Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh

Surgeons Hall, Nicholson Street
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Surgeons Hall, Nicholson Street

The Royal College of Surgeons is an imposing building located on Edinburgh's Nicholson Street, approximately a half-mile (1 km) south of Princes Street. Designed by William Henry Playfair (1790 - 1857) the foremost Scottish architect of the time, the College was opened in 1832. The College houses a library and three museums; the Anatomy Museum in the grand Playfair Hall, a Dental Museum and the Sir Jules Thorn Exhibition of the History of Surgery. The anatomy museum is said to be the finest of its kind in the UK, and includes items belonging to famous surgeons such as the infamous anatomist Robert Knox (1791 - 1862) and obstetrics pioneer James Simpson (1811-70).

The College is the oldest medical society in the English-speaking world. It was founded in 1505 and gained its Royal Charter the following year from King James IV. The Nicholson Street site, which was originally a Riding School, was purchased because Old Surgeons' Hall, located in High School Yards, had become too small to meet the needs of the College.

The College once had associated laboratories and it was in one these that an unfortunate incident took place in 1902. A chemistry lecturer, William Ivison Macadam, was working in one of these laboratories when a deranged employee of the College shot him dead, together with one of his students. An adjacent building which once housed the Scottish Oceanographical Laboratory, founded in 1907 by Antarctic explorer William Speirs Bruce (1867 - 1921), was demolished by the College in 2006 to make space for their Quincentenary Hall.

Perhaps the most famous Fellow of the College was Lord Lister, the Father of Modern Surgery, elected in 1855. He is the only individual to be awarded its Honorary Fellowship and is remembered in the Lister Room.

The Royal Bank of Scotland issued a banknote to commemorate the College's 500th Anniversary in 2005

Today the College is one of three professional, training and examining bodies for surgeons in Britain, with 14,000 members and fellows world-wide.

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