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The forgotten Edinburgh hospital that people walk past every day

You wouldn’t know to look at the area now, but sat in the Pleasance was once a pioneering hospital.

The brainchild of Reverend Professor AH Charteris, the Deaconess Hospital opened in 1898. The Reverend had proposed the idea the year prior, suggesting to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland regarding women’s work in the church.

According to a Church of Scotland pamphlet from the time, the Reverend was walking through the Pleasance with a friend when he spotted the house and said: “Tomorrow I hope to buy it, and on its site to erect the first of our buildings in which we shall carry out the training of church workers, not only in mission but also in nursing."

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He was known at the time for pushing the church to offer practical assistance to lowe classes, and was a relentless advocate for women in the religion.

He proposed a scheme where Deaconesses could be trained for missionary work in the country and overseas, and a site once found in Edinburgh’s centre. This became known as the St Ninian's Mission, with the Deaconess Hospital opening a few years later.

At the hospital, a year's nursing training was given to the Deaconesses and those who wanted to become fully trained could stay on for three years. Aside from training purposes, the hospital became a source of free medical care to one of the poorest districts in Edinburgh at the time.

The hope for the building was that it would become a ‘charitable and benevolent agency’ and would offer: “A temporary home for the sick and poor, and medical aid to those who would otherwise not have been able to afford it.”

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In 1912, the accommodation was increased to 42 beds and during the First World War emergency beds were brought in - bringing the total count to 68.

By the 1930s, renovations were needed and the hospital was reconstructed and expanded into the old police station and other neighbouring buildings. It was officially reopened in a public ceremony by the Duke and Duchess of York in December 1936.

By 1948, when the NHS was formed, the hospital came under the control of the Southern Eastern Regional Hospital Board.

It wasn’t until 1990 that the hospital closed, though it remained under the NHS umbrella. It was renamed Deaconess House and became the headquarters of the NHS until their move to Waverley Gate in 2010.

As is the case with many buildings in the city, it wasn’t long before the structure was converted into student accommodation for the University of Edinburgh.

Despite its importance in the city, and particularly to those in the Pleasance area, the Deaconess Hospital is a lesser known establishment - with very little material around on it’s 96-year lifespan. Next time you’re walking through the area take a look at 142-144 Pleasance and you might spot the sign, which still reads Church of Scotland Deaconess Hospital despite the facility being long gone.


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