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The RCP is the oldest medical college in England, founded in 1518. It is currently on its fifth headquarters; previous homes include Trafalgar Square, now part of Canada House and its first home on Amen Corner, near St Paul’s Cathedral, which was destroyed in the Great Fire of London.
The RCP is involved in a wide range of activities from education to public policy and is heavily involved in assessing training of young physicians. As well as these professional concerns, the RCP runs an active programme of public events and maintains a museum and garden which are open to the public (gardens by appointment only, so ring before you visit).
As well as an array of meeting rooms and lecture theatres, the main building is home to several large collections. One of the most notable is the Hoffbrand collection of apothecaries’ jars, comprising 183 items from the 17th and 18th century. These jars were used for the storage of medicines and ingredients and were highly decorated to impress customers, with the Latin names of their contents painted on.
In the next room are several smaller collections. I particularly liked the silver collection, an eclectic mix of anything medical or used by physicians and made of silver. This was initially a much larger collection, but a robbery in 1665 and the Great Fire in 1666 decimated the collection to only three pieces which survive today, including an inkstand bell, which is rung every year at the RCP’s AGM.
The canes collection is also worth a look: it consists of only eight canes, but there is a lot of advice for the aspiring physician on the proper look and use of a cane:
Outside is the medicinal garden, featuring hundreds of plants with medicinal uses planted by geographical region. If you ever get a chance to take a guided tour of this garden with a member of staff, don’t miss out – this weekend’s tour was absolutely fascinating and ended with several less than pleased parents being told that their children’s refusal to eat greens was, in fact, an advanced survival strategy, thanks to so many of them being poisonous!
Cotyledon orbiculata, used for a huge range of afflictions including hard corns and warts, boils, earache, toothache and epilepsy:
Last but not least, a little quiz. Inside the building are busts of all shapes and sizes of well known former members of the College. Anyone fancy their hand at identifying famous Physicians?
The Royal College of Physicians is based at 11 St Andrews Place, Regent’s Park, London. NW1 4LE. It is open 9am – 5pm, Monday – Friday and features a public museum. Regular events are run inside and outside the College headquarters: see http://www.rcplondon.ac.uk for more details