Workmen find Georgian artefacts at old hospital

Archaeologist Jake Streatfeild-James with a Georgian sixpence found at the Infirmary Street site
Archaeologist Jake Streatfeild-James with a Georgian sixpence found at the Infirmary Street site
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ARCHAEOLOGISTS have uncovered a slice of Georgian history on the former site of the Royal Infirmary hospital.

Pottery, bits of bottle, coins and buttons from the 18th century were found by workers at what is now Edinburgh University’s High School Yards.

A dig took place after contractors drafted in to lay utilities uncovered a series of outer walls from the old royal’s Surgical Hospital, which was built on the site in 1738. Among the highlights was a sixpenny piece dating from 1816 and the reign of George IV.

A new carbon innovation research centre will be built once the city council’s archaeology department has fully investigated the grounds.

John Lawson, curator of archaeology at the Museum of Edinburgh, has visited the site and said he believed more treasures would be uncovered.

He said: “There’s a whole host of remnants on this site dating back as far as medieval times.

“You can already see 17th and 18th century remains from the short trenches that have been dug. There is also some backfill that looks even earlier than that. I’m sure some more stuff will be uncovered as the dig progresses.”

High School Yards was once the site of Blackfriars Monastery, which was founded in 1230 by King Alexander II.

The monastery and church were destroyed in 1558 by a mob, who were followers of John Knox’s reformation. Stone from the ruined buildings was quickly reused for other buildings.

Laboratory apparatus and brightly coloured chemicals from the 18th century were found on a nearby plot in 2011, and were later proved to have belonged to well-known university scientist Professor Joseph Black, who discovered carbon dioxide.

City council chiefs said it was important the area was fully investigated before works continued on the site.

Councillor Richard Lewis, culture convener, said: “We must do all we can to preserve Edinburgh’s rich and quite unique cultural heritage.

“The council’s archaeologist therefore plays a key role in ensuring that sites of historical interest are properly excavated and recorded.”

The main part of the old Royal Infirmary was in Infirmary Street, with the Surgical Hospital built in High School Yards.

A new hospital designed by David Bryce was built in Lauriston Place in 1879, with most of its functions transferred to the new site.

Although the old buildings were used for some years as the City 
Hospital for Infectious Diseases, they were eventually demolished around 1884.

Architects working on the new 
£10 million Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation said last year that it would become the world’s most sustainable listed building.

Malcolm Fraser intends to transform the site into a marvel of sustainable design.

An Edinburgh University spokesman said: “The university is very pleased at this latest find, which follows the important discoveries made within Old College in 2011 when artefacts believed to have belonged to the distinguished 18th century chemist, Joseph Black, were uncovered.

“This discovery should help us build a better understanding of the rich history of Old School Yards and the people who lived in the area.”