The Royal College of Physicians is a British professional body dedicated to improving the practice of medicine, chiefly through the accreditation of physicians by examination. Founded in 1518, it set the first international standard in the classification of diseases, and its library contains medical texts of great historical interest.
The college hosts four training faculties: the Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine, the Faculty for Pharmaceutical Medicine, the Faculty of Occupational Medicine and the Faculty of Physician Associates. The college is sometimes referred to as the Royal College of Physicians of London to differentiate it from other similarly named bodies. Its home in Regent’s Park is one of the few post-war buildings to be granted Grade I listed status.
In 2016 it was announced that the North of England centre of excellence was to be based at a new building in the Liverpool Knowledge Quarter in Liverpool. The new centre is set to open in 2020.
A small group of distinguished physicians, led by the scholar, humanist and priest Thomas Linacre, petitioned King Henry VIII to be incorporated into a College similar to those found in a number of other European countries. The main functions of the college, as set down in the founding Charter, were to grant licenses to those qualified to practice and to punish unqualified practitioners and those engaging in malpractice. This included apothecaries as well as physicians.
It was founded as the College of Physicians when it received a Royal Charter in 1518, affirmed by Act of Parliament in 1523. It is not known when the name “Royal College” was first assumed or granted. It came into use after the charter of 1663. It was legally confirmed in 1960 by the Royal College of Physicians of London Act (which was primarily required in order to move the premises of the college outside of the Cities of London or Westminster to Regent’s Park).
The college has been continuously active in improving the practice of medicine since its foundation, primarily though the accreditation of physicians. It is a member of the UK Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. It is sometimes referred to as the Royal College of Physicians of London to differentiate it from other similarly named bodies.
The first Harveian Librarian was Christopher Merret, a fellow of the college and a friend of Harvey. He was set up with a lifetime appointment that compensated him with room and board and a small stipend. In 1666, the Great fire of London destroyed many of the rooms and most of the books, so they tried to break the contract with Merret, but he fought them at the King’s Court, claiming it was a lifetime appointment. He eventually lost the case, was expelled from the Fellowship, had to seek private lodgings and return the books he had rescued from the fire.
The library aims to support the learning and information needs of the RCP’s members, students, and staff. The unique collections are also used by members of the public interested in researching. The enquiry service provides information on the current role and functions of the RCP as well as its history.
- history of medicine
- health and social policy
- medical education
The college is located in St. Andrews Place, which is at the north end of the road running up the east side of Regent’s Park, Park Square East. The college’s previous headquarters, on Pall Mall East/Trafalgar Square, is now Canada House, part of the Canadian high commission in London. The college had a number of other locations prior to Pall Mall East, in the City of London.
The current College building itself is notable. It was designed by architect Sir Denys Lasdun, opening in 1964 and has since been recognised as a building of national importance: it is a Grade I listed building, one of a very select band of post-war buildings sharing this distinction. Lasdun’s use of mosaic clad concrete was extremely influential on many later public buildings. An interesting feature of the building was a ‘Moving Wall’, weighing five tons (5080 kg) and capable of being hydraulically lifted ten feet (3050 mm) to unite or sub-divide a hall of sixty-two feet (18.9 m) width, which was the interior width of the building. The hydraulic equipment and the steel framework for the Moving Wall were produced by Merryweather & SonsLtd of Greenwich, hydraulic engineers. Although better known for fire fighting equipment it was not the company’s first installation of this kind.
The college holds an annual lecture, commonly referred to as the Lumleian Lectures, which were named in honour of Lord Lumley and established as part of the Lumleian Trust. The trust and lectures were established in 1582 by Richard Caldwell, a former president of the college. The subject matter of the lectures was initially in surgery, which was later changed to in medicine. The first lecture was given by Richard Forster, and the lectures continue to today.
Other annual lectures are the Croonian Lecture, the Goulstonian Lecture, the Bradshaw Lecture and the Milroy Lectures.
Once a year, traditionally on St Lukes Day, a Fellow is appointed to deliver the Harveian Oration to the assembled college in memory of William Harvey. The oration seeks to honour the founders and benefactors of the college and encourage a spirit of experimentation amongst the members.
The Bisset Hawkins Medal is a triennial award founded in 1899 in honour of Francis Bisset Hawkins, a fellow of the college, to recognise work done in the preceding ten years in advancing sanitary science or promoting public health. The Baly Medal is a biennial award, founded by a gift from Frederick Daniel Dyster (1809?–93) received in 1866, confirmed by deed 1930 – in memory of William Baly: £400 to provide a gold medal for the person deemed to have most distinguished himself in the science of physiology, especially during the previous two years.