Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh

The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
Logo RCSEd-01.JPG
FounderKing James IV
Coordinates55°56′49″N 3°11′01″W / 55°56′49″N 3°11′01″W / 55.946813; -3.183488

The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd) is a professional organisation of surgeons located in Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, within the William Henry Playfair designed Surgeons' Hall and adjoining buildings.

It is one of the oldest surgical corporations in the world[1] and traces its origins to 1505 when the Barber Surgeons of Edinburgh were formally incorporated as a craft guild of Edinburgh. The Barber-Surgeons of Dublin was the first medical corporation in Ireland or Britain, having been incorporated in 1446 (by Royal Decree of Henry VI).

It represents members and fellows across the UK and the world. The majority of its UK members are based in England with others across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.


The 16th century

In 1505, the Barber Surgeons of Edinburgh were formally incorporated as a Craft Guild of the city and this recognition is embodied in the Seal of Cause (or Charter of Privileges) which was granted to the Barber Surgeons by the Town Council of Edinburgh on 1 July 1505.

The Seal of Cause conferred various privileges and imposed certain crucially important duties, the most important of these that all apprentices should be literate, that every master should have full knowledge of anatomy and surgical procedures and that this knowledge should be tested at the end of apprenticeship, all clauses still relevant to surgical practice and the College today.[2]

The 17th century: the first permanent meeting place

Old Surgeons' Hall

In 1647 the Incorporation acquired a permanent meeting place for the first time in rented rooms of a tenement in Dickson's Close. At the end of the century however, work on what is now known as 'Old Surgeons' Hall', in High School Yards, was started and by 1697 was completed and occupied.

The 18th century: the growth of scientific medicine in Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh Medical School (established in 1726) and The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh were responsible for the rapid development in Edinburgh of systematic medical teaching on a sound scientific basis. Surgery however was perceived by many as still being a manual craft rather than an intellectual discipline, so members of the Incorporation of Surgeons undertook the task of education and did much to establish Edinburgh's reputation as a centre of surgical teaching. In 1778, King George III granted a new charter giving the surgeons' corporation the title "The Royal College of Surgeons of the City of Edinburgh".

The 19th century: a new meeting place, the Playfair Building

Surgeons' Hall by Playfair

By the beginning of the 19th century, the Old Surgeons' Hall had become inadequate for the College and there was an urgent need to provide suitable accommodation for the large collection of anatomical and surgical specimens which had been presented to the College by Dr John Barclay. A site for this was acquired by the purchase of a Riding School in Nicolson Street. William Henry Playfair, 1790–1857, the foremost Scottish architect of that era, was commissioned to design a building containing a meeting hall, Museum, Lecture Room and Library as its principal apartments. Surgeons' Hall was completed in May 1832 and formally opened two months later.

The 20th century: a period of expansion

In July 1905, the College celebrated the fourth centenary of its Incorporation and as part of the celebrations conferred Honorary Fellowship upon 36 of the world's most distinguished surgeons. These included Lord Lister, the acknowledged 'Father of Modern Surgery' who had become a Fellow in 1855. In 1955, on the 450th Anniversary of the foundation of the College, the Honorary Fellowship was conferred upon His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, who had consented to become Patron of the College earlier in that year. A derelict tenement on Hill Place was made available to the college by Edinburgh District Council and this was topped out in May 1981.[3]

The 21st century: the College today

The College celebrated its Quincentenary in 2005 with the opening of a new skills laboratory and conference venue, and of its Ten Hill Place Hotel. Today the College continues to serve its original role, to continue education, assessment and the advancement of surgeons and surgery. In April 2014 the college opened a regional centre in Birmingham to cater for the 80% of its UK membership based in England and Wales.[4]