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Institutional Archives

The institutional archives span the establishment of the Company of Surgeons in 1745 to the present day.

As well as documenting the aims, objectives, and achievements of the College, they also offer a unique glimpse into the people and events which have shaped the College’s history.

The College’s own (institutional) archives consist of the official records created and used by the College as part of its ongoing work, which are now no longer in active use but are historically or legally worthy of preservation.

The College archives are opened to the public for research following a 30 year closure period (except printed council minutes which are available up to, and including, 2004).

List of Catalogued Archives

The following archives have been catalogued:

  • The Company of Surgeons, 1745-1800 (Ref. COS)
  • College Governance, 1800-present (Ref. RCS-GOV)
  • Most of the examination records, 1800-present (with the exception of exam results for specialty exams) (Ref. RCS-EXA)
  • College museums, 1799-present, including the Down House museum (Darwin’s former home, run by the College as a museum 1953-1996)
    (Ref. RCS-MUS)
  • Membership and Fellowship, 1870-1991 (Ref. RCS-MEM)
  • The Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, 1850-1985 (Ref. RCS-IBMS)
  • The Hunterian Institute, 1979-1992 (Ref. RCS-HUN)
  • Building records, including architectural drawings, 1799-2000 (Ref. RCS-BDG)
  • College Committees, 1808-1997 (Ref. RCS-COM)
  • Finance, 1811-present (Ref. RCS-FIN)
  • Personnel, 1932-1971 (Ref. RCS-PER)
  • College library, 1833-1984 (Ref. RCS-LIB)
  • The Buckston Browne research farm, 1991-1992 (Ref. RCS-BUC)
  • College’s photographic collection (Ref. RCS-PHO) (NB work is still ongoing)

Records that have not yet been catalogued include those relating to:

  • Fundraising
  • Special events such as the College’s Bi-centenary
  • VIP visits
  • College publications

Photographic Collection

Our photographic collections are the visual memory of the College, covering topics such as examinations, teaching, members of the College Council, the use of the College buildings and the curation and preservation of museum objects.

Building Records

Plans and drawings chart the evolution of the building from the George Dance’s original architectural plans in 1805 to the present day. Additional administrative records, such as the Building Committee Minutes, add context.

Some elements of the plans are surprising – one plan features an acid bath, presumably for disposing of cadavers or perhaps to assist conservators in cleaning skeletons.  Sadly for our current conservator (and to the great relief of his colleagues), no such bath now exists.


The Royal College of Surgeons in London was founded by Royal Charter, granted in 1800. Since then, any major changes to the governance, such as changing its title to “of England” in 1843, functions, and financial status of the College have been made legal and official through new or supplementary Royal Charters.

These can also be consulted in printed format in the College Library.

College Secretary Papers

In the past, the role of the College Secretary could range from planning events to negotiating gifts and bequests. They were required to have exemplary diplomacy skills and often stayed in the role for several years. The longest serving College Secretary was Edward Belfour, who served from 1811-1865.

The College Secretaries really were the unsung heroes of the College. This is particularly obvious in correspondence regarding gifts and the inception of prizes, which often left the College Secretary in the midst of family feuds, or at the mercy of eccentric benefactors and beneficiaries.

One letter in the secretary’s correspondence, from Eliza MacLoghlin, wife of a College Secretary, states her husband was ‘very clever, and he never made any mistakes’ (above, right).

In 1909, the sculpture ‘Mors Janua Vitae’ (below, right), which can be found on display in the ground floor of the College, was donated by Eliza MacLoghlin, who had commissioned the piece. The Secretary’s correspondence shows College Secretary, Silbert Forrest Antrobus Cowell, had to fend off fury from the artist, and even agreed to let Eliza MacLoghlin join her ashes in the sculpture with those of her husband.

To this day, the sculpture contains the ashes of both Eliza and her husband, Edward Percy Plantagenet MacLoghlin MRCS.

Councils and Committees


While performing their primary task of documenting key decisions made by the Council, the Council minutes also document significant moments in College history, such as the bombing of the College in 1941. Earlier Council Minutes also provide insight on the behaviour of long dead members and fellows whose conduct had not entirely been in line with the College’s high standards!

Additionally, we hold the records of several College Committees, including training committees. Some committees sound rather covert – The Formula Committee (which was appointed for the very sensible purpose of advising on changes in the standing rules and charters) being a case in point!

Bye-laws and Regulations

Bye-laws and regulations govern all aspects of College business, including the conduct of Members, Fellows, Council Members, Examiners, etc. They cover topics such as Council elections, examinations, and the running of the museum.

Examination Records

The examination records date from 1745, when the Company of Surgeons became a separate entity from the Company of Barbers. They include examination papers which show changing knowledge and attitudes in the surgical profession, as well as examination results.

Some gems in our examinations records are rather unexpected – this entry in our examination book, for example, which regards Lord Nelson’s claim for injury to the arm (above, right).

Please note, if you require proof or confirmation of your own past examinations results, you should contact the Examinations team who will deal with your enquiry.

Museums and Library Records

These can include acquisition records, which provide information regarding how particular material came to the College, as well as old catalogues.

Our old museum catalogues are very useful in investigating changing attitudes in acquiring and curating material, particularly that of human remains.

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