Surgeon’s Hall revamp thanks to £2.7m lottery fund

One of the statues in the Royal College of Surgeon's museum. Picture: David Moir
One of the statues in the Royal College of Surgeon's museum. Picture: David Moir
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FASCINATING artefacts from Scotland’s medical past are to go on display at a newly revamped museum thanks to a £2.7 million grant.

The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd) today announced that it had been awarded the grant from the Heritage Fund to redevelop its Surgeons’ Hall Museum.

Originally developed as a teaching museum for students of medicine, it has been open to the general public since 1832, making it Scotland’s ­oldest medical museum.

The exhibit charts the transition of medicine from perceived “witchcraft” through to recognised science, and includes in its archive a letter from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle crediting Royal College of ­Surgeons of Edinburgh Fellow, Dr Joseph Bell, as the main inspiration for the character of Sherlock Holmes.

The Lister project – named after another notable Fellow of the College, Joseph Lister, who radically improved the safety of surgery by promoting the use of antiseptic technique – will transform Surgeons’ Hall Museum into a modern, public space using its internationally important collections amassed since the 15th century, to tell the history of medicine.

It will be the first time that the building has been radically altered since 1908 and the funding will allow redevelopment work to create new displays and galleries, doubling the number of items which can be put on display and showcasing innovative audiovisual and interactive elements.

President of the RCSEd, Ian Ritchie, said: “The promotion of patient safety and care has been at the heart of our college and its activities for over 500 years, inspiring advances in our profession and across healthcare.”

The Playfair-designed building will also be conserved and transformed with contemporary additions such as a new glass atrium, providing the public with easier access.

The enhanced museum will also boast a 17th century dissecting theatre while a new, dedicated education suite will increase opportunities for learning for schools, families and special interest groups.

The project will be led by the college’s director of heritage Chris Henry, who said: “The museum collections are unique in their content. The challenge of the Lister Project has been to produce a plan which will enhance the public space within the museum and ensure accessibility across all areas.”

The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh was founded in 1505, with the museum collections growing from 1699 after “natural and artificial curiosities” were publically sought.

Colin McLean, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “Scotland’s pioneering history of surgery will soon be a source of education and inspiration for visitors from home and abroad.”