Royal College of Nursing Library and Heritage Centre

Historic nursing poster
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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 — 10 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.


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.
Illustration from the Water Babies

The Journey of Childhood Public health: From the Victorian Age to the present

  • 25 January 2017 5:30-7pm

From inter-war malnutrition to Every Child Matters

The health issues facing children in the UK have changed dramatically since the emphasis on child labour in Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies (1863): Florence Nightingale’s personal copy of this text features in our exhibition. Dr Jane K. Seymour (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) explores the role of public health doctors and their teams, which included school nurses and health visitors, in the inter-war period, while Professor Viv Bennett CBE (Chief Nurse, Public Health England) reflects on later developments in child health.

How do we ensure that every child gets the best start in life?


Beef tea on the wards photo

Nursing the Tropics: The history of travel health

  • 15 February 2017 5:30-7pm

Travel medicine is a relatively new branch of medicine, offering advice to people travelling across the world for work or pleasure.

In the 1800s, nursing abroad was largely associated with Britain’s colonies. Dr Rosemary Wall (University of Hull) talks about this history, in which nurses could be seen as agents of imperial hygiene. Dr Jon Cossar, former Foundation Vice Dean of the Faculty of Travel Medicine, and travel health specialist nurse Jane Chiodini will offer personal reflections on the development of travel medicine from the 1980s. A panel discussion, chaired by RCN Public Health Forum committee member Sandra Grieve, will consider what the future holds for travel health.


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.