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Hospital archive gets UN status . . . alongside Domesday Book

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Image of the old Royal Scottish National Institution
An image of the old Royal Scottish National Institution (later Royal Scottish National Hospital) at Larbert.

PHOTOGRAPHS and papers from the early days of the Royal Scottish National Hospital in Larbert have been recognised as of outstanding historical importance by the United Nations’ cultural body, UNESCO.

The hospital archive – now in the care of the University of Stirling’s Archives – have been added to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register - an online catalogue created to help promote the UK’s documentary heritage across the UK and the world.

Access the register at 

Karl Magee, the University Archivist, said: “Every year only a small select group of collections are added to the UK UNESCO Register. This year there have only been 11 additions – including the archives from the hospital, the famous Domesday book and the silent movie collection of Alfred Hitchcock. 

“It’s a real honour to be included as it recognises our archive is of outstanding national importance.”

He added: “Hopefully this endorsement by UNESCO – showing the importance of the RSNH archive – will raise awareness of the material we hold and encourage more people to explore the University archives.”

Established in 1862, the Royal Scottish National Institution - later the Royal Scottish National Hospital (or RSNH) - was the foremost hospital providing custodial care for mentally impaired children in Scotland in the 19th and 20th centuries.  

It gained an international reputation for its enlightened approach to care and treatment attracting patients from England and across the British Empire. 

Mr Magee said: “The extensive archives of the institution which survive provide a comprehensive record of the management and operation of the hospital. Of particular note is the large collection of over three thousand application forms for admission to the institution. 

“These documents provide a wealth of information about children from all across Scotland who required treatment and care; the lives of their parents and families; and the figures in their local communities who supported their applications.  

“The stories of these children are recorded in the case notes and other hospital records which document their treatment and care.  

“Unsuccessful applications were also retained by the institution resulting in an archive which provides a wider historical picture of the mental health of children across Scotland. The records of the hospital provide a valuable new resource for the study of the history of medicine and society in Scotland. 

“It is also a hitherto untapped genealogical resource for families all across Scotland and further afield, its records containing the stories of forgotten or hidden members of families who relatives today are keen to re-discover.”

The Hospital closed as a national resource in 2002, as the emphasis shifted towards caring for people in the community - in either supported accommodation or, in many cases, in their own homes. Part of the site is now occupied by the new Forth Valley Royal Hospital. (See more at ) 

The RSNH archives form a part of a large collection of historical material which was recently transferred to the University Archives by NHS Forth Valley.

NHS Forth Valley Chief Executive Professor Fiona Mackenzie said: “I am delighted to hear that the fine work carried out by the Royal Scottish National Hospital has been considered worthy of recognition by UNESCO. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the hospital challenged prejudice and influenced social change. Queen Victoria became one of its influential patrons, and ‘Royal’ was added to its name.

“There is no doubt that the hospital was a trailblazer and its legacy is one of care and compassion. Although now demolished, and the site of the new Forth Valley Royal Hospital, its memories live on, and it is still held in affection both by NHS Forth Valley staff and the local community.”

The 11 additions to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register were announced at an event on Tuesday (July 9). UNESCO said they were selected from the from the UK’s libraries, archives and museums to “represent the outstanding heritage of the United Kingdom”.

David Dawson, Chair of the UK Memory of the World Committee, said: “This year’s inscriptions reflect the richness of UK culture and history, from medieval manuscripts to ground breaking cinema. We hope that today’s announcement will encourage people to discover these items and collections, as well as some of the other great documentary heritage near them.”

Tim Williams, Deputy Chair of UNESCO’s UK National Commission said, “We’re pleased to welcome these UK museums, libraries and archives into the UNESCO family through the Memory of the World programme. These range from some of the UK’s largest, national-level institutions, to local records offices. Regardless of their size, this designation is an important recognition of some of the outstanding heritage they hold.”

The UK Memory of the World programme is part of UNESCO’s work to promote preservation of and access to the world’s archive holdings and library collections. 

You can find out more about the University’s Archives at

The archives are open to university staff and students, researchers and members of the public, with the collections covering a wide range of subjects including history and politics, literature, film and media, and sport. Members of the public are asked to contact the Archives in advance of a visit. Call 01786 466619 or email:

The 11 UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register inscriptions for 2013:

Tyne & Wear Shipyards collection – Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums, Newcastle

The major source of information on the many shipyards in the North-East of England that helped to shape the unique identity of the region and made shipbuilding one of the key economic activities on Tyneside and Wearside.

Aberdeen Burgh Registers – Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeen

Represents the earliest and most complete body of surviving records of any Scottish town, providing unrivalled insight into the political and social life of the Scottish medieval town.

