Royal College of Nursing Library and Heritage Centre

Historic nursing poster
Food icon Guided tours icon Shop icon Library icon Study area icon Wheelchair access icon

The Royal College of Nursing Library and Heritage Centre is home to Europe’s largest nursing specific collection of materials.

Our venue includes publicly accessible exhibitions, a cafe and a shop within the Library space. Our Nursing History Collection enables visitors to browse nursing history texts, access some of our historic printed collection and to browse smaller displays curated with the RCN History of Nursing Society.

Venue Type:

Library, Museum

Opening hours

Monday-Friday: 9am-7pm
Saturday: 9am-5pm (closed Saturdays in August)

Admission charges

Entry is free, and no booking is required. There may be a charge for some services.

The Collection dates mainly from the 1850s onwards, though some earlier items are held. It comprehensively collects English language materials, focusing on nursing in the UK:
• 60,000+ Books and Pamphlets (dating from 1666 to present) including a significant collection of rare books and of grey literature
• 350 + Journals (1888 to present) print copies of journals, newsletters and magazines (in addition there are 1000+ contemporary e-journal subscriptions)
• 1,000+ Theses (1950s to present)
• RCN Archives (1890s to present)
• 725+ Personal Archives (1817 to present) including certificates
• 20 Organisational Archives (1887 to present) from organisations such as Commonwealth Nurses Federation; National Council of Nurses; Royal National Pension Fund for Nurses
• 625+ Interviews, Oral History Collection (1986 to present)
• Objects Collection: including 5,000+ photographs and lantern slides; 3,000+ medals and badges; 150+ audio recordings; 105+ videos and films; 150+ objects

Collection details


Exhibition details are listed below, you may need to scroll down to see them all.
Exhibition entrance photograph with 1916 furniture

The Voice of Nursing: Celebrating 100 years of the RCN

  • 4 January 2016 — 22 December 2017 *on now

Since 1916 the Royal College of Nursing has pioneered professional standards for nurses, shaped health policies and promoted excellence in practice. In this exhibition, we invite you to explore how nursing has changed over the past 100 years. With stories from nurses themselves and items from our unique collections, discover how the RCN has developed from a small professional women’s organisation to become the Voice of Nursing in 2016.

Suitable for

  • Any age


Visiting details and opening times can be found on our website. Tours available for booked groups.


District nurse with woman and baby

‘A healthful form of work’: The history of Public Health Nursing

  • 4 October 2016 — 31 March 2017 *on now

Public health nursing has its origins in the 1800s with the rise of social reform and efforts to improve the health of the poorest in society. Through five overlapping waves of public health intervention, this exhibition highlights the development of public health nursing and the roles nurses have played in improving public health from the 19th century to the present day. The exhibition considers vaccination programmes – once within the medical field and now primarily a nursing role – alongside sanitary and welfare reforms, the development of health visiting, and recent interventions into social inequalities. By recognising the role of nurses in public health’s past, we aim to inspire a future in which public health is everyone’s business, in health care and beyond.

Suitable for

  • Not suitable for children


Opening times and visiting details can be found on our website. Tours for groups available on request.


Image of First World War nurse and contemporary nurse

For Queen and Country: Nursing, Trauma and War

  • 11 April — 23 September 2017

Throughout history conflicts have affected the physical and mental health of service personnel and civilians. From the Crimean War in 1853, when trained nurses were first posted to a war zone, to Afghanistan in 2014, each conflict has presented a unique challenge and injury pattern, while the environment and the threat of disease causes even more casualties than the battlefield. Nurses doing their duty for ‘Queen and Country’ provide skilled, compassionate care to anyone at every stage of the patient experience. This is their story.


Open to all, Monday - Friday 9am - 7pm and Saturdays 9am - 5pm. Please note the exhibition will be closed every Saturday in August.


Events details are listed below. You may need to scroll down or click on headers to see them all. For events that don't have a specific date see the 'Resources' tab above.
Nurses and soldiers outside a First World War hospital

Nurse veterans of the Great War in 1920s France,

  • 30 March 2017 6-9pm

In this inaugural RCN History of Nursing Society Lecture, Professor Alison Fell (University of Leeds) will explore associations of former war nurses – both trained and volunteer - in France, Belgium and Britain in the 1920s. These groups of what might be called female ‘war veterans’ had both ‘public’ and ‘private’ functions. They served on the one hand as pressure groups that lobbied governments for improved rights and increased recognition of former nurses and, on the other, as social networks, as mutually supportive communities to and through which women of different social backgrounds were able to articulate a common identity predicated on their war service.

Doors will open at 6pm, and the talk starts at 6.30. It will be followed by a free drinks reception.

Suitable for

  • 18+
  • 16-17


Portrait of Florence Nightingale

Nightingale & Rathbone: Contributions to Public Health

  • 30 March 2017 12-5pm

This half-day study workshop, coordinated by the RCN and Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI), is open to all and of particular interest to historians of nursing, MA and PhD researchers and public health nurses. Taking an historical perspective, the workshop will highlight the contributions made by Florence Nightingale and William Rathbone to public health. Six speakers will join us, including experts from the QNI, Florence Nightingale Museum and Public Health England. We will also have the pleasure of welcoming a descendant of Rathbone himself. The final talk will reflect on Florence Nightingale’s legacy and look forward to what the future holds for public health.

The afternoon will also be a chance to learn more about the Florence Nightingale Collection in the RCN Library & Archives and the role of the RCN in the Digitisation Project.

Suitable for

  • 18+


£36 per person (including VAT). Includes lunch and free drinks reception and talk from 6pm.


First World War and contemporary defence nurse

For Queen and Country: Exhibition Launch

  • 10 April 2017 5-7:30pm

Physical and mental health injuries caused during conflict can have lasting impacts that endure for many years. As the evolution of warfare presents new health challenges, nursing teams have advanced to deliver specialised and innovative care for troops.

Join us on the centenary of the Battle of Arras for the launch of a new exhibition on the history of innovations in healthcare in conflict situations. Uncover the personal stories of nurses from the First World War to Afghanistan, and find out what ‘life on ops’ past and present is really like.

The exhibition will be opened on 10 April by Corporal Stuart Robinson. Corporal Robinson served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan. In February 2013, he suffered life-changing injuries, including the loss of both his legs. He will talk about his experiences of nursing care, rehabilitation and beyond, including winning a gold medal in wheelchair rugby at the first Invictus Games.

The exhibition will be introduced by guest curators Major Chris Carter (Chair of the RCN Defence Nursing Forum) and Dr Claire Chatterton (Chair of the RCN History of Nursing Society) and there will be a free drinks reception.

Suitable for

  • 16-17
  • 18+
  • 14-15


Image of RAF nurse in aeroplane First World War

Sky Wards and Flying Nightingales: Nursing in the RAF

  • 26 April 2017 5:30-7pm

Nurses have worked in the Royal Air Force since 1918, developing unique skills caring for the in-flight sick and wounded. George Cuthbert, the custodian of the Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service archive, explains the fascinating story of these so-called ‘Flying Nightingales’. Flt Lt Paul Evans will contrast this history with his own experiences today. He has extensive aeromedical experience, and was involved in the transfer of Ebola patient Pauline Cafferkey to the UK.

Suitable for

  • 14-15
  • 18+
  • 16-17


Royal College of Nursing Library and Heritage Centre
20 Cavendish Square
Greater London




0345 337 3368

All information is drawn from or provided by the venues themselves and every effort is made to ensure it is correct. Please remember to double check opening hours with the venue concerned before making a special visit.