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KCSMD Historical Collection

Development of the collection

Transfer to the Foyle Special Collections Library

Research Resources in Medical History

The history of King's College Hospital

Robert Bentley Todd

Joseph Lister

Other significant persons associated with King's College Hospital


The library of King's College School of Medicine and Dentistry was started in 1839 with the opening of the first King's College Hospital and was established to serve the interests of the medical department of King's College London. As the library expanded, a historical collection or Early Book Collection, as it was originally known, began to take shape. This collection of approximately 1350 books covers the history of medicine from the time of Hippocrates to the turn of the twentieth century as well as incorporating items relating to the history of the King's College School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Vesalius, Opera omnia, 1725Development of the collection

As King's College London was established in the nineteenth century, this period is one of the strengths of the King's College School of Medicine and Dentistry historical collection. At the turn of this century, appalling sanitary conditions, overcrowded housing and haphazard and dangerous working environments meant that epidemics like typhus, scarlet fever and cholera were commonplace. These issues are mirrored in nineteenth century medicine, which saw the development of the vaccine, the advent of antiseptic surgery and improvements in hospital and medical practices. The KCSMD historical collection holds many items reflecting the progress of medicine in this period. For example, An inquiry into the causes of the variole vaccination ... (1801) by Edward Jenner, Aseptic surgery (1896) by Charles Barrett Lockwood and Clinical lectures in the practice of medicine (1848) by Robert Graves.

Despite the fact that the library of KCSMD was only formed in the nineteenth century, earlier works have not been neglected and are well-represented in the collection. The sixteenth century saw the birth of anatomy and the start of modern medicine with the publication of anatomical works by Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564). The KCSMD historical collection holds Opera omnia, anatomica & chirurgica (1725), which is the first edition of Vesalius 's collected works. Other noteworthy items from this period include one of the first works on plastic surgery, Cheirurgia nova ... de narium, aurium, labiorum'que defectu (1598) by Gaspare Tagliacozzi and a handwritten manuscript, An hospitall for the diseased ... copied from a 1598 work thought to be written by Thomas Cartwright (1535-1603). There is only one  known complete copy of this edition.

The seventeenth century was significant in the history of medicine in that it placed emphasis on scientific observation, something Hippocrates had advocated over 2,000 years previously. In this century William Harvey (1578-1657) provided the first complete theory of circulation in the human body, breaking the paradigm that fresh blood was constantly manufactured in the liver. The KCSMD vhistorical collection holds the 1766 edition of Harvey 's complete works, Opera omnia, and the first edition of Harvey 's De generatione animalium (1651), where Harvey describes his theory of reproduction.

The eighteenth century continued to see progress in anatomy, with medical schools no longer in fear of violating Church decrees in the dissection of corpses. Many anatomical works were published in this period and the KCSMD historical collections holds, for example, An anatomical exposition of the structure of the human body (1763) by Jacques-Bénigne Winslow and A course of anatomico-physiological lectures on the human structure and animal oeconomy (1765) by Charles Nicholas Jenty. Surgery also flourished in this century, as can be seen in William Cheselden 's A treatise on the high operation for the stone ... (1723) and Pierre Dionis 's Cours d'operations de chirurgie ... (1708). The practice of medicine changed significantly in the eighteenth century and was heavily influenced by the famous clinician and teacher, Herman Boerhaave (1668-1738), whose pupils came from all over Europe and as far afield as the United States and China to be taught by him at the University of Leiden. The KCSMD historical collection holds many different works by Boerhaave. For instance, Dr. Boerhaave's academical lectures on the theory of physic ... (1766-1773) and Boerhaave's Aphorisms (1724).

Ancient medicine has not been excluded from this medical collection and there are works by Hippocrates (ca. 460 BC) as well as Celsus (25BC-40AD) and Aetius of Amida (527-565). There is one rare incunable in this collection: Pietro d 'Argelata 's, Cirurgia magistri, published in 1497 in Venice.

Transfer to the Foyle Special Collections Library

In 2002 it was decided to move this historical medical collection to the Foyle Special Collections Library in Chancery Lane, London, where the collection could be housed in conditions appropriate to its value and fragility. In the Foyle Special Collections Library, the King's College School of Medicine and Dentistry historical medical collection is kept under secure conditions in an environment specially adapted to preserve early printed materials. There are two other significant medical collections which are also housed in the Foyle Special Collections Library. These are the Guy's Historical Medical Collection and the St. Thomas Historical Medical Collection, making the Foyle Special Collections Library one of the largest UK university repositories of historical medical material.

