Glasgow Pathological and Clinical Society

As the College embarks upon a refurbishment programme, we’ve been delving into the historical uses of the rooms of our St Vincent Street building. The old Faculty Hall (now named Alexandra Room) was the venue for most of the College’s business until the new College Hall extension was built in 1893. In addition to Faculty meetings, and meetings of the Medico-Chirurgical Society of Glasgow, this room hosted the meetings of the Glasgow Pathological and Clinical Society from 1876.

GP&CS Transactions book

Transactions, 1873 – 1883 (RCPSG 4/1/6)

We were keen to explore what these meetings involved, who attended them, and the history of the Society itself. We are extremely fortunate to hold the archives of the Society, from its foundation in 1873 until its merger with the Medico-Chirurgical Society of Glasgow in 1907.

There is mention of an earlier Glasgow Pathological Society (established 1850) in the 1852 Medical Directory. However, it appears to have only lasted for 2 or 3 years. The idea of forming a new Pathological Society came from four prominent Glasgow physicians and surgeons in the early 1870s – Thomas Reid, Joseph Coats, William Leishman, and William Tennant Gairdner. James Finlayson was the first secretary and describes the initial idea for “a society composed of working members“, creating an environment where “specimens could be quietly examined and discussed… in a friendly manner, without any temptation to ostentatious display or personal bitterness.”

GP&CS First meeting proposal 1873

From Transactions, 1873 – 1883 (RCPSG 4/1/6)

The first meeting was held on 25th November 1873 in the rooms of the University Lying-In Hospital and Dispensary for Women on Wellington Street. James Finlayson and Hector Cameron constituted themselves interim secretaries, while Dr Gairdner (then Professor of Medicine at the University of Glasgow) became chairman. In addition to those already mentioned, the original membership included the young surgeon William Macewen.

GP&CS first agenda 1873

From Transactions, 1873 – 1883 (RCPSG 4/1/6)

From the first meeting, the format was established. The Agenda pictured above shows the list of specimens presented by the members for discussion. In further meetings, patients would also be presented. For example, in May 1874, Dr McCall Anderson showed a patient who had been treated for syphilitic paralysis.

In 1874 the name was changed to the Glasgow Pathological and Clinical Society, and with the number of members increasing to 30, a new venue was found at the Glasgow Eye Infirmary on Berkeley Street. Then, in the fourth session, beginning in October 1876, the venue settled at the Faculty Hall, in the College’s current building on St Vincent Street. The origins and early history of the Society were usefully added to the book of Transactions (RCPSG 4/1/6) by James Finlayson in 1879 (below).

GP&CS Memorandum 1879

Memorandum by James Finlayson, 1879 (RCPSG 4/1/6)

An important part of the Society’s business was the publication of its reports, in both the Glasgow Medical Journal and the British Medical Journal. This placed the research and practice of the Society in the context of the wider medical and surgical literature, which was at this time exploring many new areas and innovations.

Notable in the records of the Society are cases concerning neurological conditions and physiology, the treatment of cranial injuries, and cranial surgery. For example, Glasgow physicians such as Alexander Robertson, who was pioneering in his approach to aphasia in the 1860s, and William James Fleming, who investigated the physiology of the ‘motions of the brain’, provide a stimulating context for the advances in brain surgery made by William Macewen in the 1870s.

GP&CS Agenda 1879

From Society Minute Book 1879 – 1891 (RCPSG 4/1/2)

An exciting discovery in the Society’s Minute Book shows that on the 11th November 1879, Macewen presented to the meeting in the Faculty Hall “two patients on whom trephining was performed, one for injury and one for disease.” One of these patients was the fourteen year old girl upon whom Macewen had performed the first removal of a tumour from the dura mater (minute book detail below).

GP&CS Minute 1879

From Society Minute Book, 1879 – 1891 (RCPSG 4/1/2)

This procedure has since been identified as a major breakthrough in the history of neurosurgery. An editorial in the British Medical Journal (11th August, 1888) acknowledges the innovation and success of Macewen’s early brain surgery: “With indisputable justice… may Dr Macewen claim the proud distinction of having been the leader in this country, and we believe in the world, of this great advance in our art.”

