Category Archives: History

Markers tour feedback

..the guided tour was not only an insight into the physical environment of The Royal Edinburgh Hospital but a much privileged access to the environment of a patient’s mind. The lady who took us around really took us back to moments she experienced whilst in that facility, sometimes humorous, often full of pathos but always insightful and honest authenticity. The result was a step into a world, god forbid, that you would never really want to visit as a patient, yet knowing full well that if you ever needed to, you would be in the best of all places at the Royal Edinburgh, cared for and understood and guided towards recovery and rehabilitation. People need to know more about mental illness and its treatments to help reduce persisting stigma and misunderstood ideas of what it is really like. The 200th anniversary events enable this to take place.

Voices from the past

Some very lovely feedback ………. today’s event was a perfect complement to Mark Dion’s exhibition, making the theme of mental illness all the more clear and bringing it to life with stories across time. It was as if we were sitting in or eavesdropping on conversations – and if as a visitor to the event today, you weren’t affected by those words then you aren’t really very human!

Pauline Goldsmith, the actress was excellent and Ruth Honeybone was very good too, but the credit must really go to Artlink



The performance


Listen in this Wednesday at 1.30pm for the third part of the series on BBC Radio Scotland. image

MARKERS TOUR – 25th January



Saturday 25th January
2pm to 3pm
Meet at 2pm Car park, MacKinnon House


An Alternative Tour of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital
A series of small wall paintings have started to appear around the hospital. ‘Calling Cards’ from past and present patients within the hospital.

Each painting has been placed in a space which is of personal significance to the person who painted the picture. It just so happens that each of the spaces also has had a number of different identities over the past 200 years. This walking tour will provide people with stories about each of the paintings, the personal significance of each space and stories of the corridors, wards and rooms of this Victorian Psychiatric institution. There is a guidebook written by Nicola White to accompany each tour.

To book call Artlink on: 0131 229 3555 OR BOOK HERE


Charles Doyle

Here are some Charles Doyle artworks.image




Arthur Conan Doyle & his father

A brilliant thought provoking talk. Owen and Ronnie gave the audience an interesting insight into the impact of having a parent with mental ill health and the repercussions.   Truly enlightening.


Grafitti from 1902

As part of our research we got to explore parts of the hospital which are closed to the public.  Underneath the main corridor in the dark basement of the hospital  scratched into the ceiling we found grafitti from 1902. There are several lists of names down there.  This one is a list of painters.  Perhaps you recognise their names?



Loneliness, boredom and isolation has always been a problem for patients in psychiatric hospitals. We came across many stories and accounts, perhaps best illustrated by the story of the Wasp in a Box from 1911. A patient had a pet wasp.  Apparently, it ‘wintered’ in the box and was fed  syrup and water.  The patient would carry the box in his pocket.


EXPERT INTERVIEW – Neville Sing, Psychiatric Nurse
‘This story of the patient with the pet wasp in a matchbox brought to mind the Birdman of Alcatraz or the prisoner in the film, The Green Mile, who kept a mouse in a box, another matchbox, I think. Two prisoners with precious pets, one mental patient, imprisoned in his illness, perhaps. I imagine his vulnerable self projected onto the wasp to be looked after and cared for. But being imprisoned in a box is not a natural state for the wasp. Unless, being fanciful, the wasp sought out this patient and readily resided in the box. And when the wasp died, did the patient keep it still?

The main feeling I have is of sadness, aloneness. I can imagine the patient having had a bad day on the ward, withdrawing to his bedroom to communicate with the wasp. Two lonely living beings. One of the great American psychiatrists, Harold Searles, who worked with people with schizophrenia, wrote a marvellous book in 1960 called ‘The Non-Human Environment’. Some people with mental illness can relate more intensely to an object or a living thing, prefer non-human contact, and often that isn’t recognised, how important it is.’


Patients took a great deal to do with the day to day running of the hospital, utilising the many skills and professions they came into the hospital with. For example, in 1875 Dr. Clouston delivered a lecture with the carefully considered title ‘On Mental Health’, it explored the concept that the term ‘health’ could be applied to the mind just as much as to the body. These drawings were completed by a patient and likely used by Skae and Clouston as lecture prompts.

Arthur Conan Doyle and his father


Talbot Rice Gallery, Tuesday 14th January 2014 at 6pm.

Join Professor Owen Dudley Edwards as he talks about Arthur Conan Doyle, exploring his relationship with his father, Charles Altamont Doyle, and its influence on his writing.

