A MISSING Royal Charter for Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary has been found during the flit from the city centre to Little France.
The Royal Charter awarded by George II in 1736 which gave the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary its name was feared lost forever.
But now, thanks to some old-fashioned detective work and one man’s personal quest, the historic document has finally been found - gathering dust on an office shelf.
And, after 52 hours of painstaking restoration, the eight-page document, held inside a sheepskin parchment, is ready to take pride of place at the new ERI.
The case was cracked by Dr Michael Barfoot, an archivist for the Lothian University Trust. He had been so concerned about the charter’s whereabouts for so many years that he launched a search during the move from the old building in the centre of the city to the new flagship site at Little France.
The hard work paid off, and the parchment was found on a shelf in the NHS’s central legal office.
Dr Barfoot said today:
"For years I had wondered about the location of the Royal Charter. We’ve got a wonderful set of records - probably the best in Britain for hospital records - but the Royal Charter was never there.
"When the hospital was nationalised all the property belonged to the crown and the charter must have been sent to the central legal office for the NHS. I was frightened that once the hospital was sold to developers, the Royal Charter would end up in private hands, which would have been a shame because it is such an important public record which belongs to Scotland.
"I had been in touch with the central legal office at the NHS and they thought it might have been passed to solicitors. But when I got back to them it had been on a shelf all along."
He added: "I’ve been doing this job for 15 years and finding it [the charter] and seeing the project to a conclusion was really satisfying."
Dr Barfoot went to pick the document up and discovered it had been ignored for so long that it was in urgent need of restoration and repair with the Great Seal of George II, attached by a red and blue cord, broken into five pieces.
The Scottish Executive decided the conservation department at the Keeper of Records office would work to restore the damaged document.
Dr Barfoot said: "They’ve done a fantastic job - over 52 hours work restoring the seal and reconstructing it with a beautiful display box."
He said the charter played a massive part in the hospital’s history and was worth all the hours spent restoring it.
"The charter is responsible for giving the hospital its name - before it had been known as the Little House or the Infirmary or the Physicians’ Hospital.
"The charter gave it life - it became a legal entity once George II had issued it meaning the hospital had the right to own land, to build on it and to sue and be sued.
"It was really important in those days because it was a voluntary hospital and everybody was subscribing and wanted to know the managers weren’t going to run off with their money.
"The charter specified that 20 managers should be drawn from the great and the good of Edinburgh society and it had rules for the election of those managers.
"The charter gave the whole framework for the organisation and it remained intact with certain modifications until 1948."
A spokesman for Lothian University Trust said: "We’re very proud of our charter. We are also delighted that it has been restored and returned to its rightful place."
The charter is due to go on display for the official opening of the new ERI next Thursday.