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Archives in London and the M25 area


Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0074 H71/RF
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1828-2002
Level of description: Sub fonds
Extent: 60 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Royal Free Hospital
London General Institution for the Gratuitous Cure of Malignant Diseases
London Free Hospital


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Royal Free Hospital was founded in 1828 in Greville St, Hatton Garden, London, by William Marsden, a young surgeon from Yorkshire. He found a young girl dying on the steps of St Andrew's Church, Holborn, because she could not afford admission to hospital and the only other way for the poor to obtain treatment was to be personally recommended by someone who subscribed to that hospital. The experience touched Marsden so much that he decided to open a hospital which would be free to all: poverty and sickness would be the only passports required. The hospital was originally called the "London General Institution for the Gratuitous Cure of Malignant Diseases." It was initially just a dispensary, with no in-patient beds, and in 1832 was the only London hospital to treat victims of the cholera epidemic. Soon afterwards the name was changed to the London Free Hospital, and in 1837 when Queen Victoria became patron the name was changed to the Royal Free Hospital. In 1844 the Royal Free moved to larger premises, a former army barracks in Grays' Inn Road.

In 1877 the Royal Free became a teaching hospital when it allowed female medical students from the London School of Medicine for Women (founded 1874) to receive clinical instruction on the wards. In 1889 the School of Nursing was started. Development had been ongoing since the move to Grays' Inn Road, and the new front building was opened in 1895, the same year that the Royal Free became the first hospital to appoint an almoner, forerunner of the medical social worker. During World War One the new outpatient block was requisitioned as an officers ward, and many staff and students went abroad to treat soldiers. After the war, it became necessary to equip the hospital in line with advances in medicine to include a maternity wing, children's ward, nurses' home and dental clinic. Given the general poverty in England at this time, and the fact that the hospital was still dependent on voluntary contributions, much of this was made possible by the generosity of three men, Lord Riddell, Alfred Langton and Sir Albert Levy, who saved the hospital from near-closure.

For much of World War Two the hospital escaped serious damage, but in 1944 it was hit by a flying bomb. Although there were not many casualties, extensive damage resulted and only 4 beds remained useable immediately afterwards. This led to a desperate need for more beds. The 1944 Goodenough report on the future of medical education then recommended that the Royal Free move to north London, because there were too many teaching hospitals in central London when most Londoners were now living in the suburbs; also the Royal Free was too small to provide enough beds to teach students satisfactorily, but there was no room in central London for it to expand. In 1947, the Dean of LSMW, Katharine Lloyd-Williams, suggested the site of the North-Western Fever Hospital in Lawn Road, Hampstead as an ideal location for the new Royal Free.

On the inception of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948, the Royal Free formed a group with this and other smaller hospitals in order to provide enough beds for student teaching. These others were the Childrens' Hospital Hampstead, the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, the Hampstead General and the London Fever Hospital. Between 1948 and 1958 there was much debate about whether The Royal Free should stay in central London or move to Hampstead, but in 1958 the first plans for the Royal Free on its present site in Pond Street, Hampstead were produced. Although the hospital scheme was unpopular with local residents construction finally began in 1968, the same year that Coppetts Wood and New End Hospital joined the group. Queen Mary's Maternity Home joined in 1972. The new Royal Free was the most modern hospital in Europe, and the first to be designed with the aid of a computer. In 1974 it opened to its first patient, a London taxi driver, and in 1978, the 150th anniversary of hospital's foundation, it was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II.

The Hospital was administered by a Committee of Management, which reported to the Court of Governors. Day-to-day matters were dealt with by the Weekly Board. After the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948, the Hospital was part of the Royal Free Group, with the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in Euston Road, the London Fever Hospital, Islington, (which became the Liverpool Road Branch of the RFH), the North-Western Fever Hospital, Hampstead (which became the Lawn Road Branch of the RFH), the Childrens' Hospital Hampstead, and the Hampstead General. The Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital left the Group in 1962, and the Coppetts Wood and New End Hospitals joined in 1968. Internal management of the RFH was in the hands of the Royal Free Hospital Committee, which was responsible to the Board for day-to-day administration.


Scope and content/abstract:

The archives of the Royal Free Hospital, London, 1828-2000, comprising:
Administrative Records, 1828-1974; including Court of Governors Annual Reports and minutes, 1828-1946; Royal Free Hospital Group Board of Governors minutes, 1948-1974 (this series also contains material relating to other Hospitals in the Group, particularly the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, 1948-1962, Hamstead General Hospital, 1948-1970 and the Liverpool Road and Lawn Road branches of the RFH); Committee of Management minutes 1828-1948; Weekly Board minutes 1846-1948, sub-committee minutes and reports 1899-1936; RFH Committee minutes, 1952-1971; House Committee minutes, 1928-1948; Building Sub-Committee minutes 1933-1940; Secretary and House Governor's out-letter books, 1920-1923, 1936-1948; Development Committee minutes 1945-1946; Patients' Services Committee minutes, 1971-1974; University College Hospital and RFH Joint Working Party minutes 1970-1972; Anniversary Committee minutes and papers, 1977-1979;

Financial records including Finance Committee (later titled Finance and General Purposes Committee and Finance and Policy Committee) minutes, 1948-1974;

