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    North Western Hospital, fever ward, 1930

    ​North Western Hospital, fever ward, 1930

​An important and significant collections on the history of public health provision and the role of women in providing it.

The Royal Free Hospital has transferred its archives, comprising both the Royal Free Hospital and London (Royal Free Hospital) School of Medicine for Women collections, to London Metropolitan Archives (LMA).

The reading room at the Royal Free Archive Centre closed on 13 September. There was much preparation to be done before the archives could be transferred and made available at LMA including keying the existing catalogues into the LMA electronic catalogue, labelling each item with a unique reference, creating a location index, packaging ready for the move, and knowledge transfer sessions for LMA staff by the Royal Free archivist. All this hard work paid off and the records were moved in early December 2013 and made available for consultation at LMA in February 2014.

A spokeswoman from the Royal Free said: “This is an exciting new chapter for the Royal Free’s archives. The trust has an enormously rich history and, with documents dating back to 1828 when the hospital was founded, it is of paramount importance that the archive is properly cared for. Its new home at the London Metropolitan Archives will allow greater access for members of the public and will ensure this valuable material is preserved for future generations.”

Nick Kingsley, head of archives sector development at the National Archives, added: “We have worked closely with the Royal Free and the LMA on the transfer. We are pleased that the records will be made available at the LMA alongside so many other important hospital collections and other records relating to the health and social history of London’s inhabitants.”

Royal Free Hospital

The Royal Free Hospital began life as a small dispensary in Holborn providing free medical care to those who could not afford it; it was the first 'free' hospital in London. The title 'Royal' was granted by Queen Victoria in 1837, in recognition of the hospital's work during the 19th century cholera epidemics, when it was the only London hospital to accept cases.

Demand for free hospital treatment was high, so in 1844 the Royal Free moved to larger premises, a former army barracks in Gray's Inn Road, where it stayed until the early 1970s. In 1877, the Royal Free became a teaching hospital and made history by becoming the first hospital in Britain to accept women as medical students. This began a close association with the London School of Medicine for Women, later renamed the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine. The Royal Free School of Nursing was started in 1889, and in 1895 the Royal Free became the first hospital to appoint an almoner, forerunner of the modern social worker. After the Second World War, the Royal Free continued to innovate, leading the way in treatments for kidney and liver diseases, haemophilia and cancer.

On the inception of the National Health Service in 1948, the Royal Free joined with several smaller hospitals including the Children's Hospital Hampstead, the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, the North-Western Hospital, Hampstead General Hospital and the London Fever Hospital to form the Royal Free Group. In 1968, Coppett’s Wood and New End Hospital joined the Royal Free Group and, in 1972, Queen Mary's House.

The Royal Free moved to its present site in Pond Street, Hampstead, in the mid 1970s. The new hospital brought together the old Royal Free Hospital in Gray's Inn Road with Lawn Road Hospital (formerly the North-Western Fever Hospital), New End Hospital and Hampstead General Hospital. As a result of NHS reorganisation, the Royal Free came under the control of Camden and Islington Area Health Authority between 1974 and 1982 and the Hampstead Health Authority between 1982 and 1991.

In April 1991 the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust became one of the first trusts established under the provisions of the NHS and Community Care Act 1990. The Royal National Throat Nose and Ear Hospital joined the trust in 1996. On 1 April 2012, the trust was authorised as a foundation trust, under the name Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.

The collection comprises records from the hospital’s foundation in 1828 up to circa 2000. For the pre-1948 period, extensive series of minutes, annual reports and photographs give insight into the management and administration of the Royal Free. The collection also includes some of the earliest surviving physician and surgeons’ case notes from a British hospital (1899-1922). These were used as teaching aids, so they give exceptionally detailed patient histories and clinical case notes. The series also includes clinical case notes by some of the first women surgeons and physicians. Other highlights of the earlier part of the collection include almoner’s reports (1895-1913), post mortem reports (1907-1914, 1930-1956), records of the Nursing School, and large collection of photographs from the late 19th century. After 1948, for the Royal Free Group era, all major series of minutes have survived, enabling the study of the inception and development of the NHS, and the management of the Group. Post 1974 the records are more patchy.

London School of Medicine for Women

The London School of Medicine for Women was set up by a group of pioneering women physicians, led by Sophia Jex-Blake, who had been expelled from Edinburgh University after beginning their medical training, together with some male doctors who supported women’s entry into the medical profession. It was the first medical school in Britain to admit women, and the only school to do so until 1886.

The School opened in 1874, in a small house in Henrietta Street, off Brunswick Square. At first, students were taught in laboratories and classrooms at the School by a group of male lecturers. Then in 1877, an agreement was reached with the Royal Free Hospital, which allowed students at the London School of Medicine for Women to complete their clinical studies on its wards. The Royal Free Hospital was the first teaching hospital in London to admit women for training. In recognition of this relationship, in 1898 the School changed its name to The London (Royal Free Hospital) School of Medicine for Women.

The School remained women-only until 1948, when all medical schools became co-educational under the newly inaugurated National Health Service (NHS). This necessitated another change of name for the School, to the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine.

When the Royal Free Hospital moved to Hampstead in 1974, the school followed, finally moving all its activities from Hunter Street by 1983.

After World War Two the School was threatened by three successive government reports (in 1946, 1968 and 1980), either with closure or with merger with another school. Each time the School rejected the proposals. In 1998 however, the School finally merged with University College London to form a new school, the Royal Free and University College Medical School. In October 2008 it was officially renamed UCL Medical School.

The archive comprises the official corporate records of the London School of Medicine for Women (later the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine), from its foundation in 1874 to its merger with University College London in 1998. The survival of records is excellent. There are full sets of minutes of all the major committees, annual reports, magazines and student registers, and a near complete set of student files. There is also an excellent collection of photographs from the early period of the School.

Links with other collections at LMA

​There are some very specific links between a number of hospitals within the Royal Free Group of hospitals and other collections held at LMA:

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital (closely associated with London School of Medicine for Women)

Although the London School of Medicine for Women was founded by Sophia Jex Blake and her associates, it was closely connected with Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (who was Dean 1883-1903) and with the New Hospital for Women which she founded and was later renamed the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital. LMA holds the entire archive of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital (H13/EGA), which was part of the Royal Free Group from 1948 and of course also a pioneering hospital in terms of the admission of women practitioners.
South London Hospital for Women

LMA also hold the records of the South London Hospital for Women (H24/SLW) which was founded in 1912 "to satisfy two needs - a hospital for those female patients who prefer to be treated by a member of their own sex, and the opportunity for women doctors to train and work as hospital specialists".

North Western Fever Hospital

Prior to the deposit of the Royal Free Hospital archives, LMA already held records of the North Western fever Hospital which was established and run by the Metropolitan Asylums Board until 1930 then by the LCC 1930-1948. In addition, case registers 1896–1948 (H35/NW) had been transferred to LMA by the Royal Free Archive Centre. With the transfer of the Royal Free Hospital archives to LMA, the split collections of this hospital have been reunited.

New End Hospital

LMA holds the records of Hampstead Workhouse and Infirmary run by Hampstead Board of Guardians until 1930 then by the LCC 1930-1948, and which became New End Hospital. Again, with the transfer of the Royal Free Hospital archives to LMA, the split collections of this hospital have been reunited.

London Fever Hospital

The records of this hospital were rescued from a derelict building by LMA staff in the late 1980s and temporarily deposited here before being transferred to the Royal Free Archive Centre.