Update on the Closure of the Royal London Hospital Museum
The ‘News’ section of the League website noted in spring 2022 that the options for the future of the old Royal London Hospital Museum were being considered due to a number of longstanding issues with the basement museum space. These included questions over the tenure of the space, which is not owned or managed by Barts Health NHS Trust; problematic environmental conditions in the display areas due to the basement location, which were putting displayed collection items at risk from damage and issues of both accessibility and resourcing.
In July 2022 the Trust Archives Committee took the decision not to reopen the space after a closure due to Covid, in order to ensure the long-term preservation of the collections, and to focus on improving documentation of the collections and providing access to them in new ways.
The objects formerly on display are accessible for research at Barts Health NHS Trust Archives, alongside over 1,000 other objects from the Royal London Hospital collections, the Royal London Hospital archives, and the many other archive and object collections we hold, including archives of over 30 current and former hospitals. (The cast of the skeleton of Joseph Merrick, was on loan from the medical school and has been returned to them). Researchers including League members, current and former nurses, and members of the public can search our catalogue online to identify objects of interest and contact us to make an appointment.
The work to remove items from the old museum display space has involved a programme of improvement to the catalogue descriptions and images of the museum objects, which has led directly to an increase in the number of requests for research access to objects over the last year. We have also been able to prioritise a number of items for conservation work, and facilitate two requests for external loans.
All the historic collections cared for by Barts Health NHS Trust, including the records and artefacts of the RLH League of Nurses, personal papers and effects of key figures like Eva Luckes, nurse training records and more, are held in safe, environmentally controlled and secure storage which meet sector standards, and can be accessed on request.
Since 2022, the Trust Archives has been based in a new larger premises with a flexible search room space which has allowed us to host more groups in the archives. The archives team have been delighted recently to welcome a number of group visits looking at material from the RLH collections, including most recently a nursing set reunion group, and are always happy to receive requests for similar sessions.
Barts Charity is supporting the archives team to develop new ways of making the collections accessible within the hospitals, and we are pleased to announce a recent funding award from the Charity for a project working with RLH staff, patients, and the local community. Project participants will work with us to curate 5-6 digital display points which will be located in key patient waiting areas within RLH. These will feature images and scans of material from the collections and information about the hospital history, on themes selected with the project participants through a series of workshops. The project will run for around 18 months, and we hope to have the displays installed by the end of 2024.
Please get in touch with the archives for more information if you are interested in participating in the project. You can also join our mailing list to receive our quarterly newsletter and keep up to date with collections news from the archives team.