Royal College of Surgeons, Lincoln's Inn Fields

11 May 1941

By Tabatha Parker

The British government purchased the collection of leading anatomist and surgeon John Hunter in 1799. The collection, of surgical equipment and anatomical specimens from his many experiments, was given to the Company of Surgeons (later the Royal College of Surgeons). Formally opened as the Hunterian Museum Collection, it was housed in galleries at 35 Lincoln's Inn Fields. 

The Royal College of Surgeons (founded 1800 with origins dating back to 1540 and located at 41 Lincoln's Inn Fields) began to take measures to protect these historical collections in 1938. The basements and sub-basements of the Hunterian Collection were strengthened. Other historical artifacts were placed in fortified rooms. A statue of John Hunter was bricked up as a precaution. Despite the risk of air raid damage, the majority of the Collection was left on display in the main galleries.

At 12.55am on 11 May 1941 the College was hit by a high explosive bomb. The bomb also destroyed two rooms in the main gallery of the Hunterian Museum at No 35 along with all of their contents. The bricked-up statue of John Hunter survived but the room in which it stood was reduced to rubble. The strengthened basements held up only partially and fire spread. The Odontological Collection (a comprehensive assortment of skulls, jaws and teeth) had been moved into the basements. Although these were fire-scorched, they survived the attack.

Other parts of the basement were heavily damaged by fire and around half of the entire Hunterian Museum Collection of 6,000 specimens was lost. Salvage teams later removed many valuable pickled body part specimens on stretchers. 

The process of rebuilding after the war was slow and with much of the collection lost, the new College building devoted more space to research.

 

Photo:Lincoln's Inn Fields, May 1941

Lincoln's Inn Fields, May 1941

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:View of Royal College of Surgeons from Portugal Street

View of Royal College of Surgeons from Portugal Street

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Interior of 35, Lincoln's Inn Fields

Interior of 35, Lincoln's Inn Fields

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:View of Royal College of Surgeons from Portugal Street

View of Royal College of Surgeons from Portugal Street

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Bomb Map: Royal College of Surgeons

Bomb Map: Royal College of Surgeons

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Royal College Of Surgeons, Lincoln's Inn Fields

This page was added by Tabatha Parker on 23/03/2011.

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