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The Health of the City of Edinburgh: 1865, 2015 and 2165

Surgeons' Hall Museums

Wednesday, 21 October 2015 at 15:30 - Thursday, 22 October 2015 at 06:30 (BST)

The Health of the City of Edinburgh: 1865, 2015 and...

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The Centre of Population Health Science's Centenary of Public Health Lecture Series presents "The health of the city of Edinburgh: 1865, 2015, and 2165, a celebratory symposium marking the 150th anniversary of the report on the Sanitary Condition of the City of Edinburgh in 1865 by the first Medical Officer of Health, Sir Henry Littlejohn. 

How did the City of Edinburgh progress from its Auld Reekie (meaning dirty and smelly) status to being a beacon of medical sciences, with its citizens being amongst the healthiest in Scotland?  What are the lessons from this experience that we can to other cities and utilise to make Edinburgh an even healthier place?


This symposium is a celebration of public health that marks the 150th anniversary of the landmark first report of the first medical officer of health of Edinburgh – Sir Henry Littlejohn. The ‘Report on the Sanitary Condition of the City of Edinburgh’ was published in 1865, 33 years before the creation of The University of Edinburgh Chair of Public Health (1898).  Four years after that the Usher Institute of Public Health opened its doors (1902).


This symposium is part-sponsored by the Centenary of Public Health Fund, which was set up in 2002 as part of the Centenary celebrations of the Usher Institute of Public Health.  The name Usher Institute was out of use from 1988-2015 but The University of Edinburgh has resurrected it this year in the form of the Usher Institute of Population Health Sciences and Informatics.  This is an apt year to reflect on the past and future of public health.


The welcome will be given by the head of education, RCS, Thomas Elliott.

The Chair will be Raj Bhopal, John Usher Professor of Public Health at The University of Edinburgh.

The speakers are:

Richard Rodger and Paul Laxton who co-wrote ‘Insanitary City, Henry Littlejohn and the Condition of Edinburgh’ (Carnegie Publishing, Lancaster, 2013).  Richard is Professor of Economic and Social History in the University of Edinburgh, and Paul is Honorary Fellow.

Alison McCallum is Director of Public Health and in that role has a statutory duty to report on the health of Edinburgh.  She is in direct succession to Littlejohn.  She is honorary professor at the University of Edinburgh.

Vittal Katikireddi is a registrar in public health and reflects future leadership in public health.  He will speak on behalf of those training in public health on what the future might hold.


Lothian Health Services Archive will display materials in the Playfair Hall for those attending the symposium. LHSA has selected items that reflect the theme of the event, with a special focus on Littlejohn the man and his career. The display includes text and images relating to public health and records from Littlejohn’s professional medical life and the hospitals he worked in, as well as personal correspondence that gives an insight into his character and on his dagger collection! ( or contact 6503392.)


There will also be five posters relating to public health and the work of Henry Littlejohn. Copies of the book Insanitary City will be available for browsing and purchase.


Finally, there will be a small display on materials relating to that centenary fund including the screen print prepared by Dr Rosemary Gruer (original screenprints available for donors to the fund).




3.30 – 4:30 pm

Refreshments & exhibitions

4:30 pm – 4:40 pm

Welcome by Thomas Elliott

Chair’s introduction and welcome: Raj Bhopal

4:40 pm – 5:10 pm

Legacy of Sir Henry Littlejohn: from insanitary city to beacon of health?

Richard Rodger and Paul Laxton

5:10 pm – 5:40 pm

Report on the sanitary condition of the City of Edinburgh 2015.

Alison McCallum

5:40 pm – 5:55 pm

Public health hopes: what might Edinburgh be like in 150 years?  Will we capitalise on our legacy?

Vittal Katikireddi on behalf of those training in public health

5:55 pm – 6:15 pm


615 p.m.-6:30 pm

Questions, comments and discussion, and closing remarks.


Browsing of the exhibition and close of symposium


Do you have questions about The Health of the City of Edinburgh: 1865, 2015 and 2165? Contact Surgeons' Hall Museums

When & Where

Surgeons' Hall Museums
18 Nicolson Street
EH8 9DW Edinburgh
United Kingdom

Wednesday, 21 October 2015 at 15:30 - Thursday, 22 October 2015 at 06:30 (BST)

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Surgeons' Hall Museums

The award winning Museums are open to the public, 7 days a week, 10am to 5pm and are home to one of the largest and most historic pathology collections in the United Kingdom.

Surgeons’ Hall Museums reopened in 2015 after a major £4.4 million Heritage Lottery Funded redevelopment project. As one of the oldest Museums in Scotland, the collections grew from 1699 after 'natural and artificial curiosities' were publically sought,  with the Playfair Building opening in 1832 to house the Barclay and Bell collections. Whilst the Museums were initially established as a medical teaching resource, all are now welcome to visit. 

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