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Archive for the 'History' Category

Inspiration in the Library: John Horder

Steven JBembridge19 May 2017

In the early 1990s, Dr. John Horder (1919–2012)—pictured here—presented a patchwork quilt to the Library. It now hangs on the first floor—on the wall between Group Study Room 1 and Group Study Room 2. Horder’s sister made it, and its many constituent parts perhaps act as a metaphor for Horder’s own life. Indeed, he summarised his life as one of ‘varied experience and opportunities in parallel to each other’—rather like the quilt itself (1).

blog quilt

Dr. Horder was an influential general practitioner and—amongst many accomplishments too large to list—was President of the Royal College of General Practitioners from 1979–1982. He also led the editorial team that wrote the now classic textbook The Future General Practitioner – Learning and Teaching, which continues to be available at the Cruciform Library (CRUCIFORM W 89 ROY) (2).

Initially enrolled to study Classics at Oxford, the intervention of the Second World War decided Horder to pursue a career in medicine because ‘the prospect of killing fellow humans appalled’ him (2). The Times’ obituary to Horder recalls his ‘passion for the NHS,’ and perhaps fittingly, Horder sat his final medical examinations in 1948—the same year in which the NHS was founded (3). He described its establishment as a ‘welcome release’ from the ‘dilemmas about whether or not to charge at all’ and the pressure to ‘balance the losses’ (4).

Despite the conflicting demands of his busy professional life that continue to resonate in our economic and political climate, Dr. Horder was also an accomplished pianist and artist; he even chaired the Royal Free’s art committee. His own watercolour ‘A View of the College from Hyde Park’ shows an interpretation of the Royal College of General Practitioners that formed such an important part of his life. Closer to the Royal Free, his work ‘Primrose Hill‘ represents the area of London where he lived with his wife. So, the next time you walk past the quilt on the way to or from a meeting—or perhaps to the Quiet Study Area as you work towards your own dream of becoming a doctor—the quilt that may seem a little out of place in a library has a story to tell of Dr. John Horder.


  1. Horder J. An account of my life. London journal of primary care. 2008;1(1):51-4.
  2. Horder J. An account of my life. London journal of primary care. 2009;2(1):74-6.
  3. “Lives remembered: Dr John Horder.” https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/lives-remembered-dr-john-horder-cjb6j2lgqkz (accessed May 11, 2017).
  4. Horder J. An account of my life. London journal of primary care. 2009;2(2):172-4.

Inspiration in the Library: William Marsden

Jennifer RFord25 April 2017

Our recent posts have highlighted some famous figures in the history of the Royal Free Hospital and their links to the library – Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Sheila Sherlock. This month we’re focusing on the founding father of the Hospital, William Marsden.

William Marsden Portrait

Marsden was born in 1796 in Yorkshire, probably to humble beginnings.

Following an early career as an assistant apothecary, in 1824 Marsden studied surgery under John Abernathy at St Bartholomew’s, qualifying as MCRS in 1827. Late that year, an event occurred that had a profound influence on the direction his life would take.

Walking home shortly before Christmas, Marsden found a young girl almost dead from disease and starvation on the steps of St Andrew’s Church in Holborn.

He tried to find treatment for her at several hospitals but was refused; at the time admission to hospitals required a letter from a hospital governor, and therefore the power of admission was held exclusively in the hands of the rich who supported the hospital.

The girl died two days later.

Distressed at this state of affairs, Marsden called a meeting of city businessmen, and proposed the founding of a free hospital; the ‘London General Institution for the Gratuitous Care of Malignant Diseases’ opened its doors on April 17th 1828. The dispensary treated all diseases and conditions, including venereal disease, which most other institutions were reluctant to treat. In 1832, when cholera reached London, the free hospital opened its doors to cholera patients. As a result Marsden became a leading authority on the treatment of the disease, saving many patients.

In 1835, King William IV became a patron of the hospital, and the institution became known as the ‘Free Hospital.’ In 1837, Queen Victoria granted the title of ‘Royal’ to the Free Hospital, bringing much publicity. The Royal Free Hospital relocated to Gray’s Inn Road in 1843, reaching a capacity to admit hundreds of patients. In 1853 Marsden and two colleagues proposed that the Royal Free Hospital was now in the position to start a medical school.

Alongside the Royal Free Hospital, William Marsden also founded the first hospital exclusively for cancer patients, now known as the Royal Marsden Hospital. According to his obituary in the British Medical Journal, Marsden was:

“…like all men of his mark, self-contained, and did not ever give up the object he had set his heart upon because he was opposed by great and authoritative personages; neither was he ever greatly elated by the accession to his views if important people.” (BMJ, 1867, p. 97)

Visitors to the library may notice the impressive portrait of Marsden on the ground floor, painted by Thomas Illidge in 1850. The library is proud to provide a home for this representation of the founder of the Royal Free Hospital and pioneer in social medicine. We hope that our users will also find inspiration in the wonderful history of the Royal Free Hospital that can be found within the Library’s walls.


  1. William Marsden. Br Med J, 1, 96.

MAGEE, R. 2009. William Marsden, a pioneer in social medicine. ANZ journal of surgery, 79, 918-921.

MCINTYRE, N. 2004. William Marsden’s Yorkshire family, 1749-1922. Journal of Medical Biography, 12, 154-160.

Inspiration in the Library: Dame Sheila Sherlock

ShonaKeeshan-Moran21 March 2017

Last month on the Royal Free Library blog we provided inspiration for our visitors with the fascinating piece of tangible history that is Elizabeth Garrett Anderson’s desk. If you have found yourself sitting here in contemplation, you may have noticed the striking bust that shares this space on the first floor of the Library (pictured). This bust represents the image of Dame Shelia Sherlock (1918-2001), another hugely monumental figure in the history of medicine.

Sheila Sherlock bust2

Sheila Sherlock was born in Dublin in 1918 and brought up in Folkestown in the United Kingdom. In 1930s Britain it was still quite difficult for women students to enter into medicine, and Sheila applied to and was rejected by several medical schools. She ultimately received an offer from the University of Edinburgh in 1936, graduating five years later at the top of her class. Sheila’s specialist subject was in liver disease, and her immense talent was quickly reflected in her career path.

In 1948, at the age of thirty, she was appointed lecturer and honorary consultant physician at Hammersmith, setting up a new liver unit which attracted research fellows from many countries. In 1959, at the age of forty-one, she became Britain’s first female Professor of Medicine, when she was appointed to the chair at the Royal Free Hospital Medical School. At this stage in her career she had gained an international reputation as a pioneer in the new field of hepatology. She remained Chair of Medicine at the Royal Free until 1983. In March 2008, the liver treatment service at the Royal Free Hospital was re-named the Sheila Sherlock Liver Centre in her honour. The staff education centre in the hospital is also named after her.

So, on your next visit to the Library, take a moment to pause on the first floor and give a nod to one of the most instrumental and inspiring figures in Royal Free history.


MCINTYRE, N. 2014. How British women became doctors: the story of the Royal Free Hospital and its Medical School, United Kingdom: Wenrowave Press.

ROYAL FREE LONDON NHS FOUNDATION TRUST. The Sheila Sherlock Liver Centre [Online]. Available: https://www.royalfree.nhs.uk/services/services-a-z/liver-services/the-sheila-sherlock-liver-centre/ [Accessed 20th February 2017].