Harvey Trust Deed, conveying to RCP Harvey's estate at Burmarsh, 1656

New College traditions and roles are established

The College library, the library keeper (Harveian librarian) and an annual dinner and speech (Harveian oration) are established by the Burmarsh Trust. This is a generous settlement of part of the family estate of William Harvey, given by him to the College, to fund the library and annual dinner.

Iron coffer, 1600s

Burglars ransack the College

London is devastated by a major outbreak of plague, which kills almost a quarter of the population. Most of the College members leave London, either to escape or to tend to their rich patients. While they are out of town, the College premises are burgled, with the silver, plate and money being stolen.

Detail of St Paul’s Cathedral from The Great Fire of London, oil on canvas by unknown artist, 1666-1700, by kind permission of The Society of Antiquaries of London

The Great Fire of London ravages the College

The College has just returned to London to find the coffers empty. Disaster strikes again when the Great Fire of London destroys the Amen Corner premises, most of the library contents, and the official records. The small number of things which are saved by the librarian, Christopher Merrett, are saved at the expense of his own belongings, as he is living on the premises.

For more information about the Great Fire of London, click here to watch a short film clip.

College premises in Warwick Lane, 18th century

The College builds a third home

After getting several generous gifts from members, the College builds new premises on Warwick Lane. The library is designed by Sir Christopher Wren but the building is designed by Robert Hooke. Hooke later designs a celebrated anatomy theatre, which opens in 1678/9.

Frontispiece of Pharamacopoea almeriana galeno-chymicas, Beyeren, Jan van, published  Alkmaar, 1723

The College loses its monopoly

The expense of the fees and the small numbers of physicians mean that most people have to find other sources of medical advice. For years, the apothecaries have been giving treatment advice as well as making up medicines, overstepping limits imposed in 1617. When a customer complains to the College about William Rose, an apothecary, giving advice that doesn’t help, the College prosecutes. However, the court takes the view that the monopoly on giving treatment advice is outdated and irrelevant and decides in Rose’s favour. This paves the way for the emergence of general practitioners, as well as pharmacists from the traditional apothecary role, later in the 19th century.

The march of the medical militants, showing the siege of Warwick Lane, 1767

A riot breaks out at the College

The College is limited by its statutes over the number of voting members, ‘fellows’, that it can have. There is no limit, however, on the numbers of ‘licentiates’, who are non-voting members. The criteria for being eligible for fellowship are very narrow and being licensed brings no say in how the College is run. The siege of Warwick Lane takes place during one of the official meetings of the fellows, where licentiates break in and disrupt the meeting in protest at their lack of privileges within the College.

Medical transactions, volume 1 by Royal College of Physicians, published London, 1768

The College publishes its first journal

The first College journal, Medical Transactions, is published. This journal continues to be produced until 1820. Its aim is to collect and publish papers describing diseases and treatments, produced by medical experts, to further the knowledge of the profession.

The Maniac attributed to George Dawe, 1820s

The College is required to license ‘mad houses’

Before 1774, anyone can run a ‘mad house’ (the term used for psychiatric hospitals at the time). It is just a matter of offering to take in ‘lunatics’ and keeping them confined for a fee. There is no requirement for medical care or record-keeping. This system is abused, with ill people locked up in terrible conditions and inconvenient relatives imprisoned and forgotten. In 1774 a parliamentary act is passed, requiring all mad houses to hold a licence, renewed annually, administered by a College committee. All mad houses must have appropriate conditions, medical staff and full records of all patients. This system remains in place until 1828.

Portrait of William Hunter (1718-1783) by Johan Zoffany, c.1770-72

The College licenses male midwives

Midwifery is becoming established as an acceptable profession for men to engage in. Its rising status is demonstrated by the College’s interest in linking to this area of medical practice. The statutes are changed to allow the College to offer a licence in obstetrics for male midwives. The licence is discontinued in 1819 due to the low numbers of applicants.

Adult male nervous system, anatomical table, c.1650

The College receives an unusual gift

The 10th Earl of Winchilsea gives the anatomical tables to the College. They display human veins, nerves and arteries skilfully arranged on varnished wooden panels. These panels are a rare survival of an early modern teaching aid (17th century), which had been used in the famed medical schools of Italy. The current earl is renovating his library and offers this souvenir of an ancestor’s trip to Italy to the College.

For more information on the anatomical tables, click here to watch a short film clip.