Records of the Royal College of Surgeons of England

Scope and Content

Corporate archive of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, roughly comprising:

Legal Records: Charters and Bylaws (1462) - date

Court and Council : Court of Assistants 1745-1827; Council 1827-date; Council in Committee 1963-1989; Revision committee 1981-1987; Nomination Committee 1934-1970; Annual Reports of Council 1884-date

Secretariat: Correspondence, arranged by subject c.1880-1983; Letterbooks 1810-1866, 1900-1925; General Purposes Committee 1808-1962; Joint Secretariat Committee 1961-1974

President: Committee of President and Vice President 1836-1855; Presidential Committee on Examinations 1985; Presidential Committee on the College's Educational Policies for the Future 1981-1982; Presidential Correspondence 1945-1948; President's Conversazione 1899-1934; President's newsletter 1967-1991

Museum: Board of Curators 1800-1844; Museum & Building Committee 1799-1814; Museum Committee 1844-1988; Hunterian Trustees 1805-present; Letter books 1800-1883; Museum Accounts 1800-1832; Annual Reports 1827-1946; Correspondence 1845-date; Special Collections Committee 1989; Donations Registers and Correspondence 1802-1967; Human Remains [archaeological Finds} 1907-1937; Visitors 1805-1989; Odontological Museum correspondence 1943-1989;

Building: Building Committee 1844-1966; Committee on Accommodation 1982; Committee on the Extension of the College Buildings 1885-1891; Furniture & Building 1966-1992; Hospitality & Catering Committee 1956-1988; House Committee 1944-1961; Building Estates Committee 1989-1992; Property Committee 1978-1982; Rebuilding of College 1946-1955; Plans for rebuilding 1957; Correspondence 1910-date, photographs 1880-date.

Examinations: Court of Examiners 1796 -1832; Registers 1745-1983; Committee of Management Conjoint Board 1884-1929; Letters books 1832-1865; Committee on Courses 1981-2; Working Party on Future of Examining Board In England 1972-1981

Membership: Signature books 1800-1970; Apprentices 1800-1846; Death Registers 1800-1889; Membership lists 1788-1970; Discipline Committee 1915-1955; Licentiate registers 1885-1898; Certificates 1850-1870; Register of Certificates 1821-1835

Fellowship; Fellowship Election Committee 1943-1975; Fellows Committee 1988-1999; Overseas Fellows Committee 1986-1989; Honorary Fellows 1900-1978; Fellows & Honorary Fellows photo albums 1840-1968;

Lectureships & Awards: Lectures & Orations 1810-1842; Erasmus Wilson Committee 1879; Jacksonian Lectureship Committee 1800-date; Prize & Medal Committee 1956-1987; Macloghlin Scholarship committee 1965-1975; Joseph Toynbee Memorial Lecture Committee 1988; Lionel College Memorial Fellowship Committee minutes 1982-1985; Norman Capener Travelling Fellowship Advisory Board 1981-1988; Ratanji Dalal Research Scholarship Committee 1963-1990; Tudor Edwards Memorial Fund Committee 1989; Walker Prize Committee 1956-1980; Windsor Prize Committee 1982

Publications: Transactions Committee 1841-1842; Annals Committee 1947-1989; Almanacks 1903-date

Annual Meetings: Annual & Provincial Meetings Committee 1965-1966;

External Affairs: External Affairs Board Minutes 1989-1992; International Relations Committee 1983;

Finance: Accounts 1745-1974 ; Committee of Auditors 1811-1888; Finance Committee 1888- 1977; Cashbooks 1887-1959; Finance & General Appeal Committee 1967-1972; Building Committee Accounts 1806-1838; College Chest 1978-1982; Committee on Income & Expenditure 1868

Fundraising: Appeals Committee 1956-1978; Restoration funds records 1945-1956

Library: Library Committee 1833-1989; Acquisitions 1833-1850; Letter book 1828-1851; Correspondence 1935-1965; Donations 1868-1957; Purchases 1887-1952; Visitors 1889-1946;Binding 1856-1951; Books Received 1839-1951; Periodicals Received 1881-1938; Binding 1951-1964

Media: Audio Visual Techniques Committee 1980-1982;

Surgical Specialities & Training: Examiners in Anatomy & Physiology Minutes 1880-1918 ; Examiners in Midwifery minutes 1852-1857; Board of Examiners In Dental Surgery 1860-1909; Board of Surgical Specialities 1976-1988; Committee on Higher Specialist Assessment in General Surgery 1984; Committee on Training of Surgeons later Surgical Training Board minutes 1959-1971; Courses & Lectureship Committee 1982; Committee on Courses 1981-1982; Special Advisory Committee on General Surgery 1978-1981; Surgical Teaching Films Committee 1985-1986; Joint Committee for Plastic Surgery, Postgraduate Orthopaedic Training 1948-1959; Postgraduate Education Committee 1947-1959

Research Laboratories Committee 1890-1905; Ethical or Research Ethics Committee 1974-1983; Hunterian Institute Board Minutes 1986-1989; Hunterian Institute Academic Advisory Committee 1986-1989; Institute of Basic Medical Research Correspondence & Minutes 1946-1983; Joint General Board 1966-1983; Joint Research Board 1975-1979; Museum & Research Committee 1937-1974; Research Establishment at Downe Management Committee minutes 1974-1977; Research Grants & Development Committee 1979-1985; Research Ethics Committee 1985-1992; Streatfield & MacKenzie Mackinnon Research Fund Committee 1989; Anatomy Correspondence 1948-1980

Club College Council Club minutes, photographs, correspondence 1931-date

Dinner: Hunterian Festival programmes 1881-1975; Buckston Browne 1928-1956

War: Committee of Reference 1916-1919

Administrative / Biographical History

In 1745 a split in the Company of Barber-Surgeons [est. 1540] led to the formation of The Company of Surgeons. The Company of Surgeons obtained a Royal Charter in 1800 and became the Royal College of Surgeons of London. A new charter in 1843 led to the current name The Royal College of Surgeons of England.

