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.


Image of First World War nurse and contemporary nurse

For Queen and Country: Nursing, Trauma and War

  • 11 April — 23 September 2017 *on now

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 lowering a patient into a hospital ship

The Past, Present and Future of Nursing in the Navy

  • 7 June 2017 2-5pm

From the eighteenth century the medical role of nurses in the navy, especially the monitoring of patients for changes in symptoms, increased as medical practitioners left the bedsides of the sick. This workshop considers the role of nurses in naval medicine from 1588 to the present day. Erin Spinney explores the changing role of nurses from the 1760s to 1830, while Bernadette Quinn will outline naval nursing today.

Suitable for

  • Not suitable for children


Devonport Naval Heritage Centre
Vivid Approach


Therapy dog in the RCN library

From Detection Dogs to Therapy Pets: Animals in Health

  • 21 June 2017 6-9pm

Animals have long held a role in health settings, from the ancient use of medicinal leeches to the introduction of rescue dogs in the Alps in the early eighteenth century. Today, this role encompasses an ever broader range of interventions. At this public lecture, hear from Claire Guest about how her dog, Daisy, saved her life by detecting her breast cancer, and Lyndsey Uglow on her work at Southampton and Animal Assisted Interventions. Meet Lyndsey's dog Leo and find out about the role dogs play in health and social support for those experiencing homelessness.


Photograph of female soldiers in Afghanistan

Art and War: from the Cold War to Afghanistan

  • 24 June 2017 5:30-8pm

War artists have depicted the work of nurses in conflict zones since at least the Crimean War. In this talk on Armed Forces Day, we explore very different ways of depicting war through art.

Documentary photographer Alison Baskerville talks about her early years of photographing conflict and the ethics and complexity of covering war in other countries and the complicity of photojournalism when used in the mainstream media.

Visual artist Peter Kennard will consider the role his art has played in raising awareness of the threat of nuclear war.


Pat Moody telegram

Emails from the Edge: Letters Home From War

  • 5 July 2017 6-8pm

Find out more about life on ops past and present through this reading of genuine letters and emails from defence nurses to their friends and families, from the First World War to Afghanistan. Letters from the archive, such as Pat Moody’s notes written from ‘the same bloody hospital’, offer an entertaining, and often sardonic, account of life as a military nurse in the Second World War. Today, letters have largely become emails: yet the accounts of currently serving nurses are no less affecting. This live reading recounts the truly human story of healthcare in conflict situations.

Letters will include those from the RCN's 'Service Scrapbooks' project, conserving and digitising the scrapbooks and diaries of First World War nurses including Mabel Pearce, Florence Blythe-Brown and Hilda Hand. The evening will end with a performance by RCN writer in residence Molly Case, of poetry inspired by the RCN collections.


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.