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The History of St Columba’s Hospice

History of St Columba's Hospice


In 2017 St Columba’s Hospice is marking its 40th year. We opened in 1977 and in the four decades that have passed since then we have seen many changes. Here, we look to delve a little in to the history of St Columba’s Hospice. 

The history of St Columba’s Hospice goes back to the mid-1960s when, following a visit to St Christopher’s in London, Ann Weatherill – Matron of Corstorphine and Beech Mount Hospital in Edinburgh – was so inspired by the care given to the dying that together with Dr Derek Doyle she created a committee to raise the money needed to build Scotland’s first modern hospice.

After many years of fundraising, St Columba’s Hospice first opened its doors in 1977 with 15 in-patient beds and three months’ running costs. Over the years it has grown and evolved into an exemplary provider of specialist palliative care for thousands of people with terminal illnesses in Edinburgh and the Lothians, while also providing support to their relatives and loved ones.

The first building acquired by the Hospice was Challenger Lodge, a Grade B listed building designed by William Playfair. It had been used as a headquarters by the Royal Navy in WW2.

The building, with its four columns at the front, overlooked a generous lawn and was surrounded by many mature trees. There was also several other smaller buildings on the site, including a gatehouse, a potting shed, a classroom and a physiotherapy swimming pool.

In order to get Challenger Lodge ready for the first patients to be welcomed, work had to be done on the building. Two wards were created, as well as single rooms and rooms for clinical staff to work from. The basement floor housed the kitchen, laundry and storage facilities. The Hospice was ready to open and welcome patients from 5 December 1977.

Later on, a thirty bed inpatient unit was built, connected to Challenger Lodge through a covered walkway. The rooms in Challenger Lodge were converted in to a day room, chapel, staff room, offices, a seminar room and a plant room. The conversion of Challenger Lodge and new inpatient unit was completed in 1986.

In the timeline below, you can click through to see some of the key moments in our history, as well as some of the quirky things that have happened at the Hospice over the last four decades.

If you want to know about the latest activities and developments at the Hospice, click here to read our news.

Thank you to all the people who have provided information and insight to help make this timeline. If you have been involved with the Hospice throughout the years and would like to tell us about your experience please email us.

Our interactive timeline

26 November 1968

A meeting is held in which the idea of a hospice in Edinburgh is discussed, with clinicians and interested parties coming together to hear about other hospices and a need for specialist palliative care in the city.

April 1975

The purchase of Challenger Lodge is announced, following a long process to find a suitable site for the Hospice.

5 December 1977

St Columba's Hospice opens and welcomes its first patients.


The first of the Hospice's newsletters sent from Challenger Lodge is issued


A statement about the Hospice, and the service it provides to patients and families is produced and shared with the Hospice community.


The Lothian Health Board makes its first donation to the cost of running the Hospice, with a cheque for £75,000.

April 1978

Scottish Field magazine writes an article about the Hospice and how it helps people, featuring interviews with founders Anne Weatherill and Dr Derek Doyle.

September 1979

A journalist from the Sunday Post writes about the Hospice "I'd visions of an unhappy atmosphere, strained faces on nurses, anguished expressions from visiting relatives. I couldn't have been further from the mark."

Spring 1980

A new nursing wing is opened, and tours were provided for those wishing to see the extended facilities.

August 1981

Day Hospice opens for the first time, with patients being brought in by volunteer drivers.

December 1982

The Lord & Lady Provost of the City of Edinburgh visited the Hospice to mark five years of service.


The Education Centre is officially opened by Lady Birsay, naming the main hall after her late husband Lord Birsay who had been the chairman of the Hospice's committee from the initial meeting in 1968.

29 June 1987

Queen Elizabeth visited the Hospice to mark the 10th anniversary of the Hospice

Autumn 1987

The Queen's Assistant Private Secretary writes to the Hospice saying: Her Majesty…commanded me to be sure to write to you today to express her thanks…and to send her warm good wishes to you all.

27 October 1989

HRH The Duchess of Kent visits the Hospice

Spring 1990

Shops begin to open across the city of Edinburgh to raise funds for the Hospice, the shop on Leith Walk opens as The Doo'cot.

Spring 1991

The expansion of the Day Hospice service and a chapel is announced, following the success of the day hospice service.

October 1991

Yvonne Bostock publishes Letting Go & Living, with proceeds from the book being donated to the Hospice. Here she is pictured with Dr Derek Doyle at the book launch event.

April 1992

The Wits Dinner committee and guests were delighted to welcome Ronnie Corbett as a special guest to the fundraising event.

Autumn 1993

The Hospice's Life newsletter is printed in colour for the first time and includes a story about how computers have been introduced to the Hospice.

Spring 1995

Dr Derek Doyle, one of the founders of the Hospice retires.

21 January 1999

The Hospice organises its first Burns Supper event to raise money.

Spring 2001

Hospuss, a cat that wandered in to the Hospice in 1977 and didn't leave for 18 years, was remembered through the creation of hospuss pin badges that were sold to raise funds.

6 December 2002

HRH The Princess Royal visited the Hospice, to mark 25 years of the Hospice caring for patients and families.

June 2006

The Art Friends of St Columba's Hospice organised their 20th annual exhibition

November 2008

The Hospice needs to be expanded and modernised, so a major rebuild project is launched.


The Blue Dove appeal is launched, to raise £7million to fund the cost of the rebuild project.

Spring 2010

Supporters are given the opportunity to buy a brick to support the rebuild project costs

21 February 2012

The Hospice relocates to Kirklands House, on the outskirts of Edinburgh - its temporary location whilst the new Hospice is being built.

February/March 2012

Thistle the Cow which was gifted to the Hospice by Sir Tom Farmer is mysteriously moved around the Kirklands House grounds each day

31 May 2012

At the original Hospice site, author Alexander McCall Smith cuts the first sod with members of the Hospice team.

September 2012

The new Education Centre is officially opened

May 2014

The new Hospice building is officially opened and all the staff, patients and volunteers move back to a state-of-the-art building on the original site.

Spring 2015

The Hospice launches its new website, bringing the information about all the Hospice does into one place.

Autumn 2015

Chief Executive Jackie Husband launched the Hospice's five year strategy for 2015 - 2020, outlining the hospice's ambitions for the coming years.

April 2016

A new and special fundraising initiative is launched, Tribute Funds, with the installation of 800 ceramic forget-me-not flowers in the courtyard garden.

Spring 2016

Therapets are formally introduced to the Hospice, the dogs are taken on to the wards and to day hospice for patients to stroke and interact with.

Summer 2016

The gatehouse is fully refurbished, ready for the introduction of a bereavement and counselling service for children and young people.


The Hospice marks its 40th year - how will you get involved?