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Reading Medicine
Clinical Sciences Library
Merrington, W. R.
University College Hospital and its Medical School: a history.
London : Heinemann, 1976. p 99
Cust, R.
Then and now.
University College Hospital Magazine.
1948; 33: 119-120

Library Regulations
VI. Use of the Library for Reading

  1. The Library is open to all students of the Medical School.
  2. The Library may also be used for reading by any person who is allowed to take out books.
  3. Silence shall be maintained
  4. Readers shall sit at the tables and not stand together in any part of the Library.
  5. A Student wishing for a book shall apply for it by formal entry in a Register kept for the purpose.
  6. Books shall be taken down and replaced by the Librarian only.
  7. No person when writing shall place the writing paper on a book or lean on a volume, or make any mark in it, or do anything else which in the opinion of the Librarian, may damage a book.
  8. The Librarian shall preserve order and report to the Dean any continued breach of these regulations, and any attempt to disturb order in the Library.
Origins of the Medical School Library
University College Hospital Medical School, 1907.
University College Hospital Medical School, 1907.
The North London Hospital, opened in 1834 and re-named University College Hospital in 1837, was replaced by Alfred Waterhouse's new 300 bed hospital on Gower Street in 1906. A year later a new Medical School, Students' House and Nurses' Home endowed by Sir Donald Currie opened on the corner of Gower Street and University Street. Adjacent to the new University College Hospital the architect this time was Paul Waterhouse, Alfred's son.

The new Medical School Library was located on the ground floor, running the length of the building on the Gower Street side and reaching through two floors, with a formal external entrance which was described 70 years later by Merrington:

"The enormous entry into the library from Gower Street 'to serve as a sort of state entrance' seems quite pointless and has, in fact, only been used once or twice"
On 31 May 1923 King George V and Queen Mary signed the UCH visitors book in the Library. This was part of a ceremonial procession from laying foundation stones for the new Obstetric Hospital and Nurses. Home, to opening UCL's new Anatomy Building, developments which had been funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

The Medical School Library in 1908.
The Medical School Library in 1908.
From the UCH visitors book - signed by King George V and Queen Mary.
From the UCH visitors book - signed by King George V and Queen Mary.
- View full sized image

The galleried reading room typical of the era was decorated with memorials of eminent names associated with the Hospital and Medical School. These included busts of Robert Liston, Edmund Alexander Parkes, Sir John Eric Erichsen, Sir Robert Carswell, Sir Charles Bell and David D. Davis as well as marble medallions of Christopher Heath and George Vivian Poore. A portrait of Sir Donald Currie hung on the south wall beneath his coat of arms - a castle over a galley on a field of gold and blue - which formed part of the crest of the Medical School.

The reading room had a seating capacity of about 60 although the Library served for other functions too: at one time it was the venue for events such as the Old Students. Annual Dinner and the Medical Society Christmas Ball, as well as for more formal occasions. An introductory address was given by Sir Richard Douglas Powell, physician to the King, in the Library on 2 October 1907. For several years from 1954 prize-giving ceremonies for the nursing school were held there and space was made available for the Dean, Secretary and professors to meet parents of the medical students at the Medical School's annual open day; this was also an opportunity to exhibit some of the Library's rare medical books and other treasures.
HRH The Princess Alexandra at the nursing school prize-giving, 1962. Sir Donald Currie's portrait is on the right. (Reproduced with the permission of Mary Avery).
HRH The Princess Alexandra at the nursing school prize-giving, 1962. Sir Donald Currie's portrait is on the right. (Reproduced with the permission of Mary Avery).

By comparison with today however, access to this resource was very limited for students who, unlike staff, could only borrow books to take out of the Library "under special circumstances" which required application to the Library Committee. The Library Regulations were very formal, with conditions for use of the Library for reading that had not altered over 30 years later and were the subject of some aggrieved correspondence in the UCH Magazine in the 1940s. In particular the restrictions applied to students and the stringent rule that "no reader may have in his possession more than one book at a time" was the cause of much protest and in due course the rules were relaxed and the policies changed.

The Medical School's new Librarian in 1907 was Mr F.H.M. Parker and the prospectuses indicate that the extent of the Library's collections was considerable, growing from 8,000 to "about 13,500 works on medical subjects, including all the current text-books and works of reference required for study or research" by 1913. In 1912 however there were just 21 journals and even by 1948 there were only 45. The Dean's report for 1908-1909 recognizes, amongst other gifts, the presentation of a cabinet for storage of the card index catalogue by Mr R. J. Godlee, later surgeon to the King and president of the Royal College of Surgeons. This catalogue, now in the Cruciform Library, remains as an historical record of these early collections.

Library Regulations, UCH Medical School, 1908
Library Regulations, UCH Medical School, 1908
Extract from the 1948 UCH Magazine article by Mrs Cust.
In 1920 Mrs R. Cust was appointed Librarian and remained in post until 1948 when she reminisced in the UCH Magazine about her time in the Library including the Medical School's evacuation to Stanboroughs Park, Garston during 1940-1943; in fact apart from a nearby bomb which shattered the Library windows, this corner of Gower Street escaped the worst of the Blitz.

Mrs Cust's successor was Mr A. T. Picton, librarian until 1978 when he was succeeded by Mr G. R. Peacock who remained in post until the Library moved to the Cruciform in 1999.

Left: Extract from the 1948 UCH Magazine article by Mrs Cust.

Last modified 4 April 2007

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