Our collections

The Hospital was originally founded on 31 July 1854 as the Royal Hospital for Incurables, and was the first institution of its kind in England to offer care to people who were living with chronic or incurable injury or illness. The RHN has a unique place in British medical and social history. In a formal recommendation letter written after an assessment of the RHN archives in 2013, the UK National Archives described the archives as ‘of national significance’.

The records are a significant source for the history of the voluntary health sector and for documenting changing social attitudes towards patients and disabilities in general since 1854. The collection is also of interest to those interested in the history of the NHS, with the hospital being a long-term provider of beds and services to NHS Trusts in the London and South East region. The hospital collections would also be of considerable interest to family historians and genealogists researching past patients and staff members as well as local historians interested in the history of major local institution, which prior to being converted into a hospital was a fashionable manor house dating back to the 18th century.

Archive books and pages on a desk

One of the strengths of the collection is how much of the hospital records series have survived from its foundation. Within the archive, there is a complete set of patient admission records from 1854 to the present day, which are complemented by other clinical records noting treatment options, patient conduct and detailed medical histories within the four volumes of patient case notes, 1900-c.1945. The administrative and governance of the Hospital is equally well represented with a full set of the Hospital committee minutes and illustrated annual reports along with supplementary series relating to the finance committee, housing committee and detailed inventories and staff lists.

The history of the hospital is well illustrated through its sizable holding of historic photographic and audio-visual collections, which include cine-film of Royal visits to the hospital along with black and white photographs of patients dating back to the early 1900s. The collection also holds valuable collection of late 19th century and early 20th century fundraising literature and appeals, which contain various uniquely commissioned narratives, illustrations and early photography, along with material relating to early fundraising appeals include a speech by Sir Charles Dickens.

Our growing collection of modern records captures the shift of the RHN away from its residential home roots to an international authority in the long-term nursing and rehabilitation of patients with neuro-disability from the late 1970s to the present day.

To read more about some of our key collections. Please see our following case-studies:


Illustrations and photograph

John Howard’s Convalescent Home

Covid-19 Collection