Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh Samaritan Society

Scope and Content

Management 1879-2001; administration 1889-1979; cases 1902-1994

Administrative / Biographical History

Mrs Elizabeth Cleghorn, the daughter of Lord Cockburn and widow of the Sheriff of Argyll, began in 1874 to help destitute patients in the medical wards of the Royal Infirmary. She visited wards, distributing clothing and sometimes money. When she appealed to her friends for help, the response was so great that, in 1879, a formal organisation was created: the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary Samaritan Society. The original aim was to assist patients and their dependants with clothes and money and if the patient were the bread-winner, to help him find employment. Gradually the work was expanded to encompass all the Edinburgh hospitals. Almoners were appointed to identify patients in need, visit their homes and provide help and guidance.

From 1923 the Infirmary appointed its own almoners, who worked in parallel with those of the Samaritan Society. In 1948 the Society's almoners were transferred to the Infirmary's social service staff. Even after the National Health Service came into being the Samaritans continued to work as a voluntary organisation. Their Committee of Management meets regularly with the Hospital's social work staff, in consultation with whom they make grants to tide patients and their families over until official help is given. Sometimes help is also provided in ways not covered by statutory rules and regulations.

For a more comprehensive history of the Society see The Edinburgh Royal Infirmary Samaritan Society, 1879-1979 (GD2/9/2).


Chronological within record class

Access Information

Public access to these records is governed by the UK Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 and the latest version of the Scottish Government Records Management: NHS Code of Practice (Scotland). Whilst some records may be accessed freely by researchers, the aforementioned legislation and guidelines mean that records with sensitive information on named individuals may be closed to the public for a set time.

Where records are about named deceased adults, they will be open 75 years after the latest date in the record, on the next 01 January. Records about individuals below 18 years (living or deceased) or adults not proven to be deceased will be open 100 years after the latest date in the record, on the next 01 January. Further information on legislation and guidelines covering medical records can be found on the LHSA webpage (

LHSA can support the use of records closed to public access for legitimate clinical, historical and genealogical research purposes. Please contact the LHSA Archivist for more details regarding procedures on how you can apply for permission to view closed records. Telephone us on: 0131 650 3392 or email us at

Acquisition Information

Ian Cunningham, Keeper of Manuscripts, NLS, March 1995


Compiled by Mike Barfoot and Jenny McDermott using existing handlists

Other Finding Aids

Manual item-level descriptive list available

Custodial History

Transferred to National Library of Scotland


Further accessions are expected

Related Material

Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (LHB1)