The Astley Ainslie Hospital
A Sad End to a Wonderful Beginning

                                                            North Gate

The aim of this article is to provide a broad overview of how and possibly why the Astley Ainslie hospital came into being, and the manner in which David Ainslie’s vision became a reality. It stirred me to the point where I almost cried reading family archive material in the National Library of Scotland and elsewhere. I’d be interested to hear of your feelings.

David Ainslie of Costerton was a very wealthy man, making his money from farming, primarily sheep breeding. His will was drawn up in 1876. He wished the medical association of the parklands surrounding Millbank in Canaan, part of the wealthy Grange area in the south of Edinburgh to continue. His desire was for his bequest to be used “for the purpose of erecting and endowing a hospital or institution to be called the Astley Ainslie Institution, for the relief and behoof of the convalescents in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh”.

Sheep breeding and landowning were not the only source of David Ainslie’s wealth however. His nephew, John Astley Ainslie was born on 30th May 1847. He inherited a large estate from his parents and other family members. At first he shared the inheritance with his brother, who predeceased him. As such John Astley Ainslie acquired the whole estate.

A well educated man, his future was a bright one, but he sadly died at Algiers in 1874, aged just 26.  John spent a lot of time with David at Costerton. They were very close. Upon his death David acquired a considerable legacy which was shrewdly invested and contributed significantly to the monies in the bequest for the creation of the Astley Ainslie Institution. After investment the money had accrued to an incredible £700,000.

Although the reason for the bequest has never been clear, many believe that David felt his nephew, John Astley Ainslie, who was in Algiers to improve his health, might have survived had he received skilled convalescent care.

David Ainslie’s will stipulated that the monies were to be invested for a further ten years upon his death. Only then were they to be used to establish the Institution. He passed away in May 1900. World War I meant that, after all the formalities the hospital did not open until 1923.

Initially the hospital was known as St John’s to commemorate his nephew. A subsequent codicil altered the name to the Astley Ainslie Institution. It was not known as the Astley Ainslie Hospital until as recently as 1946.

The National Health Service are gradually closing wards and selling off some of the most valuable real estate in Scotland, the Grange in Edinburgh.  Patients and staff are to be moved to other parts of the NHS within the city.  This ends one of the most wonderfully thought of and planned philanthropic bequests in Scottish history.  I wonder what David Ainslie of Costerton would make of it all?


  1. Walker

    I’ve read papers on ” The Masterplan” green space, archiological themes, tagged trees, through access and much more yet nothing of the fact that the hospital was given to the people of Edinburgh for the use of a hospital why so were the people of Edinburgh not consulted and their opinion given on the closure of such a wonderful hospital

  2. M Clyde

    More than that. The land was originally part of the Common Good which was gifted to the royal burgh of Edinburgh by the Scottish crown for the common purposes of the citizens. It was sold off ilegally by the magistrates in parcels to their friends in the 18th century. Then by good chance it has come back into common purposes again by this man’s gift. We must not let it slip away again.


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