The collection was, from the early 18th century, formed through many donations and bequests. These have enhanced its value, as a significant number of eminent medical practitioners and surgeons were among the benefactors. Only from the mid-19th century did the library begin to shape an acquisitions policy which was not determined so heavily by gifts.
Although the origins of St Thomas’s can be traced back to 1173, when it was an infirmary attached to a priory, this religious foundation was dissolved in 1540 as part of Henry VIII’s general policy toward such organisations. The hospital can trace its continuous existence from its re-foundation in 1551.
Although there are no extant records concerning the date of the formation of the library, it seems probable that a library of some description existed by the 1740s. As medical education had been put on a formal footing in the late 17th century, such provision had become essential.
From the 1840s, the library began to be professionally managed. It is no coincidence that at this time the medical schools of St Thomas’ and Guy’s formally separated, and St Thomas’s began a prolonged period of re-organisation and self-examination. A catalogue, an acquisitions policy, and regular stock checks were introduced. The first salaried librarian was employed in 1842; fines began to be enforced from 1860. However, as the library was financed by subscription, and not by direct subvention from either the medical school or the hospital, it had to continue to rely heavily on bequests and donations. This fact has determined the character of the St Thomas’s Historical Collection.
The collection today
Since 2002, the St Thomas’s Historical Collection has been housed in the Foyle Special Collections Library. The collection comprises some 4,000 monographs and 2,000 volumes of journals. A number of items from the St Thomas’s Historical Collection have appeared in exhibitions at King’s in recent years, and are available to view on the online exhibitions page of the Special Collections web pages.
The strengths of the collection lie in clinical medicine, surgery, anatomy, therapeutics and pharmacology. Psychiatry, forensic medicine and dentistry are also included, although holdings in these areas are not extensive.
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.
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.
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.