©Wellcome Library, London

Edinburgh Infirmary for the Sick Poor was founded in 1729 with an initial capacity for 35 patients. It was moved within 15 years to a 2-acre site in the city's southwestern quarter overlooking the Cowgate Valley. The new 150-bed hospital, designed by the Scottish architect, William Adam, was hailed by a contemporary historian as ‘undoubtedly the most noble of the institutions in Edinburgh reared by the hand of charity'. It had been funded by individual subscriptions and investments both within the city and throughout the country. In 1785, the infirmary was visited by the British hospital reformer, John Howard (c. 1726-1790), whose medical travels around Britain and the Continent had made him an experienced observer. He was oblivious to the appearance of hospitals but only interested in their construction as related to patient welfare. At Edinburgh, he found both the floors and the poor patients wanting in cleanliness, the latter because they were prohibited from using the baths which the hospital had reserved for paying patients.

Coloured lithograph, 19th century.