Charles Doyle, as well as being father to Arthur, was a gifted artist with a history of mental ill health, spending a good part of his life in mental institutions. Ironically, it was during his time in these institutions, that Charles created some of his best artwork. He created this work to prove his sanity, sending the drawings to his family as proof of his wrongful confinement. In spite of these efforts, he would remain in an asylum for the rest of his life. On the morning of October 10, 1893 Charles suffered from a severe epileptic fit that proved too powerful for his weakened heart. He was buried in a graveyard in Dumfries, Scotland.

How did this affect the creator of the world’s greatest detective?

Introduced by Professor Ronnie Jack, esteemed academic and long time friend and colleague of Owen Dudley Edwards.

Professor Owen Dudley Edwards is honorary fellow of the School of History, University of Edinburgh. He is the general editor of the Oxford Sherlock Holmes series, and is a recognised expert on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Professor RDS Jack is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and of the English Association. He holds a personal chair in Scottish and Medieval literature and is a member of the Royal Edinburgh Patients Council.


Markers is an alternative tour of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.

“As ways of caring for people change and parts of the hospital are replaced by new buildings, then look over to the painting of the care worker on the telegraph pole, or the landscape on the trunk of the tree and remember some of the people who spent time here.”

Maggie Keppie – Our Planets

Looking out of the window of the Link corridor, you can see Maggie’s work painted on a window ledge by a set of small steps. This was where Maggie, taking a break from duties at the Patients’ Council, would smoke and talk with her friend Allison. The work was made in remembrance of Allison, who died recently. The text around the flowers reads: ‘We met when our planets aligned, I hate that yours fell before mine.’   The corridor, linking Mackinnon House with the Jordanburn Clinic,  has been used as a gallery area for the past twenty years, after it was refurbished with a lottery grant. It was also the location of the Patients’ Council’s former office, where Maggie served as chairwomanimage

Joan Templeton – Kingfisher

Joan attends art sessions at the Glasshouses when she comes to visit her son in the hospital. She is interested in drawing nature, especially birds and flowers. This bright kingfisher on the greenhouse door was a detail taken from a larger design for a banner. The Glasshouses are currently used as the centre of Artlink’s activities at the Royal Edinburgh. They house a range of creative workshops in addition to gardening activities. They were built to house a previous Horticulture Project which involved many of the patients, but dwindled as Occupational Therapy moved to more modern job-related activities such as office work and trade skills.It is likely that there were greenhouses on this site before these ones, when the hospital was home to resident gardeners and their families, along with a pigman and another family who ran the chicken house. image

Anna Redpath – Hair Spectrum

This painting, spanning the doorway of the WRVS shop, is a vibrant composition by an artist fascinated by pattern and colour.  The woman’s hair takes on an imaginative life, radiating in circles, filled with a harlequin pattern of colour. Anna chose this spot for her work because she comes here every Wednesday to buy milk for the art group, and will enjoy seeing it, as will the many shop customers.

The shop is situated beside the original entrance to Mackinnon house, and the staircase beside it was once the main staircase of the hospital, though it seems too narrow for that purpose. But Mackinnon House, then known as West House, was built in back in 1840 to house poor patients, and so the decoration and proportions were deliberately modest and plain.image


Up until 1967 homosexuality was illegal. The REH offered ‘treatment’ to people who had unfortunately gone through the criminal justice system or had the threat of the criminal justice system hanging over them.   There was the constant fear of job loss, public humiliation and even prison. We came across an ‘aversion therapy chair’ from around 1955. Which was used as part of treatment. The person would sit on a small pad on a chair. They would be shown images (of semi nude men or women) and if they became aroused, then they would get a small shock from the pad. Needless to say most people using it, thought it useless. The law was changed in 1967. The chair is one of the exhibits in Mark Dions artwork 200 years/200 objects. image

Staff tour of Craighouse

Artlink organised a tour of Craighouse. It was so well attended we had to split the tour into two groups. The tour was led by Gordon Mcletchie. For those who don’t know, in the 1880s, Dr Thomas Clouston, Physician Superintendent of the Edinburgh Lunatic Asylum (later the Royal Edinburgh Hospital), oversaw the purchase of Craig House by the managers of the Asylum in 1878. The site was intended for paying patients, and development was funded through the sale of land at the existing Asylum in Morningside. Craighouse was sold to Napier University in the 1980’s.