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What's in the Archives

The archives of the Royal College of Surgeons of England holds both institutional records and other deposited collections providing a unique resource illustrating the development of surgery and the surgical profession.

We hold institutional records documenting the activities of the College throughout its history from its beginnings as the Company of Surgeons (1745-1800), through its incorporation as a Royal College in 1800 to the present day. These archives reveal the inner workings of the College and the initiatives that have taken place throughout our history to support and develop the surgical profession.

We also hold a diverse range of deposited archive and manuscript collections that have been accumulated by the College through purchase, donation or deposit since its foundation relating to medicine and surgery from the 16th to 20th centuries. These collections include the personal papers and case notes of surgeons, a small number of hospital records, collections of correspondence, and a variety of individual items including diaries, photograph albums, recipe books, lecture notes and drawings.

Archive catalogue

Many of the deposited archive and manuscript collections have been catalogued on our online museum and archive catalogue, SurgiCat.

The College institutional archives have not yet been added to the catalogue, and the descriptions of the deposited archives and manuscripts are not yet complete. We regularly add newly catalogued material so please check for new additions.

Please contact us if you are interested in anything you cannot locate in the catalogue.

College institutional archives

The Company of Surgeons was established in 1745 following a split from the Company of Barber-Surgeons. In 1800 the Company received its first Royal Charter and became the Royal College of Surgeons of London. In 1843 it became the Royal College of Surgeons of England, as it remains today. The College’s purpose has always related to the training and examination of surgeons and ensuring high professional standards of treatment.

The College institutional archives are open to the public for research following a 30 year closure period. (except printed council minutes which are available until 2004)

Our institutional archives include the following:

  • Accounts books 1745-1887
  • Apprentices 1764-1846
  • Bye-laws, ordinances, standing orders and regulations
  • Charters
  • College Council club photograph albums 1869-1957
  • Committee for general purposes 1808-1924
  • Committee for temporary purposes 1812-1980
  • Council minute books 1827-1879
  • Court of assistants minute books 1745-1827
  • Court of assistants letter books 1800-1832
  • Examinations books 1780-1901
  • Examination of naval instruments 1805-1815
  • Fellows signature books 1843-1970
  • Library committee minutes 1833-1980
  • Members signature books 1800-1900
  • Membership lists (Corporation of Surgeons) 1777-1799
  • Membership lists 1800-1867 then in College calendar 1868-1963
  • Museum Curators/Museum Committee minutes 1800-1937
  • Printed Council minutes 1880 to 2004
  • Register of Illustrious and Distinguished Visitors 1805-1932
  • Resolutions of Examiners 1763-1876
  • Trustees of the Hunterian Collection Minutes 1805-1980

This is a selection only. Please contact us if you are interested in any of the above or other material in the institutional archives.

Deposited archives and manuscripts

The College’s collection of deposited archives and manuscripts contains a variety of material relating to medicine and surgery from the 16th to 20th centuries.

This includes:



Many of our collections contain the correspondence of eminent surgeons with fellow medical professionals, scientists and other important figures. The Hunter-Baillie collection for example contains over 1000 letters from many prominent members of society including Sir Walter Scott, William Wordsworth and Henry Irving. (MS0014) The archives hold a series of letters from John Hunter to Edward Jenner (MS0015), and a large autograph letters series containing some 4000 items. Other correspondence collections include that of Thomas Madden Stone and Golding Bird (MS0158). Most collections include correspondence of some kind, for instance the papers of William Clift (MS0007), Richard Owen (MS0025), Frank Buckland (MS0035), and Sir Arthur Keith (MS0018).


Lecture notes

The collections contain a large number of notes of lectures given by or sometimes taken by eminent surgeons.This includes a number of volumes of notes of John Hunters lectures, but also notes of lectures by John Abernethy, Henry Cline, Joseph Henry Green, and Sir Astley Paston Cooper. Collections of lecture notes include that of Thomas Egerton Bryant (MS0125) who attended lectures between 1812 and 1828.


Personal papers and case notes

The archives also hold some collections of personal papers and case notes of surgeons. These might contain correspondence, research notes, case notes, diaries, drawings or photographs. Examples of collections include those of Matthew Baillie (MS0208), Sir Astley Paston Cooper (MS0008), Sir Joseph Lister (MS0021), Sir Arthur Keith (MS0018), and Sir Berkeley Moynihan.


Clubs and societies

We hold some collections of papers relating to surgical or medical clubs and societies. These might contain minute books, signature books, or rules and regulations. Examples include the Western Medical Friendly Club (MS0163), The Society of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgeons of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the West London Medico-Chirurgical Society (MS0161), the British Society of Dental Surgeons (MS0078) and the Cardiothoracic Society (MS0063).



Hospital records

As a place of deposit for public records the College holds the archives relating to the London Lock Hospital (MS0022), a hospital for the treatment of venereal disease. We also hold small collections of material on some other hospitals including some papers from the Fountain Mental Hospital (MS0242), and a case book from Deptford Hospital Asylum (MS0009).

Other items

The archive contains a great number of single individual items relating to medicine, surgery, natural history, anatomy and other subject matter. This can include diaries, recipe books, drawings, Some examples are:


  • Sir Antony Bowlby’s war journals 1914-1919 (MS0004)
  • Joshua Naples diary of his resurrectionist activities 1811-1812 (MS0024)
  • A Sinhalese Ola – a treatise on diseases and treatments written in Pali on palm leaves c1760 (MS0271)
  • Signature book of the Old Black Jack Public House 1854-1892 (MS0031)
  • A 17th century recipe book compiled by Elizabeth Isham and Thomas Sendall (MS0030)
  • Proofs of the engravings for the first edition of Gray’s Anatomy c1850
  • William Wadd’s anatomical drawings for his publications, early C19th (MS0241)
  • Harold Burrows photographs of facial repairs during World War I (MS0168)

Much of the archive collection has been catalogued onto our online catalogue SurgiCat.

History of the archives

The archive collections were formerly part of the Library. Please see the Library History section for more information on the early history of the development of the archives.

In 1999 the first professional archivist was appointed on a part-time basis to begin to organise the archives and manage enquiries and readers. This post was discontinued in 2000.

In 2002 significant development work was carried out on the manuscript store room to install mobile racking. A programme of repackaging was initiated to ensure the deposited archive and manuscript collections were housed in more appropriate materials and conditions.

In 2003 the College received a grant from the Wellcome Trust as part of the Research Resources in Medical History scheme to catalogue the deposited archive and manuscript collections. A project archivist was employed for two years from 2003 to 2005 to carry out this project, resulting in approximately half of the deposited collections being catalogued, and the online catalogue launched jointly with the Hunterian Museum. The project archivist continued at the College as Records Manager and later as Records and Archives Manager.

In 2005 the College received a further grant from the Wellcome Trust to carry out conservation work on the deposited archive and manuscript collections. A preservation assessment survey was carried out and a large number of the collections were conserved over a two year period.

In 2007 the College appointed an Assistant Archivist to ensure an improved archive service could be provided, and to concentrate on outreach and promotion activities. Later that year a Library and Archives Assistant was appointed to assist in research enquiries and service provision, resulting in the College being able to offer much improved family history services.

In 2010 after a review of the library, archives and museum it was decided that the archives should become the responsibility of the museums department, which would be renamed the Museums and Archives department. The library would be renamed Library and Surgical Information Services.

History of the Museum

History of the Library