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New book examines architecture of Scotland's historic hospitals

14 December 2010

Historic Scotland has launched a new book which looks at the rich architectural heritage of Scotland’s hospitals and how it has evolved over the centuries.

Building up our Health: the architecture of Scotland’s historic hospitals shows how hospital architecture has adapted over the centuries in response to medical advances, changing philosophies and the necessities of the day.  The book closes with a look at their continued evolution to a sustainable future.

Scotland has a particularly rich medical heritage with a long and distinguished history of academic excellence.  Some claim that the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh is the oldest medical incorporation in the world dating back to 1505, while in the 18th century Scottish Universities established themselves as important centres for the study and practice of medicine.

Most people have heard of the most infamous pair associated with Edinburgh’s medical past, the body snatchers, Burke and Hare, who sold corpses for medical research.

Since the first ‘modern’ medical institutions appeared in the 18th century, there have been hospitals with as few as three beds to vast complexes housing many hundreds.  Apart from general hospitals, there were cottage hospitals, asylums for the mentally ill, poorhouses, (most of which cared for the sick as well as the poor), isolation hospitals for people suffering from infectious diseases and a raft of specialist hospitals which catered for different illnesses, groups within the community or parts of the body.  As a result they all had different architectural styles.

Fiona Hyslop, Minister for Culture and External Affairs said: “Hospitals and infirmaries are often prominent buildings within a community and beyond and have an important place in the public consciousness.  From the day we are born, we all have reasons to visit the many hospitals which distinguish our towns, cities and villages and contribute significantly to our national identity.”

Debbie Mays, Deputy Chief Inspector of Historic Scotland said:  “This book aims to give a taste of the rich architectural heritage of Scotland’s hospitals. Many hospitals with special architectural and historic importance now have full protection through listed building status and many have been given a new function in the community  which might otherwise have been demolished.”

Notes for editors

  • A limited number of free copies of the book are available from Valerie Lusk, contact number 0131 668 8762 or email her at

  • Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with safeguarding the nation’s historic environment. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament.

For further information

Jennifer Johnston Watt
Communications and Media Officer
Communications and Media
0131 668 8070 or 07827 956 866