of the Archive with an introduction to the reading room and stores, Lynne helped out by conducting some family history enquiry research on Bangour Village and Rosslynlee Hospital records. She was then given training on how to handle and catalogue Royal Edinburgh Hospital (REH) architectural plans: in the run up to the REH bicentenary in 2013, it’s all hands on deck to get the remaining plans catalogued so thanks to Lynne for her help!

Lynne cataloguing REH plans