A History of the Craigleith Hill District

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Page last updated: 17/04/2020

Home > Royal Victoria Hospital

Sir Robert William Philip

Edinburgh's Royal Victoria Hospital originally started with the renting of Craigleith House, Craigleith Road, Edinburgh in 1894,by Dr Robert William Philip who was a pioneer in the treatment of Tuberculosis.



The above photo is courtesy of Wellcome Collection

The Early Years

Dr Robert Philip set up the first tuberculosis clinic in the world in two small rooms in 13 Bank Street, Edinburgh on the 25th November 1887 named "The Victoria Dispensary for Consumption (TB) and Diseases of the Chest."


A blue plaque on a building at the top of the Mound opposite the Law Courts states:
"Near this place in 1887, Dr Robert Philip founded a tuberculosis dispensary, the first clinic in the world dedicated to fighting a disease of which he foretold Man's eventual mastery. That vision has brought hope to many lands".
Link to https://openplaques.org/plaques/1981

In four years, the two rooms were quite inadequate to meet the numbers of referred patients and in 1891 the dispensary moved to larger premises in Lauriston Place.
In 1911 the now Royal Victoria Dispensary moved to much larger premises in Spittal Street.

Dr Philip, after creating the first clinic, was to create a sanatorium to work in co-ordination with the dispensary. He stated that the sanatorium should not be isolated but be within the City for the convenience of patients and relatives and to show the community that fresh air treatment was possible in the heart of an urban area. To this end a few of his friends emerged as the Victoria Hospital Tuberculosis Trust and a suitable site was found in a charming Georgian mansion:


CRAIGLEITH HOUSE, a mile or so to the North of the town was opened as a sanatorium in 1894 and known as the Victoria Hospital for Consumption.

Dr Robert Philip - The Founder of The Royal Victoria Hospital

See other pages in this website - The Royal Victoria Hospital

1894 - Craigleith House,Craigleith Road, Edinburgh, a late Georgian Mansion/Villa, was leased to Sir Robert Philip and turned into the first Tuberculosis (TB) Sanatorium in Scotland containing 12 beds. It was inaugurated on the 22nd November 1894 by Lord Stormonth-Darling, in the presence of a large assemblance of ladies and gentlemen.

1899 - Craigleith House and its extensive grounds (60 acres) were bought for £1,000 per acre by Dr.Robert Philip. The grounds were essential in the treatment of Tuberculosis as the patients were required to get plenty of fresh air and the surrounding trees helped to "filter" the air! TB was prevalent in the early 1900s and treatment was exposure to sunlight.

1904 - In many early maps/plans,it was known just as Craigleith, then Victoria Hospital for Consumption until Royal Patronage was given by King Edward VII in 1904 and the hospital became "The Royal Victoria Hospital for Consumption".


A Revolutionary Treatment of Tuberculosis

Treatment of TB, in its early stages, in the early days was directed by Dr Robert Philip and consisted of increasing the patient's immunological system by initially increasing their contact with fresh air, sunlight and mild exercise.
At the same time it was necessary to stop the spread of the disease, as well as finding other methods of defeating the disease by surgical procedures, medication, immunisation and improving the living conditions - particularly in regard to cleanliness and the method for disposing of contaminated body fluids.

His treatment methods, before the discovery of medication for the disease in its early stages, was revolutionary in that he would isolate the patient from family and friends, place them into an environment with plenty of sun and fresh air and with a certain amount of exercise.This was known as the Edinburgh Scheme.

He also ensured that a follow up of the patient's contacts was necessary as Tuberculosis was a very contagious disease and there was also the requirement to educate patient and family on disposal of body fluids which would be heavily contaminated with the tuberculosis bacilli, which was discovered as the causative organism by Robert Koch in Germany in 1882 - the year Dr Robert Philip graduated MD at Edinburgh University.


The above photomicrograph (photograph taken with a light microscope x1000) shows red Tubercle Bacillus in a sputum sample. Stain used was a Ziehl Neelson.



Death of Sir Robert William Philip 1857-1939

The following death notice was taken from the Scotsman's archives dated 26th January 1939

The death occurred, at his residence, 9 Palmerston Road, Edinburgh, yesterday, (January 25th 1939) of Sir Robert William Phillip, M.D., LL.D., M.A., F.R.C.P. (Edinburgh and London), who had a world wide reputation as an authority upon tuberculosis. Sir Robert was one of the chief pioneers in the attempt to exterminate the disease - an attempt which has met with a great measure of success.


Obituary of Sir Robert William Philip 1857-1939

The Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, published in the September 2018 edition, an historical obituary by Dr Derek Doyle of Sir Robert William Philip (1857-1939), along with his portrait and I am grateful to Dr Derek Doyle and the Royal College of Physicians for permission to publish it in full.

Link to RCPE article about Sir Robert William Philip


A commemorative Plaque was erected on 17th March 1995 to honour the memory of Sir Robert Philip,1857-1939, WORLD PIONEER OF TUBERCULOSIS CONTROL AND FOUNDER OF THIS HOSPITAL.