The Astley Ainslie Hospital occupies ground at the heart of south Edinburgh, Scotland. The land is an open, sunny slope, looking out to the hills. It has a historic relationship with health. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it was part of the common land of the city. During virulent attacks of the plague, the sick were brought out here to the chapel of St Roque, the patron saint of plague victims. The dead were buried around the chapel, now an archaeological site. The Chapel was demolished in the late 18th century, and the land became rich and productive, successfully feeding Edinburgh. By the mid century, villas and cottages were built with large gardens. The people living here included the surgeon, Professor James Syme, who had a garden filled with exotic plants, with pineapples, figs, grapes, oranges and bananas. The owners planted trees from around the world alongside native species. An official count (City of Edinburgh Tree Preservation Order, No. 3 2000) numbered nearly 2,000 trees.
In the later 19th century, David Ainslie, worked as an East Lothian farmer. He died in 1900, a wealthy man, with considerable shares in international railway stock. Fifteen years’ investment ensured an impressive sum to founding ‘Astley Ainslie Institution’ for convalescents. This was a memorial for his nephew, John Astley Ainslie ‘to whom he was deeply attached’. The First World War intervening, it was not until 21 years after David Ainslie’s death that his Truustees established his convalescent hospital with gardens and recreation grounds (David Ainslie’s testament, Scottish Record Office SCOO7000001-00).
By the end of the 1920s, the Astley Ainslie Hospital had built pavilions with verandahs so that the patients could remain in the open air in all states of the weather. The trustees built a block for research, radiotherapy installations, and gymnastics. They provided mobile patients with open-air shelters, with bowls, croquet and clock golf. The grounds were laid out by the Royal Botanic Gardens, with exotic seeds and plants, and a vegetable garden. N.B. The Infirmary patients, who came to the Institution to recover their health, were principally the workers and the poor. Post war, when the National Health Service took on the hospital and its functions, they were impressed by the AA endowment, and allocated a large portion to research into the convalescence and rehabilitation.
The hospital has taken a dynamic role in convalescence, serious injuries and disablement. After the war, they built the school and the Charles Bell pavilion for children. Older people were cared for with the Balfour Pavilion, and the Smart Centre, for mobility and rehabilitation technology, opened in 2007. The Astley Ainslie combines sophisticated knowledge of both physical and mental disablement, and its research has produced major improvements in the field – including ‘The Heart Manual’ on coronary disease.