RIE in the 1930s and 1940s

THE 1950s

In 1949 Sidney Lionel Tompsett, from Glasgow Royal Infirmary (1927 to 1949), was appointed as Senior Lecturer. Ca. 1950 he went to the laboratory at the Edinburgh Northern General Hospital which provided a service for the Northern group of hospitals (Western, Eastern and Northern General Hospitals), before returning to the Royal Infirmary in 1964 to take charge of the Chemical Toxicology Sub-Unit. (ref: 10, 11, 21, 39)

In 1950 John A Owen, who was to be Professor of Chemical Pathology at St George's Hospital, London, from 1970 to 1986, was appointed as Assistant Lecturer, after completing a combined degree in Medicine and Biochemistry (under Professor Marrian) in Edinburgh.

In 1954 James S Robson, Fred Scandrett and CP Stewart gave a paper on Renal Disease and Owen, B Iggo and FJ Scandrett gave a paper on the determination of creatinine in serum and urine at the Third General Meeting of the A.C.B., held in Edinburgh. This was the Fuller's earth adsorption method for serum creatinine which they had developed. It became virtually a reference method, although it added greatly to the laboratory's workload.

Owen took up a post in Melbourne in 1957 and returned to the department in Edinburgh Royal in 1962 (see below). (ref: 10, 39)

In 1950, Elizabeth Gilchrist, Senior Lecturer, who had been seconded to the laboratory at the Northern General Hospital, Edinburgh, returned to the Royal Infirmary. She retired in 1955 and was succeeded by Samuel C Frazer, Lecturer from Glasgow University (1950 to 1956) in 1956.

Frazer was appointed as Professor of Chemical Pathology in Aberdeen in 1962.

Other staff at that time included Albert Recht and Frank Simms, who came from and returned to Auckland. (ref: 10, 39)

Dr R Kapeller-Adler, who came from Vienna at the start of World War II, succeeded Simms in 1940. She had published a new chemical pregnancy test in 1934 based on the detection in urine of Histidine which she found is excreted in the urine of pregnant women throughout gestation. In 1938, she had joined the Pregnancy Diagnosis Laboratory which adjoined the Institute of Animal Genetics in Edinburgh (under Professor FAE Crew). She continued her research in histidine metabolism in the department and, from 1944 to 1951, in the Department of Pharmacology. She was appointed as a Lecturer in Clinical Chemistry in 1951 and as an Honorary Lecturer on her retirement in 1965. (ref: 127)


The building of a new Clinical Chemistry Laboratory was commenced in 1958. It was constructed as a joint venture of the University and the Health Service at a cost of 61,000 and it was opened in October 1960 by Sir Kenneth Cowan, Chief Medical Officer of the Scottish Home and Health Department. The opening practically coincided with the Fourth International Congress of Clinical Chemistry, which was held in Edinburgh (14 to 19th Aug., 1960) and which was chaired by CP Stewart. (ref: 30, 51, 77)

The main building, facing south across the Meadows, formed a bridge between two of the medical pavilions and extended into the semi-basements of both of them. These are known locally as the "duck ponds".

The term "duck pond" was first applied about 1885 when extra sleeping accommodation for convalescent patients was provided in the semi-basements of the other medical pavilions. Each evening the patients, in dressing gowns and soft slippers, shuffled in procession from the ward, where they spent the day time, to their sleeping quarters. A sister, through whose ward they passed, described them as a line of ducks waddling to their duck pond and so the name stuck. (Some former members of staff have indicated that they believed the name came as a result of the less than waterproof nature of the roof.) (ref: 30)

The enzyme laboratory was on the mezzanine floor of the department, with a charming view over The Meadows, to the south of the Infirmary. Donald Moss (1964 to 1969) had a tiny office on the landing outside the laboratory. This had been converted from a cupboard and visitors sat outside on the landing or on the stairs. This office and laboratory were taken over by the Toxicology Sub-Unit in 1969. (ref: 33)

Ward Testing of Urines and Emergency specimens

In the early 1950s, when an emergency blood sugar was required, day or night, the house officers were expected to collect boxes of equipment and reagents from the laboratory to take to the ward side room for assay by the Nelson method, using a Lovibond Comparator for the final reading. Senior medical students were taught the use of this equipment and, in practice, they were able to cope with diabetic emergencies without having to call on laboratory help. However, the boxes were frequently missing and, on the whole, this system caused more trouble in the laboratory than it saved. Qualitative urine testing was done on the wards and medical students were energetically taught (in the "duck ponds") to go through the full routine of "wet" tests and microscopy. At the ward, however, the testing was frequently delegated to a student nurse and, since reagents were not well maintained and errors were not monitored, the standard of these tests was very variable. The first Ames reagents (Clinitest, Clinistix and Albutest - a tablet test for protein which was replaced soon afterward by Albustix) were introduced ca. 1956. Although they were regarded with suspicion initially by the laboratory staff, these were welcomed by the ward staff as they removed the need for "wet chemistries". (ref: 10, 33)

RIE Methods in the 1950s

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Last updated January 2011