Research Resources in Medical History

In 2001 the Research Resources in Medical History grant scheme, a joint project funded by the Wellcome Trust and  the British Library, was established to support the preservation and access to historical medical collections in Britain. The Foyle Special Collections Library successfully received funds from this project in 2002 enabling the retrospective cataloguing of the KCSMD historical medical collection, as well as conservation of many of its most fragile items. Prior to the advent of this cataloguing project, there was very little information available on the contents of the KCSMD historical collection. The online cataloguing of this collection has now ensured that a valuable and unique medical resource is internationally available and is preserved in its entirety.

The history of King's College Hospital

The first King's College Hospital opened in 1840 some nine years after King's College London. When King's College got underway in 1831, it had a medical department but no attached teaching hospital. Medical students found it difficult to gain entrance to London hospitals to gain the required medical experience and the numbers of medical students registering began to dwindle. It became imperative that King's College either acquire or start a hospital where medical students could work unhindered in gaining the necessary practical experience.

In 1839 the Council of King's College London purchased the lease of a disused workhouse in Portugal Street. At this time, the area between Lincoln 's Inn Fields on one side and Regent Street on the other, was a vast slum made up of insanitary, overcrowded housing with dark and dangerous alleyways. Situated in the heart of this environment, King's College Hospital opened itself to the public in 1840 with 50 beds. Within three months the number of beds had increased to 120 and such was the need for a hospital in this area that in 1845 the Council of King's purchased the freehold to the workhouse and acres of adjacent land. Work began on the enlargement of the hospital, a by no means easy feat, as the hospital remained open to patients during this construction period. The new hospital was completed in 1861 and was built according to the latest theories on hospital architecture. Wards had beeswaxed floors, large windows to provide natural lighting and a fireplace on the inside wall. With slum clearance taking place in earnest at the turn of the twentieth century, and a newly created office environment replacing living accommodation, it became necessary also to move King's College Hospital south of the river into the suburbs of London from where patients now hailed. This third and final King's College Hospital officially opened in 1913 on the site where it still stands today in Denmark Hill.

Portrait of Robert Bentley Todd (1809-1860)Robert Bentley Todd (1809-1860)

Robert Bentley Todd was born in 1809 to the son of a well-known Dublin surgeon, Charles Hawkes Todd. On the early death of his father, Todd who had originally opted to study for the bar, was persuaded to join the medical profession. In 1831 Todd qualified in Dublin and moved to London the same year. He first worked at the Aldersgate School of Medicine, before helping to establish a new private medical school in Dean Street which later became the Westminster Hospital Medical School. During this period he edited a five-volume encyclopaedia of anatomy and physiology which became the standard work on these subjects in the nineteenth century. In 1836 he was elected to the Chair of Physiology and Morbid Anatomy at King's College London at the young age of 27.

Fortunio Liceti. De monstris, 1665.Although Todd was gifted academically, he is remembered mainly at King's for his skills in administration and organisation. It is thanks to Todd, firstly, that King's College Hospital was established, as it was his vigorous energies and powers of persuasion that resulted in the Council of King's purchasing the leasehold of the disused workhouse in Portugal Street which was to be converted into the first King's College Hospital. In addition, Todd set about solving many of the problems that irked the medical department at King's College. He encouraged medical education by means of open medical scholarships, the first of their kind in Britain, and he established the post of Dean at King's for the purposes of improving discipline and supervising students ' work. He also revised medical curricula so as to incorporate the new scientific subjects of anatomy, physiology and pathology. When Todd retired from his academic appointments in 1853, he had succeeded in turning King's College Hospital from one of the worst in London to one of the best.