The Company of Surgeons started by keeping the bylaws of the Barber-Surgeons, which mean that they elected a Court of Assistants consisting of twenty one members including a Master and two wardens. From the Court of Assistants was chosen a ten member Court of Examiners testing students at the end of their apprenticeship. Despite a change in the bylaws of Apr 1748 stipulating that the Court of Assistants should meet every month this did not happen and the Assistants rarely met and so until 1799 the Company was under the effective control of the Master, Wardens and Examiners. The Examiners remained in post for life. The examinations were well administered but the running of the Company was subject to much criticism without a proper lecture theatre, or library. A Royal Charter was obtained in 1800 changing the name of the Company but the administration was still basically the same. Proposed changes in the constitution were delayed by failure of the College to gain control of surgical education in the wake of the Apothecaries Act of 1815 and it was only in 1822, William IV agreed to allow amendments to the charter and from that time on the College was controlled by a President, two Vice Presidents and a Council.

The Council discussed all aspects of policy, membership and its members also sat on a number of committees to cover the main activities of the College relating to finance, examinations, library, museums, discipline, building projects etc.

The day to day running of the College was given to a Secretary - there have only been eight incumbents of this role since 1800. Two Assistant Secretaries were created after the Second World War- one of whom was in control of finance. The other principal employees were Conservator of the museums from 1800; Librarian from 1828 and Secretary to the Conjoint Examining Board from 1888 [to administer the examinations system which was jointly run with the Royal College of Physicians].

From 1931 the College supported a research institute called the Buckston Browne Research Farm at Darwin's former home at Downe in Kent and laboratories were also built in extensions to the College's buildings at Lincoln's Inn Fields between from 1937 until the 1950s. The title of the Conservator was changed in 1933 to include Conservator and Director of Research. These posts were separated in 1941 with the creation of the Bernhard Baron Research Professorship, and the following year chairs were created in anatomy and pathology - each chair had a well equipped laboratory and post graduate teaching was established as part of the Institute of Basic Medical Research [IBMS]. The IBMS was a constituent part of the British Postgraduate Medical Federation of the University of London and had its own committee of Management, Academic Board and Dean and received funding from the University of London. By 1959, there were six Scientific departments in the IBMS - anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, opthalmology, and biochemistry. Two other Research Departments, of Dental Surgery and Anaesthetics, were part of the corresponding Faculties of the College with more independence than the other departments. The Faculty of Anaesthetists broke away entirely in 1988 with the formation of a separate Royal College of Anaesthetists. In 1986 the IBMS was dissolved but many of the research departments continued under a newly created Hunterian Institute, funded entirely by the College. Work at the Buckston Browne Research Farm was also drastically reduced at this time, with a complete cessation of all research at Downe by 1989. A decision was taken in 1992 for the Hunterian Institute to come to an end, and an Education department was formed in 1993 to take over the post graduate training courses for surgeons, dental surgeons and general practitioners. In 1996, the last research department of the Hunterian Institute based at the College - the Pharmacology department - was closed.

In 1990, the structure of administration of the College was revised with the creation of five boards - External Affairs, Training, Finance, Academic and Internal Affairs - with several specialised committees e.g. Regional Training Committee reporting to the appropriate Board and the Boards themselves reporting the Council. Also created were a Presidential Board of Surgical Specialities and a Welsh Board. By 1992 the Academic Board had gone to be replaced by an Examinations Board, Research Board and an Education Board and in 1997 the Internal Affairs Board was abolished.

From 1746 the Company of Surgeons leased a site at the Old Bailey next to Newgate Prison and George Dance built them a hall between 1847 and 1851. The Company was not a guild and the connection with the city lessened and it was thought better to move further west and in 1797 number 41 Lincoln's Inn Fields was purchased followed by number 42 in 1802. At one time the College the owned numbers 35 to 49 Lincoln's Inn Fields but in 1967 numbers 47-49 were sold to the Imperial Cancer Research Fund.

Between 1886 and 1908 the conjoint MRCS examinations were run from a purpose built building on The Embankment, which was then sold to the Institute of Electrical Engineers. New premises were found at 8-11 Queen's Square, Bloomsbury until 1993 when examinations moved back to Lincoln's Inn Fields.


This collection is not fully catalogued. It is currently divided into a number of subfonds including:

  • Governance
  • Committees
  • Secretaries Papers
  • Publications
  • Examinations
  • Membership and Fellowship
  • Scholarships, Lectureships and Prizes
  • Faculty of Dental Surgery
  • Estates
  • Finance
  • Library
  • Photographs

Access Information

Open and available to researchers. Some records are held offsite so retrieval times will be longer.

This collection is not fully catalogued, so please contact the Archives team at for assistance with finding aids and access.

Appraisal Information

This collection has not been appraised


Accruals are expected