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MARSDEN, William (1796-1867)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 1530 WM
Held at: Royal Free Hospital Archives Centre
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Full title: MARSDEN, William (1796-1867)
Date(s): 1820-2001
Level of description: Collection (Fonds)
Extent: 0.5 cubic metres
Name of creator(s): Mardsden | William | 1796-1867 | surgeon
Sandwith | Frieda | b 1894 | writer


Administrative/Biographical history:

William Marsden was born in Sheffield in August 1796. He moved to London, 1816, and became apprentice to Mr Dale, a surgeon practicing in Holborn. He trained at the Anatomical School of Joshua Brookes in Blenheim Street, and at St Bartholomew's Hospital under John Abernethy. In 1820 he married Elizabeth-Ann Bishop and also became a member of the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers. He obtained membership of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1827. His inability later in that year to obtain hospital treatment for an 18 year old girl, whom he found on the steps of St Andrew's Church, Holborn, almost dead of disease and starvation, turned his attention to the question of hospital relief. At that time treatment was only given to patients with a governor's letter. In 1828 he set up a small dispensary, the London General Institution for the Gratuitous Cure of Malignant Diseases, in Greville Street, Hatton Garden. The Institution initially met with great opposition, but in 1832 its value became widely recognised as it alone, of all the London hospitals, received cholera patients. After the epidemic the in-patient beds remained, and the hospital changed its name to the London Free Hospital. In 1842 the hospital moved to the Light Horse Volunteers Barracks in Gray's Inn Road. Marsden was senior surgeon of the hospital, and in 1838 he obtained the degree of Doctor of Medicine from the University of Erlangen. In 1846 Elizabeth-Ann Marsden died of cancer, and in 1851 Marsden opened a small house in Cannon Row, Westminster, for patients suffering from cancer. Within 10 years the institution moved to Brompton, and became known as the Cancer Hospital, of which Marsden was also the senior surgeon (The Hospital was renamed the Royal Marsden in 1954). In 1846 he married Elizabeth Abbott, daughter of Frances Abbott, a solicitor and member of the RFH Committee of Mamagement. Marsden died of bronchitis in 1867.

Alexander Edwin Marsden was born on 22 Sept 1832, the son of William and Elizabeth-Ann Marsden. He was educated at Wimbledon School and King's College London. He became a licenciate of the Society of Apothecaries, 1853; and MRCS 1854;. He joined the army in 1854 as staff assistant surgeon, and served in the Crimean War. On his return to Britain he was appointed surgeon to the Royal Free Hospital, where he was also curator of the museum and general superintendent. At the Cancer Hospital he was surgeon, 1853-1884, and consulting surgeon, 1884-1902. He married his cousin Catherine Marsden in 1856. He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Medicine by the University of St Andrews, 1862; and was elected FRCS, 1868. In 1898 he was elected Master of the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers. He died 2 July 1902.


Scope and content/abstract:

Correspondence and papers relating to William Marsden, founder of the Royal Free and Royal Marsden Hospitals, and members of the Marsden family, 1820-2000, comprising:
Papers of Frieda Sandwith (b 1894), great granddaughter of William Marsden, relating to her book Surgeon Compassionate - The Story of Dr William Marsden MD, MRCS, Founder of the Royal Free and Royal Marsden Hospitals (published by Peter Davies, London 1960), including biographical notes on Marsden, typescripts of early drafts, titled Honour a Physician and Poor Man's Physician and proof copies, correspondence, 1958-1963; legal documents, including copies of marriage and death certificates for William Marsden, 1820-1867; copy of will of Edith Marsden, granddaughter of William Marsden, including bequest to the Royal Free Hospital; certificates of Freedom of the City of London for William and Alexander Edwin Marsden; family photographs and papers including press cuttings on Vera Johnson (later Bateman), great granddaughter of William Marsden, a dancer who took the stage name Vera de Mersden, 1912-1914;

Album of watercolours, sketches and verses, dated 1841-1877, presented by William Marsden to his niece, Catherine Marsden [who was married to his son, Alexander] including paintings and sketches of India by W D Marsden.

Papers and empemera relating to memorials to William Marsden, including memorial tablet in St Andrew's Church, Holborn, 1974 and the annual Marsden Lecture at the Royal Free Hospital.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:


Conditions governing access:

Researchers wishing to consult the Archives should first contact the Archivist, Royal Free Hospital Archives Centre, 'The Hoo', 17 Lyndhurst Gardens, London NW3 5NU, for an appointment.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copies, subject to the condition of the original, may be provided for research use only. Requests to publish original material should be submitted to the Archivist.

Finding aids:


Archival Information

Archival history:

The bulk of the material was deposited by Noelle Sandwith, (great great dranddaughter of Wiliam Mardsen).

Immediate source of acquisition:

Allied Materials

Related material:

Records of the Royal Free Hospital (Ref RFH).

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Surgeon Compassionate - The Story of Dr William Marsden MD, MRCS, Founder of the Royal Free and Royal Marsden Hospitals (published by Peter Davies, London 1960) by Frieda Sandwith. An Illustrated History of the Royal Free Hospital by Lynne A Amidon, published by the Special Trustees of the Royal Free Hospital, London, 1996.

Description Notes

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

Rules or conventions:
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 2002

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