The RHN Archive and the NLHF Project to develop the archives service

The National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Royal Hospital for Neuro-Disability work together to develop the archive service

Our Archives

We aim to ensure that as many people as possible now and in the future have access to the archives on-site and, digitally and to promote the study and understanding of the role this unique institution has played in the care of people with profound or complex disabilities.

The RHN Archive Service exists to preserve the past, serve the present and protect the future of this well-respected national charity. With records dating back to the charity’s inception in 1854, the archive service ensures that the unique documentary heritage of the hospital is maintained and added to, by collecting and looking after the records of our Putney-based community of specialist carers, and therapists and researchers.

In July 2019, the hospital was awarded a grant of £69,700 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to develop the archive service at the RHN.

The project aims to open up and share our rich history through a programme of conservation, cataloguing, collecting, digitisation, and outreach events. The recruitment, training and work of volunteers are also key components of our NLHF project. And the project will provide first-time access to the historical records of the hospital for the RHN supporter’s community and the local area.

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Establishing a publicly available archive service has provided access to newly preserved and catalogued archive material via an online cataloguing system.
  • Conservation: Cleaning and preserving our archive materials ensures that they are cared for safely and consistently so that they can be made available for use now and in the future.
  • Promoting: A tailored programme of outreach and advocacy activities for users/stakeholders through our social media accounts of outreach and advocacy activities, through our social media accounts, a new blog, ongoing webinars, and partnerships with local universities.
  • Collecting: Creating a collection of oral history recordings relating to the pandemic and the experiences of staff, patients and families. Also acquiring some new items, such as some new picture postcards of the hospital.
  • Digitising: Scanning and transcribing selected items from our archive, and making them publicly available through our online cataloguing system.

What material is in the RHN Archive?

The RHN has a unique place in British medical and social history as the first institution of its kind in England to offer care to people who were living with chronic or incurable injury or illness. 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 also appeals 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 also provide information for family historians and genealogists researching past patients and staff members as well as local historians interested in the history of a major local institution, which before being converted into a hospital was a fashionable manor house dating back to the 18th century.

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One of the strengths of the collection is how much of the hospital records series has 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 administration and governance of the hospital are 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 archive also holds a 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 including a speech by Sir Charles Dickens.

Click here to see Charles Dicken's speech at the hospital's second anniversary dinner

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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.