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.

In 2013 we opened an exciting new space which includes publicly accessible exhibitions, a cafe and a shop within the Library space.

Also publicly accessible is a new space celebrating our Nursing History Collection – enabling visitors to browse nursing history texts, access some of our historic printed collection and to browse smaller exhibitions curated with the RCN History of Nursing Society.

A programme of public events is planned for 2014.

Venue Type:

Library, Museum

Opening hours

Monday-Friday: 9am-7pm
Saturday: 9am-5pm (closed during 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.
Nursing lecture in a London hospital, c. 1930

This is Nursing

  • 7 October 2013 — 30 November 2015 *on now

Two hundred years ago there was no formal nursing education and no guarantee that those calling themselves a nurse had any training, qualification or skills. Today, delivering quality patient care is the job of highly skilled professionals, and all new entrants are required to follow a degree programme.

This new exhibition, using the Royal College of Nursing’s collections, tells the story of innovative nursing education. Meet the remarkable women and men who have fought for better nursing education and discover how learning has evolved alongside the profession’s knowledge and expertise. Learn about the foundation of nursing schools, the creation of a state register of nurses, and how university degrees were first introduced.

The displays include a wide variety of historic nursing equipment and memorabilia, from a collection of nursing uniforms, nurse badges, and a district nurse’s bag and contents from the 1930s to a copy of Elizabeth Hanbury’s 1828 book ‘The Good Nurse – Or Hints on the Management of the Sick and Laying-in Chamber’ and more modern items such as an oral-nasal oxygen mask.


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.

Art and the asylum: Patients, staff and occupational therapy at Bethlem

  • 8 December 2015 5:30-7pm

Located within the world’s oldest remaining psychiatric hospital (founded 1247), Bethlem Museum of the Mind has collection of art dating back to the 1700s. Much of this was created by patients, and the Bethlem Gallery continues to provide a platform for similar work today.
Join us to hear all about the historic hospital and its collection from Head of Archives and Museum Victoria Northwood, followed by a look at the work of the Bethlem Gallery with contemporary artists from Gallery Director Beth Elliott.
Free and open to all, refreshments provided.

Suitable for

  • Any age




Curing Queers: Mental Nurses and their Patients

  • 10 February 2016 5:30-7pm

For LGBT History Month, Tommy Dickinson (University of Manchester) examines the plight of men who were institutionalised in British mental hospitals to receive “treatment” for homosexuality and transvestism, and the perceptions and actions of the men and women who nursed them.


Outside the Asylum: Community Psychiatric Nursing

  • 25 February 2016 5:30-7pm

Community Psychiatric Nurses (CPNs) are based outside mental health hospitals. Paul Godin discusses the rise of community nursing in Britain from the 1950s.

Suitable for

  • Any age




The History of Cardiff City Mental Hospital

  • 30 March 2016 5:30-7pm

The Cardiff City Asylum (later Whitchurch Hospital) opened in April 1908. Ian Beech (University of South Wales) explores the history of the hospital and its staff and patients.
This event takes place at RCN Wales, in Cardiff.

Suitable for

  • Any age


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.