The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

The Clyde Street Veterinary College

In the autumn of 1829 William Dick’s lectures were given in Clyde Street, probably in the old building at number 8.

It was subsequently purchased by William and his father from Professor Alexander Monro (tertius) on 12 November 1831.

James Castley’s contemporary account

One could wish to see Mr. Dick’s lecture-room look somewhat less like the appendage of a forge; but then he never has to lecture to ‘empty benches’.

You may fancy to yourself a room of no very great dimensions in an old and apparently long untenanted house in Clyde Street. You enter it from the street door, and are immediately struck with the delightful confusion which seems to reign within.

Skeletons of all descriptions, ‘from a child’s shoe to a jack boot’ - from a horse to an ape, not ranged in ‘regular order all of a row’, but standing higglety pigglety, their ranks having been broken by the professor’s table, and their heads looking in all directions, as if thrown together by chance.

Over the professor’s ‘devoted head’ is seen suspended a portion of inflated and injected intestine, with its mesenteric expansion dangling in the air, something like a lure for flies; whilst all around the room, and especially in the corners, are heaped together vast quantities of diseased bones, and other preparations, seemingly without order, and without arrangement.

Here we see no numbered specimens - no classification of morbid anatomy - no description book - all of which would tend to give the collection a pretty effect. Yet the lecturer has not only sufficient, but abundance for his purpose: his table is always covered with choice preparations.

That portion of the house which is set apart for the audience … is fitted up with rough deal planks, set upon as rough props; the seats rising tier above tier, until your head touches the top of a very dark coloured ceiling.

Developments

The accommodation was now clearly less than befitted his growing reputation. Dick planned a new building, and this was completed in 1833, his 40th year, at the then substantial cost of £2500 paid largely by himself. The Highland Society contributed the modest sum of £50 towards fitting out the lecture theatre and museum.

Two simple columns supported a frieze of four pairs of sculpted animal heads - horse, dog, bull and ram, with a stag in the centre. These powerfully represented the breadth of animal material taught by Dick. The top was crowned by a plinth on which sat a horse, carved by A. Wallace.

The Clyde Street courtyard buildings now contained a lecture theatre for up to 80 students, a small hospital for animals, stables, a forge, with a dissecting room above, and a museum.

Further alterations

During the rest of Dick’s life a number of properties in the Clyde Street courtyard were purchased by him. These were modified and adapted to the needs of the College, for example, the upper floors of the buildings on the west of the courtyard were linked together.

In 1853 building work began on a new lecture theatre - the former classroom was added to the adjacent museum room to create a larger museum. In 1865 Dick took the opportunity of an accidental fire under classroom seating to knock down the old tenement next door at number 10 and to build new three-storey accommodation on the site.

In 1883-84 the Clyde Street College converted several houses along the east side of the courtyard to classroom use. Plans for complete rebuilding of the College were discussed.

Instead the remaining small property in the north-west corner of the courtyard was purchased and the College reconstructed between 1886 and 1887 on the existing site, retaining the south façade as built by William Dick.

A well-lit anatomy theatre was built on the north-east corner of the courtyard on the second floor, above the post-mortem room. Additional wards for rabbits, guinea pigs and dogs were built. The computer generated movies (by Ketan Lad and Val Hunzinger) illustrate the College at this period of time.

Modern times

These buildings were used by the College until 1916, when the staff and students moved to the new, purpose-built premises at the Summerhall site.

The site where the Clyde Street building originally stood is now part of Edinburgh's main bus station where a blue plaque records the fact that this was the site of Scotland's first veterinary school.