Surgeons' Square

An almost forgotten square now located within a campus of the University of Edinburgh between Drummond Street and Infirmary Street in the Old Town of Edinburgh, Surgeons' Square was once the centre of medical science and education in the city, following the opening of Old Surgeons' Hall here in 1697. Lying just within the Flodden Wall, it had previously been part of the Blackfriars Monastery and then the Old High School of Edinburgh was built on the western part of the site.

Several surgeons either lived around the square, or had consulting rooms here, while also working in William Adam's Royal Infirmary, which opened in 1741 and was demolished c.1884. These surgeons included the infamous Dr. Robert Knox (1791 - 1862), who received his bodies from Burke and Hare. Here too, between 1776 and 1852, was the meeting hall of the Royal Medical Society. By 1853 the New Surgical Hospital was complete occupying the southwest side of the square, and a new operating theatre had been built behind the Old High School, which had re-opened in 1832 as a Surgical Hospital.

The 18th century houses around the square were replaced by other specialist extensions to the infirmary; a Fever Hospital and a Lock Hospital, for the treatment of syphilis. Chisholm House, built in 1764, became a Burn Hospital and is the only one of the houses which remains today. On the northeast side of the Surgeons' Square was Williams' Secular School, which became a lecture hall by the 1870s.

With the move of the Royal Infirmary to Lauriston Place, the Old Infirmary was demolished and the buildings around Surgeons' Square were bought by the Town Council to establish the City Hospital for Infectious Diseases. By 1903 this hospital had moved to the edge of the city, and the buildings here were put to other uses by the University of Edinburgh, principally providing a home for Science and Engineering subjects. The Department of Geography later occupied the Old High School and Chisholm House, but by the mid-1980s had moved to the New Surgical Hospital. Although Geography remained, by the early 1990s many of the other buildings had become part of the University's Dental School, which was later displaced by Social Sciences and Archaeology, and subsequently the School of GeoSciences.

Edinburgh University Settlement, a voluntary social improvement organisation, once occupied a building on the north side of the square, funded by a legacy from Sophia Jex Blake (1840 - 1912). This building was later home to the High School Yards Nursery School which closed in 2013 and was redeveloped by the University as the High School Yards Teaching Centre in 2017.

The Square was rejuvenated as part of the development of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation in 2013, with new landscaping and planting.

Use the tabs on the right of this page to see other parts of this entry arrow

If you have found this information useful please consider making
a donation to help maintain and improve this resource. More info...

By using our site you agree to accept cookies, which help us serve you better