Almoner's records including Report Book 1895-1913 and correspondence, 1901-1961; reports of Royal Free Hostels for Women and Girls, 1919-1960;

Records of Charitable Funds, 1902-1977; comprising Students' Bed Endowment Fund minutes 1904-1939; Dresden Assistance Fund minutes 1904-1953, accounts 1912-1948, records of payments to patients 1938-1961; Scottish Womens Hospitals Memorial Association Executive Committee minutes, 1921-1958, financial records 1940-1951; Ladies Association Executive Committee minutes 1902-1916, 1927-1929; Princess Marie Louise Guild of Work minutes, 1907-1911; Patients and Friends League Executive Committee minutes, 1933-1977; Auntie Ruby's Jig Stamp Club minutes and cash books, 1954-1962;

Medical Advisory Committee (formerly Medical Staff Advisory Committee) records, 1905-1984,including: Medical Committee minutes 1906-1977 and reports 1905-1950; Medical Executive Committee minutes and agendas, 1975-1990; Venereal Disease Sub-Committee reports, 1919-1940; Sub-Committee of Anaesthetists minutes 1952-1969; Sub-Committee of Surgeons (renamed Division of Surgery, 1970) minutes 1959-1982; Sub-Committee of Physicians minutes 1957-1971; Renal Unit Sub-Committee minutes 1965-1967; Division of Radiology minutes 1977-1984; Division of Medicine minutes 1971-1984; Control of Infection Sub-Committee minutes 1976-1985; Division of Psychiatry minutes 1980-1986; Division of Oncology minutes 1985-1988; Surgical Specialty Group minutes relating to the disciplines of Opthalmology, Ear Nose and Throat, Plastic, Oral and Dental, Accident and Emergency and Othopaedic surgery, 1988-1990;

Nursing records including Register of Nurses, 1868-1937; Matron's Reports to Weekly Board, 1899-1905, 1930-1948; Matron's Register of Probationers, 1901-1933; Nurses log book, containing record of work, training and examinations, 1902-1920; records of Probationer and Student Nurse Examination results 1925-1988; Sisters' record books, 1955-1952; register of Pupil Midwives, 1929-1933; Staff Nurses and Staff Midwives record books, 1928-1954; Nurses' Ward Reports, 1950-1956; Register of Affiliated Nurses, 1938-1953; General Nursing Council Index of Student Nurses, 1947-1953; photographs of Student Nurses, 1947-1970; Nurses Education Committee minutes and papers, 1949-1959; School of Nursing Academic Board minutes, 1972-1983; records of the RFH Nurses League, 1910-2000;

Patient records including Case Notes 1890-1944; microfilms of patient records, 1974-1980, subdivided into Transplants, Miscellaneous, Deaths, DIC (Differential Interference Contrast) films; Post Mortem Examination Reports, 1907-1914, 1928-1973; Cause of Death Registers, 1950-1966; index of patients of the Marlborough Department of Genito-Urinary Medicine (formerly the Marlborough Clinic), 1917-1974; Electro-cardiograph (ECG) Registers, 1968-1975; Dischage and Death registers, 1981-1989; Ward Admission Registers, 1974-1975, 1983-1985; RFH Lawn Road (or North Western) Branch: In-patient Registers, 1965-1972;

Press cuttings relating to the Royal Free Hospital, 1934-1946, 1974-1998, including collection of cuttings and articles relating to the outbreak of 'Royal Free Hospital Disease', 1955, one of the earliest documented outbreaks of myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome;

Photographs of the RFH, c. 1880-2002, particularly construction of the 'new' Royal Free in Hampstead, 1970-1974;

Ephemera relating to the history of the RFH, c1828-2002, including papers and artifacts relating to benefactors, hospital events and anniversaries, particularly 100th and 150th anniversaries of the foundation.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Papers arranged according to originating department or depositor.

Conditions governing access:

These records are available for public inspection, although records containing personal information are subject to access restrictions under the UK Data Protection Act, 1998.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright is held by the depositor.

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:

Archival Information

Archival history:

The bulk of the records in this fonds were created prior to 1974 were collected together by Dr Edith Gilchrist, honorary archivist, when the hospital left its site in Gray's Inn Road in 1974. The concept of a hospital archive was first formulated at this time, as the hospital prepared to move to a new site in Hampstead. A number of items have been transferred to the Archives Centre at successive points, often unfortunately with precise provenance unrecorded. The records were transferred along with its associated collections from the Royal Free Hospital Archives Centre to London Metropolitan Archives in 2013.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited in December 2013.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Records of the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine (formerly London School of Medicine for Women) (Ref H72/SM), and Hospitals in the Royal Free Group, including the London Fever Hospital, Islington, (Ref H71/LF) the North-Western Fever Hospital, Hampstead (H71/NWL) the Childrens' Hospital Hampstead (H71/CHH), the Hampstead General (H71/HG), Coppetts Wood Hospital (H71/CW) and New End Hospital (H71/NE).

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Compiled Jan 2001, revised by Alan Kucia as part of the RSLP AIM 25 Project.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), 2nd edition, 2001. National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997

Date(s) of descriptions:
Jan 2001, revised Jan 2002 and May 2014.

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