On his death in 1860 Todd 's personal collection of books was donated to the library of King's College Hospital by his widow and these 200 or so books are now part of the KCSMD historical collection. The books range in date from the turn of the seventeenth century to the mid-nineteenth century; the earliest being Anonymi philosophi antiquiss, isagoge anatomica ... (1616) by Peter Lauremberg. Other significant seventeenth century works from Todd's collection include: Fortunio Liceti 's De monstris ... (1665) and De gangraena et sphacelo, tractatus methodicus ... (1617) by Wilhelm Fabricius Hildanus. Todd 's interests in anatomy and physiology are represented in Sir Astley Cooper 's The anatomy of the thymus gland (1832), which has also been personally annotated by Cooper, and The anatomy and physiology of the human body (1829) by John and Charles Bell. Todd 's personal copies of his own works, The cyclopaedia of anatomy and physiology (1835-1852) and The descriptive and physiological anatomy of the brain, spinal cord, and ganglions ... (1845), are also in the collection.

2009 was the 200th anniversary of Todd's birth and a conference was held to mark it on 12 October 2009 at the Weston Education Centre, Denmark Hill Campus. A synopsis of the papers presented at the conference can be downloaded from the foot of this page.

John Browne. Preternatural tumours, 1678.Joseph Lister (1827-1912)

Joseph Lister was born in 1827 to the British physicist, Joseph Jackson Lister. Lister completed his medical education at University College London where he graduated with honours in 1852. In 1861 he was appointed Surgeon to the Glasgow Royal Infirmary and it was here that he began his experimental work with antisepsis. At this time, post-operative sepsis infection accounted for the death of almost half of all patients undergoing major surgery. Lister, influenced by Louis Pasteur's work on fermentation, concluded that wound sepsis was a form of decomposition caused by living organisms in the air entering the wound. He had heard of experiments with carbolic acid which successfully freed cattle of a parasite-spreading disease and decided to emulate similar practices in the cleaning and dressing of wounds. Although Lister 's methods were rapidly adopted he faced great opposition to his 'germ theory '. Realising the need to convince London, he accepted the post in 1877 as Chair of Clinical Surgery at King's College London. At King's Lister was able to perfect his work in the field of antiseptic surgery and, in 1881, his theories were finally acknowledged with the discovery of bacteria. He retired from King's College in 1893 and died in 1912.

The historical collection of King's College School of Medicine and Dentistry contains a number of books personally owned by Lister. They have been donated to the collection by Harold Waterlow Wiltshire (1879-1937), a former Medical Tutor and Physician to King's College Hospital. For the most part these items have been personally inscribed by the authors to Lister. They are largely on the practice of surgery and, judging by the inscriptions to Lister, indicate the esteem and respect in which he was held. Researches in pathological anatomy and clinical surgery (1856) by Joseph Sampson Gamgee (inventor of cotton wool) and The science and art of surgery ... (1869) by John Eric Erichsen are two examples of noteworthy works formerly belonging to Lister.

Other significant persons associated with King's College Hospital

Sir William Bowman (1816-1892) was the first to describe the microscopic structure of the kidney. He was taught by Robert Bentley Todd and later collaborated with him to write The physiological anatomy and physiology of man (1845-1856), which is in the KCSMD historical collection.

Sir David Ferrier (1843-1928) was Professor of Forensic Medicine at King's College London and is considered to be the founder of neurological medicine. Ferrier was able to prove that areas of the brain are related to different functions of the body. Some of Ferrier 's own books have also been donated to the King's College School of Medicine and Dentistry historical collection and highlight his neurological interests. For example, A manual of psychological medicine ... (1874) by John Bucknill and Daniel Tuke.


A list of of books held in the KCSMD Historical Medical Collection can be obtained from the Library catalogue.

The College Archives of King's College London hold a significant amount of material relating to the history of King's College Hospital and its medical school.  Their detailed catalogue King's College Hospital, 1840-1959, published online, offers a general summary of these holdings. There is also a detailed catalogue available to the King's College Hospital case notes.

King's College Hospital: Patient case notes 1840-1959

Further Reading

F.F.Cartwright. The story of King's College Hospital and its medical school. London: Farrand Press, 1991. [Franklin-Wilkins WX11 CAR]

H. Willoughby Lyle.An addendum to King's and some King's men ... London: Oxford University Press, 1950. [ Maughan Library LGF Science Store-Books R488 L9]

E.H.Reynolds. "Robert Bentley Todd and the origins of King's College Hospital", GKT Gazette, March 2003.  

D. Jenkins and A.T. Stanway. The story of King's College Hospital. Huntingdon: Hambledon Press, 1968. [Franklin-Wilkins WX11 JEN]

Todd Conference 2009 - Word version


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