Horsley Papers

Scope and Content

Papers of and relating to the Horsley family, comprising papers of Sir Victor Horsley; papers of Eldred, Lady Horsley; papers of Siward Horsley and of Oswald Horsley; papers of Pamela, Lady Robinson, including items relating to the Babies Club in Chelsea; papers of Stephen Paget, author of Victor Horsley's biography; photographs and postcards. Victor Horsley's papers include large sections on his medical career, his service in the army during the Great War, and his political and social interests, including his involvement in the temperance movement and the Medical Defence Union, support for the suffragettes and for Home Rule for Ireland, and his role in the reform of the bodies representing the medical profession: the General Medical Council, the British Medical Association, and the Royal College of Surgeons. His personal papers reflect his interest in archaeology and genealogy.

Although the full date range for these papers is 1790-1965, the papers predominantly fall in the range 1863-1916.

Administrative / Biographical History

Victor Horsley was born in Kensington, London, and educated at Cranbrook School in Kent and at University College London, where he studied medicine under John Burdon Sanderson and George Dancer Thane. In 1880 he was appointed House Surgeon at University College Hospital where he experimented with anaesthetics. Horsley studied at postgraduate level in Berlin in 1881 and in 1882 was appointed Surgical Registrar at University College Hospital. From 1884 to 1890 Horsley was Professor-Superintendent of the Brown Institute, where he did experiments on localization of brain function (with Charles Beevor), on the pituitary gland, on the relation of the larynx to the nervous system (with Felix Semon), and on the thyroid gland, myxoedema and cachexia strumipriva. In 1885 he was promoted to assistant surgeon. In 1886 he took the position of Assistant Professor of Surgery at the National Hospital for Paralysis and Epilepsy, Queen Square, where he performed operations on the brain and spinal cord. In 1886 he was appointed secretary of the Local Government Board Commission on Hydrophobia, and also studied Pasteur's anti-rabies vaccine. In the same year he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society. From 1887 to 1896 Horsley was Professor of Pathology at University College London. He married Eldred, daughter of Sir Frederick Bramwell, in 1887, and the couple had two sons and one daughter. Horsley was elected President of the Medical Defence Union in 1893 and the British Medical Temperance Association in 1896. In 1897 he was appointed to the Senate of the University of London and elected to the General Medical Council. From 1899 to 1902 he was Professor of Clinical Surgery at University College London. In 1902 he was knighted for his work in medicine. In 1907 he published 'Alcohol and the Human Body' with Dr Mary Sturge. Towards the end of his life he stood as a Liberal candidate in London but later resigned; he was also rejected as a candidate for Leicester.

Horsley was commissioned in the Territorial Army in 1910 as captain in the 3rd London General Hospital of the Royal Army Medical Corps. On the outbreak of the First World War, he reported for active duty on the Western Front where he was initially sent as surgeon at the British hospital at Wimereux, France. He was next posted in May 1915 as a colonel and Director of Surgery of the British Army Medical Service in Egypt, based at the 21st General Hospital in Alexandria, in support of the Dardanelles Campaign. In the following year he volunteered for field surgery duty in Mesopotamia, where he died unexpectedly in Amarah, Iraq, on 16 July 1916, of heatstroke and severe hyperpyrexia, at only 59 years of age.

Lady Horsley continued to be involved in radical causes after her husband's death. Their sons, Siward and Oswald, were both educated at Bedales School in Hampshire, then at Oxford University. Both fought in the Great War, the younger, Oswald, being killed in a flying accident at the end of 1918. The elder, Siward, died in 1920. In 1917 Victor's daughter Pamela married Stanley Robinson, who was knighted in 1972 for his work in the British Museum. Pamela and her husband helped to found a Babies Club in Chelsea.


The papers are arranged as follows: papers of Sir Victor Horsley (medical; army; politics and current affairs; personal) and his correspondence; papers of Lady Horsley (politics and current affairs; personal) and her correspondence; papers of Siward Horsley (politics and current affairs; personal) and his correspondence; papers of Oswald Horsley (army; personal) and his correspondence; papers of Lady Robinson (Babies' Club; personal) and her correspondence; correspondence of Stephen Paget; medical, family, personal and other photographs; postcards.

Access Information


The papers are available subject to the usual conditions of access to Archives and Manuscripts material, after the completion of a Reader's Undertaking.

Acquisition Information

The bulk of the papers was presented in 1976 by Lady Robinson, Sir Victor Horsley's daughter. Lady Robinson's daughter, Mrs Penelope Heseltine, presented further papers in 1987. Additional papers were presented to UCL by Sir Victor Horsley's grand-daughter, Sophia Heseltine, in 2017 (A749).

Other Finding Aids

A full, detailed catalogue is available on the online catalogue.

Conditions Governing Use

Normal copyright restrictions apply.

Custodial History

Sir Victor's papers were sorted by Lady Horsley after his death in order to provide material for Stephen Paget's authorised biography, published in 1919. Many were annotated and some were summarised by Lady Horsley. The papers were also used for J B Lyons's The Citizen Surgeon (Peter Dawney Ltd, London, 1966), while they were in the keeping of Sir Victor's daughter.