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Guy's Hospital Historical Collection

The foundation of the historical collection of Guy’s Hospital Medical School is the library of Guy’s Hospital Physical Society. After the dissolution of the Physical Society, the library at Guy’s Hospital continued to reflect the whole range of biomedical sciences, including surgery, materia medica, botany, pharmacology, forensic medicine, dentistry and comparative anatomy. The library’s pre-1901 collections in these areas are now housed in the Foyle Special Collections Library, together with the library of the Guy’s Hospital Physical Society. They amount to 4,427 books and 1,615 journals.

Engraving of Guy's Hospital.

The library of Guy’s Hospital Medical School was enriched during the course of the 19th century by a number of bequests of books, including those belonging to the longstanding Treasurer of Guy’s Hospital, Benjamin Harrison (1771-1856). Harrison engineered the separation of the medical school at Guy’s from that of St. Thomas’s, and was responsible for much of the expansion of Guy’s medical facilities during his tenure. However, his domineering control over medical appointments (in particular the denial of promotion to Thomas Hodgkin and the selection of the notoriously incompetent Bransby Cooper, the nephew of Sir Astley) was controversial.

His personal wealth, which derived from manufacturing activities, was great, as can be seen from his bequest, which includes at least one incunable. A surgeon at Guy’s who made significant advances in our understanding of the anatomy of the nervous system, John Hilton (1805- 78), also gave a bequest of books to Guy’s.

The folios and oversize works include a number of interesting anatomical works, such as a 1555 edition of Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica. Some of the collection is catalogued online and access to a proportion of the remainder is available via a card catalogue.

Using Library Search

Records from all collections are available through King's Library Search.

Being signed in to Library Search gives the best functionality for searching and the homepage gives advice on how to narrow down your searches by using scopes and by filtering searches you have made. For full instructions please see both the Library Search homepage and also our 'Catalogues' webpage, available by scrolling down to the menu on the Special Collections homepage.

Using scopes

You can limit your search to Foyle Special Collections Library items by using scopes.

If you select the ‘Library Resources’ scope, only the print and ebooks, audiovisual material and journals held by the campus libraries and Foyle Special Collections Library will be retrieved in your searches

Using filters

For finding material related to specific collections or former owners, use the ‘Library Resources’ scope in the drop down menu and then filter by ‘Former owner’ in the Advanced search criteria to display records from a specific collection.

You can also use the Location drop down menu on the left hand side of the screen to identify items from specific named special collections.

Please do contact us for further advice on identifying material which will assist you with your studies.

Provenances in the collection

Sir William Osler (1849-1919)

The Canadian physician Sir William Osler was the outstanding clinical teacher of his generation. Through his textbook, The principles and practice of medicine, his influence spread far beyond those who were fortunate enough to be his students, and for many years after his death. Central to his vision for the future of medicine as both a science and an art was a commitment to resurrecting the history of medicine, in which field he was a pioneer.

He was also one of the earliest scholars of bibliography as a subject in its own right. The 1846 edition of the works of the 17th century physician Sir Thomas Browne bears his inscription (dated October 1905) on one of the front endpapers of the first volume. This is the year of his appointment as Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford, when he began to concentrate more on literary and bibliographical, as opposed to purely medical, activities.

Title page of 'Chronicles and correspondence of the society of

Chronicles and correspondence of the Society of ‘Old Guyites’

No other copies are traceable of this book, Chronicles and correspondence of the society of "Old Guyites (1849), which offers a unique and fascinating insight into the lives of medical practitioners in the middle of the 19th century. The experiences of colonial and military surgeons feature much, as do innovations in medical practice such as chloroform.

Nicholas Culpeper (1616-54)

The Guy’s Historical Collection contains two copies of Nicholas Culpeper’s The English physitian enlarged, one from 1653 and one from 1681. Both copies include extensive anonymous contemporary annotations, the copy from 1681 also including astrological signs. This is extremely appropriate, as Culpeper was not only one of the last astrological medical practitioners but also one of the first physicians who intended to spread knowledge to those (e.g. apothecaries) who did not know Latin.

Title page opening of Culpepper's 'The English physitian enlarged' (1681), showing copious manuscript inscriptions, including astrological symbols.

Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885), Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866) and Sir Samuel Wilks (1824-1911)

The copy in the Guy’s Historical Collection of An open letter addressed to Sir Moses Montefiore, itself a comparatively rare book, bears the bookplate (shown on the right) of the Jewish philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore. He had befriended the Quaker physician and social reformer Thomas Hodgkin, who held posts at both Guy’s and St. Thomas’s, and had accompanied him on five journeys to various parts of the Ottoman Empire, including Palestine, in order to relieve oppressed Jews. Hodgkin died during the last of these visits.

It also bears the extensive inscriptions of Sir Samuel Wilks, who was the first to label lymphoma Hodgkin’s disease, in honour of Hodgkin’s own pioneering research. He also ensured that the names of Richard Bright and Thomas Addison were attached to the diseases with which their most significant research had been associated.

This book is a moving record of the friendship between one of the most distinguished British Jews of the 19th century and one of the most eminent British Quakers of that period.

Bookplate of Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885).

William Babington (1756-1833) and contemporary inscriptions

Although William Babington was a very successful physician, his interests lay in chemistry and mineralogy. He lectured in chemistry at Guy’s for many years and was friendly with such chemists as Sir Humphry Davy (whose work would unwittingly contribute to the development of anaesthesia) and Joseph Priestley.

Engraving of the Chemical Theatre, Guy's Hospital.

His work in imparting the findings of pioneering chemists to medical students anticipates the progress which both pharmacology and forensic medicine would make later in the 19th century. His work in mineralogy led him to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1805 and he has a claim to be the founder of the Geological Society. His fourth son, Benjamin Guy Babington (1794-1866), who became a physician at Guy’s, was the inventor of the laryngoscope and a noted scholar of oriental languages, especially Tamil.

Title page from 'A syllabus of a course of chemical lectures read at Guy's Hospital' (London, 1816) by William Babington et al.

Two books by Babington in the Guy’s Collection, A syllabus of a course of chemical lectures read at Guy’s Hospital (1802) and Outlines of a course of lectures in the practice of medicine, as delivered in the medical school of Guy’s Hospital (1802-6) bear copious manuscript annotations by George Hickman, who was a medical student at Guy’s and St. Thomas’s in 1806. Another copy in the Guy’s Collection of Outlines of a course of lectures bears similarly copious inscriptions in an anonymous hand. These copies have blank leaves interleaved with the main text for the purpose of making notes related to the lectures.

Another edition of A syllabus of a course of chemical lectures (1816) also has extensive annotations, possibly in the hand of Babington or that of his co-author, Alexander Marcet. This copy bears the inscription of the pioneering toxicologist Sir Thomas Stevenson (1838-1908), who, in addition to being lecturer in analytic chemistry and forensic medicine at Guy’s, was senior scientific analyst at the Home Office and expert witness in several murder trials involving poisoning.

Other resources

The web page for the library of the Guy’s Hospital Physical Society provides information concerning the origins of the historical library collections at Guy’s.

The personal papers of Sir Samuel Wilks, along with other medical practitioners at Guy’s, are housed at the College Archives.

Select bibliography

Geoffrey Alderman, ‘Montefiore, Sir Moses Haim (1784-1885)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. [, accessed 16 April 2013]

Michael Bliss. William Osler: a life in medicine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999

WF Bynum, ‘Osler, Sir William, baronet (1849-1919)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2008, accessed 16 April 2013]

HC Cameron. Mr. Guy’s Hospital, 1726-1948. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1954

NG Coley, ‘Wilks, Sir Samuel, baronet (1824-1911)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 16 April 2013]

Patrick Curry, ‘Culpeper, Nicholas (1616-1654)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 16 April 2013]

Amalie M Kass and Edward H Kass, Perfecting the world: the life and times of Dr. Thomas Hodgkin, 1798-1866. Boston, Mass.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988

Amalie M Kass, ‘Harrison, Benjamin (1771-1856)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, 2004 [, accessed 12 April 2013]

Amalie M Kass, ‘Hodgkin, Thomas (1798-1866)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 16 April 2013]

John Kirkup, ‘Hilton, John (1805-1878)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 12 April 2013]

JF Payne, ‘Babington, William (1756-1833)’, rev. John C Thackray, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2011 [, accessed 12 April 2013]

JF Payne, ‘Babington, Benjamin Guy (1794-1866)’ rev. Michael Bevan, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 12 April 2013]

HD Rolleston, ‘Stevenson, Sir Thomas (1838-1908)’, rev. NG Coley, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2005 [, accessed 23 April 2013]

Benjamin Woolley. The herbalist: Nicholas Culpeper and the fight for medical freedom. London: Harper Collins, 2004

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