Records of the Royal Maternity Charity

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Records of the Royal Maternity Charity, comprised of minute books (1761-1949) and rough minute books (1772-1826) including accounts of monthly and special meetings of the Royal Maternity Charity Committee, courts of the governors, and meetings of the Audit Committee, with later minutes of the General Committee and Annual General Meeting and reports of sub-committees such as the Medical Sub-Committee, providing details of the financial and staff management and general administration of the Charity, including discipline of midwives, the resolution of disputes between midwives and mothers, the handling of enquiries following complaints, and the selection of 'man-midwives' and physicians. Also included in this collection is a case-book of Robert Barnes, physician to the eastern district of the Charity in the mid-nineteenth century.

Administrative / Biographical History

The 'Charity for Attending and Delivering poor Married Women in their Lying in at their Respective Habitations', later known as the 'Lying-in Charity for Delivering Poor Married Women at their Own Habitations' and finally as the 'Royal Maternity Charity for Delivering Poor Married Women in their Own Habitations', was established in March 1757. Its main instigator was James Le Cour, an 'eminent jeweller' of Huguenot descent.

The Charity offered a service to 'sober and industrious' married women 'destitute of help in time of labour'. It supplied them with medicines, provided midwives for 'common cases' and surgeon accouchers or physicians for more 'difficult cases', allowing them to give birth more safely and comfortably in their own homes.

Those paying a yearly subscription became 'Governors' of the Charity, able to recommend a certain number of cases for every guinea donated. Initially, general meetings or 'courts' of Governors were held every quarter 'to receive the report of the Committee and regulate the affairs of the Charity'. A smaller Committee and Officers were elected annually to oversee day-to-day management. By the mid nineteenth century a pattern of Annual General Meetings and General Committee meetings was supplemented by those of a Medical Sub-committee, chaired by one of the Physicians, and other sub-committees, such as a Finance Committee.

Early meetings were held in various coffee houses and taverns in the City of London, mainly Will’s Coffee House in Cornhill and the Bank Coffee House, Threadneedle Street. From the 1840s the Charity had its own premises in Finsbury Square, in 1918 moving to offices in John Street, and subsequently to 46 Bedford Row.

By the late nineteenth century the Charity employed the voluntary services of 'Visiting Ladies', 'for the purpose of lending material assistance in addition to medical, in cases of great necessity and destitution'. These ladies visited cases and handed out relief from the Charity’s Samaritan Fund. In 1905 a further venture was a 'Training School for Midwives', preparing them for the new CMB examination. This was based at the house of the then Head Midwife in Paddington, with lectures being delivered by one of the Charity's Physicians.

By the mid twentieth century there were several other agencies providing a similar service, and the Charity was advised by the Ministry of Health to affiliate with another organization. Its investments were transferred to the official trustee of charitable funds, and were used for grants to the Central Council for District Nursing in London. The Charity wound up its affairs in 1949

Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers by appointment, Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm. mailto: archives@rcog.org.uk

Archivist's Note

Catalogued by Penny Hutchins, Archivist in January 2014

Conditions Governing Use

Out of copyright

Reproductions are available at the discretion of the College Archivist.

Custodial History

On its demise, the records of the Charity were passed to the Central Council for District Nursing in London, where at some stage they suffered considerable water and rodent damage. The records were presented to the RCOG Library in 1955 by the Central Council for District Nursing in London.

Related Material

Related material also held at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists may be found at the following references:

S61 Papers of Robert Barnes

RCMS/81 Records of the Royal Maternity Charity, 1857-1948