Hitchcock's Silent Movies – British Film Institute National Archive, London

While Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most famous film directors of all time, his first ten silent films – nine of which survive – are little known compared to his later work. These films are among the greatest achievements of British silent cinema, and are blueprints for the rest of his body of work.

Churchill Archives – Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge

The personal archive of Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), soldier, writer, politician, orator and statesman, and perhaps the most famous British public and political figure of the modern era. 

The Haig Diaries – National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh

As Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, Field Marshal Douglas Haig commanded the largest British Army ever assembled and, for his role in the war, has become arguably the most controversial general in the Army’s history. Haig kept a diary throughout the war, and this momentous document now forms part of Haig’s personal papers at the National Library of Scotland. 

Domesday Book – The National Archives, Kew

Provides a unique snapshot of English society at a pivotal moment in its history. It is by far the most complete surviving record of pre-industrial society anywhere in the world. Commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1085, it records in immense detail who held what land and rights in England and parts of Wales, both before the Norman Conquest in 1066 and after it.

Royal Scottish National Institution archives – University of Stirling, Stirling

Established in 1862, the Royal Scottish National Institution was the foremost institution providing custodial care for mentally impaired children in Scotland in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It gained an international reputation for its enlightened approach to care and treatment attracting patients from England and across the British Empire. The extensive archives of the institution which survive, including over 3,000 application forms for admission to the institution, provide a comprehensive record of the management and operation of the hospital.

Dorothy Wordsworth's Journal – Wordsworth Trust, Cumbria

A work of literature of international significance. It was also the inspiration for Dorothy’s brother William, one of the leading figures of British Romanticism. The journal gives readers unique insight into the lives of these two remarkable people.

Thomas Hardy Archive – Dorset County Museum, Dorchester

Thomas Hardy is a literary figure of international importance, both seminal and transitional, chronicling the traditions and culture of the rural community of Dorset, the impact of new ideas, scientific discoveries, social mobility, in an age on the cusp of change.  The universality of his themes, power of his story-telling, and range of his poetry, makes Hardy’s work relevant to all generations and nationalities, and an inspiration to artists in all media. The Hardy Collection is unique and unmatched anywhere in the world, comprising over 7,000 items, with many manuscripts, including The Mayor of Casterbridge, two other novels and two volumes of poetry.

London County Council Bomb Damage Maps – London Metropolitan Archives, London

The most detailed record of damage to London’s built environment caused by aerial bombardment during the Second World War. An iconic and multi-layered source for London’s experience of war and its aftermath, it conveys complex survey data in the tradition of Leake’s Great Fire map, Milne’s land use map, Mylne’s geological maps and Booth’s poverty maps.

Robert Stephenson and Company archives – National Railway Museum, York

A unique documentary record of how the UK gave railways to the world. Formed in 1823 by George Stephenson and his son Robert, for some time they were the UK’s only locomotive manufacturing concern. Stephenson & Co. launched the UK’s railway export trade and were responsible for the UK’s dominance of the world’s railway market in the late 19th century.

For further information on each item, including pictures, visit 


UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme was established in 1992 to promote preservation of and access to the world’s archive holdings and library collections. The vision of the programme is a simple but powerful one – the world’s documentary heritage belongs to all, should be fully preserved and protected for all and, with due recognition of cultural mores and practicalities, should be permanently accessible to all without hindrance.

The UK Memory of the World Register was established in 2010 to highlight documentary heritage which holds cultural significance specific to the UK. The Register is managed by the UK Memory of the World Committee, a group of independent experts in relevant fields. The UK Register complements the UNESCO Memory of the World International Register, which is a catalogue of documentary heritage of global significance and outstanding universal value.

In addition to maintaining Registers the Memory of the World programme raises awareness of documentary heritage and the need for preservation activities among governments, the general public, business and commerce. The programme also raises funds and provides expertise to support preservation and digitisation projects in developing countries and for archives at risk.

The UK National Commission for UNESCO (UKNC) oversees and coordinates UNESCO programmes and initiatives in the UK, including the Memory of the World Programme. As an independent organisation it brings together a network of experts from across the UK in the fields of education, culture, sciences and communication. It works in partnership with UK Government, UK civil society and UNESCO, focusing on:

  • Independent policy advice to government in the fields of UNESCO's competence;
  • Supporting the government's reform and effectiveness agenda at UNESCO;
  • Providing advice and support to UK individuals and institutions seeking UNESCO accreditation and nominations.


 Picture of the former RSNH site at Larbert

The Royal Scottish National Institution at Larbert - lattery the Royal Scottish National Hospital. Hospital buildings have been demolished and part of the site is now occupied by the new Forth Valley Royal Hospital. The archives for the old hospital are held by the University of Stirling.

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