These records of the Glasgow Pathological and Clinical Society not only provide us with a wonderful source of evidence of the innovative research and practice in the city in the late 19th century, but also provide us with inspirational stories to tell in our College rooms.

A Tradition of Fine Dining

Dinners and social events have been a long tradition of College life.  In the College archives there is a dinner book which describes many of the magnificent dinners attended by Fellows and Members and their guests. Before the move to St Vincent Street in 1862, the annual Faculty Dinner was held in a local hotel.  In 1855, for instance, the dinner was held in Mr James Carrick’s Royal Hotel 66 George Square, Glasgow, the cost for 26 being £27.6s.0d.

With the move to 242 St Vincent Street, the Faculty could dine at home and a Dinner Book covering the period 1865-1932 records the menus and “Names of the Gentlemen Invited to the Annual Dinner”.  The dinner held on the 9th October 1865 merited an article in the local newspaper which has been duly cut out and pasted into the Dinner Book.  The dinner, described as a “banquet” was attended by 38 Fellows of the Faculty and guests and included a range of city dignitaries including the Lord Provost, the City Chamberlain, the Dean of Guild,  the Deacon Convenor of the Trades House and the Dean of the Faculty of Procurators.  Following a “sumptious dinner”, numerous speeches and toasts were given.  The President, Dr Fleming, in his toast of Flores res Medica, declared that: “Probably at no date since the days of Hippocrates has there been a more practical improvement to medicine and surgery than since the beginning of the present century”.

The earliest menu in the Dinner Book is that of the annual dinner of 29th November 1871.  The Fellows and their guests dined on a wide variety of fish and meats including Oysters au Gratin, Lobster a l’Indienne, Cutlets aux Petits Pois, Round of Beef, Saddles of Mutton, Braised Turkey, Pig’s Cheek and York Ham.  The dinners continued in similar style as can be seen from the menu below from 1876.  On this particular occasion, 34 Fellows and 30 guests attended at a total cost of £80.00.

Menu for the Faculty's annual dinner in 1876 (RCPSG 1/22/4/2)

Menu for the Faculty’s annual dinner in 1876 (RCPSG 1/22/4/2)

A menu for the Tercentenary Dinner of the Faculty has recently come to light during the  cataloguing our bound pamphlet collection.  Held on the “Penult [penultimate] day of November, 1899”, the front of the menu contains an image of Maister Peter Lowe, the College’s founder, who petitioned King James VI of Scotland in 1599 in order that a corporation be founded for the maintenance of medical standards.  A rich and varied menu was provided followed by the usual variety of toasts and the celebrations ended with the singing of Auld Lang Syne.

Menu for the Tercentenary Dinner, 1899 (pamphlet collection)

Front page of the menu for the Tercentenary Dinner, 1899 (pamphlet collection)

The dinners would have been held in what is now known as the Alexandra Room in 242 St Vincent Street.  During the early 1890s a large hall was erected behind 242, designed by the Glasgow architect J.J. Burnet.  The Faculty really could now dine in considerable splendour as can be seen in the photograph below, dating from around 1914.

Dinner in Faculty Hall c. 1914 (RCPSG 1/12/4/9)

Dinner in Faculty Hall c. 1914 (RCPSG 1/12/4/9)

Nowadays, dining within the College is not just restricted to Fellows and Members.  College Hall is used for corporate dinners, banquets, balls, and weddings as well as conferencing and exhibitions. The room accommodates up to 100 guests for dining and entertaining.

College Hall set up for a present day banquet.

College Hall set up for a present day banquet.

The elegant Alexandra Room, which was first used as a meeting hall, can accommodate up to 50 guests for dining.

The Alexandra Room, formerly used as a meeting hall when the Faculty moved to St Vincent Street in 1862

The Alexandra Room, formerly used as a meeting hall when the Faculty moved to St Vincent Street in 1862

The food is as sumptious as in previous years (although thoroughly designed for modern tastes) with a wide variety of menus. If you are interested in using the College as a venue then please contact Fifteen Ninety Nine or view the Fifteen Ninety Nine website.