The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies Bicentenary


The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is one of the oldest veterinary schools in the world. Founded by William Dick in 1823, the School celebrates its bicentenary in 2023 - marking 200 years of veterinary teaching.

Professor William Dick

An image of the School's founder, William Dick
Portrait of Professor William Dick from postcard. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

William Dick (1793 - 1866) was the son of a farrier and as a young man had a fascination with anatomy and medicine. He attended lectures in comparative anatomy under John Barclay in Edinburgh, before spending three months at the Royal Veterinary College, London. He was granted a veterinary diploma on the 27th January 1818 and returned to Edinburgh, where he began teaching.

Five years later, in 1823 he founded the first veterinary school in Scotland with the backing of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (H&ASS). It was located in a courtyard in Clyde Street in the Georgian New Town of Edinburgh.

William built up an extensive veterinary practice in the city and beyond which meant he could afford to have a customised veterinary school built on the site in 1833. By 1837 he had been appointed 'Veterinary Surgeon to the Queen in Scotland', and in 1840 the Directors of the Highland Society approved that Dick’s establishment should bear the name ‘Veterinary College’ and that he should be given the title ‘Professor’.

In 1844 he was appointed Veterinary Surgeon in Scotland to Queen Victoria and in this same year he began to employ other members of staff.

By the time of his death in 1866 the College had four tutors and the 818 students he had taught were to be found throughout the world. Among them were the founders of veterinary schools in Glasgow, Liverpool, Ireland, Canada, the USA and Australia.

Clyde Street Veterinary College - 1833 to 1916

In the autumn of 1829 William Dick’s lectures were given in Clyde Street, probably in the old building at number 8. It was in Clyde Street that Dick first trained as a farrier at his father's forge. By 1833 William had become a successful veterinary practitioner and teacher and he paid for the erection of purpose-built accommodation near the site of his father’s forge in a Clyde Street courtyard.

The Clyde Street Building was to be the home of the School for the next eighty three years and during this time the School was to see dramatic changes from its humble beginnings.

Learn more about the Clyde Street Building

By 1837 Dick had been appointed 'Veterinary Surgeon to the Queen in Scotland', and in 1840 the Directors of the Highland Society approved that Dick’s establishment should bear the name ‘Veterinary College’ and that he should be given the title ‘Professor’.

The College’s first chair was the anatomist John Barlow. The College buildings were gradually extended to include the complete courtyard. Students from all over Britain and also from abroad were formally examined from 1828 and awarded the veterinary diploma of the H&ASS. Eventually an agreement was made with the veterinary governing body, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and in 1881, that Dick Vet graduates began to be certified by the RCVS diploma.

When William Dick died in 1866 he left behind a thriving College with an international relationship, four tutors and an excellent relationship with the governing bodies of the day.  The School was renamed after a request from his sister Mary Dick and in 1873 it was called Dick’s Veterinary College following a request made by his sister Mary.

In August 1906 an Act of Parliament (Provisional Order) received the Royal assent. A new constitution of the Royal (Dick) Veterinary College was adopted. It was considered to be an advantage to be administered by a body composed of members drawn from the University of Edinburgh, the Mary Dick trustees, the Veterinary Profession and Agriculture Colleges in Scotland.

Summerhall 1906 to 2011

By the beginning of the 20th century the Clyde Street premises had become inadequate to accommodate a thriving College. Land was bought on the south side of Edinburgh, at Summerhall, and an impressive building was erected. The principal at the time was Prof O. Charnock Bradley and he personally oversaw the construction work. Although the Clyde Street staff and students were transferred to these new premises in 1916, World War 1 delayed completion of the building until the centenary year 1923.

In 1934 an extension to the north of the Summerhall building was initiated (and completed by 1940) as the premises were found to be too small to accommodate the increasing number of students. In 1935 His Majesty King George the Fifth signed an Order in Council whereby the College was affiliated to the University of Edinburgh.

The College survived the depravations of World War II and continued teaching, students also taking up Home Guard and air raid duties. In 1943 their number was increased by 14 students who enrolled in the Polish Veterinary School that was accommodated at Summerhall from 1943 to 1947. A total of 63 Polish students enrolled over this period.

By 1972, a six story tower to the north and a three story block to the south were completed at Summerhall.

The University of Edinburgh and Easter Bush

Since the earliest days pf the School, there had been collaboration with the University of Edinburgh, e.g., with teaching staff, scientific research, the examination of its students, and Management Board members. In 1951 this relationship was formalised when the two institutions merged and the School was renamed The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies.

In 1964 following changes to the University structure, the School became the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, but in 2002 the University reorganised again and returned to being The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies.

The School has used Home Farm, south of the city at Easter Bush, for large animal teaching since 1947 and it was at Easter Bush that a Veterinary Field Station was built in 1962, shortly followed by a Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine.

The Hospital for Small Animals was built at Easter Bush, opening in 1999 and the Equine Hospital facilities were upgraded and completed in 2003. The Riddell Swann Veterinary Cancer Centre opened in 2009.

The New Teaching Building

In 2011 the School opened a new, purpose built teaching building on the Easter Bush campus, moving all teaching and staff from Summerhall, onto the Easter Bush site. For the first time all teaching and almost all facilities were consolidated onto one campus.

The Roslin Institute, world famous for the cloning of Dolly the sheep, incorporated with the Royal School of Veterinary Studies within the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine in 2008 and in 2011 moved to a new purpose built research facility on the Easter Bush Campus. The School's considerable research is now led by the Roslin Institute and carried out by the Roslin Institute and interdisciplinary research centres.

With over £100 million having been spent on the campus in the last five years, the school can boast world-class facilities and teaching staff and research that has come at the top in the UK for the last two Research Excellence Framework assessments.

The legacy of William Dick lives on in the School's friendly family atmosphere and dedication to education and improving the welfare of animals.