Sign up to our monthly newsletter

Please confirm that you are happy to hear from The Church of Scotland:

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please visit the Privacy Policy on our website.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.

Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: Lepers in Scotland - and in Nigeria

Looking Back

                                                                                                                                                            Friday July 25, 2014

LOOKING BACK: Lepers in Scotland  - and in Nigeria

In the July 1954 issue James Bulloch offered insights into the treatment of lepers.


There are over a score of lepers in Britain today. Formerly leprosy was a common disease in this country.

An early leper hospital was founded at Aldcambus on the Berwick coast under William the Lion; Melrose Abbey had one at Aldnestun in Lauderdale; and the best known of all was at Kingcase, near Prestwick. The name of Libberton is probably derived from such a place. Several churches were equipped with leper squints, slaning windows through which the leper could see the altar without himself being seen. About 1350 Lady Lochow founded St Ninian’s Hospital in the Gorbals of Glasgow for lepers; and Stirling, Aberdeen, Elgin and Edinburgh had their own – the last mentioned having a gallows on its gable for the immediate hanging of any inmates who broke its rules about isolation

Leprosy continued to be fairly common in Shetland until about 150 years ago; and it seems that most of the victims were isolated on the island of Papa. Of all who contracted the disease, King Robert the Bruce is by far the most famous.

Many regulations were framed by burgh councils to deal with lepers. They were sometimes permitted to beg, wearing special masks and gowns provided with clappers to announce their presence. The Scots Parliament decreed that meat condemned in the markets as unfit for human consumption should be given to them. Such hospitals as existed for them were of course not for ‘treatment’ in the modern sense, but merely for isolation.

Improvements in diet, housing and sanitation were largely responsible for the great decline in the disease in Scotland in the eighteenth century. We no longer read, as we do of earlier days, that a minister petitioned for an assistant on the grounds that his leprosy had advanced so far that he was incapacitated.

In 1926 Dr A B Macdonald of the Itu General Hospital in Nigeria, had to turn away a leper but he devoted his next furlough to the study of the disease and on his return in 1928 founded the Itu Leper Colony for the aid of the 400,000 lepers in Nigeria. The colony is now over five square miles in extent. Its inmates can now be successfully treated and in one year along 962 have been discharged as cured. Equally important is the rehabilitation of the outcast leper. Work is found for him so that he can be almost self0supportin during his long stay in hospital.

In 1954 – when so much of Africa is in turmoil – Itu tells Nigeria the way of life as, long ago, did another by Whom the leper was not turned away.

Looking Back menu