It was in 1518 that King Henry VIII granted his physician Thomas Linacre the right to establish an institution that would grant licences to those with qualifications in 'physic' to practise their art.
Initially this was in London and its surroundings but 5 years later their remit was extended by Act of Parliament to the whole of England. 500 years ago its membership numbered just 12; today that figure is 15,000. The Royal College of Physicians has had 5 addresses in that time. For many years they were in Amen Corner and Warwick Lane in the City (a plaque marks their original home) but since 1964 they’ve been in Regent’s Park, surrounded by the cream stucco buildings of John Nash.
Their Grade 1 listed headquarters was designed by the controversial modernist architect Sir Denis Lasdun, famous for his work on the National Theatre. Though its exterior cream tiles and dark brick may clash with their Regency neighbours, inside Lasdun created an airy and functional space, inspired by anatomy. Around the central atrium distinguished physicians look down on today’s doctors, while many cabinets show a fascinating collection of historical medical instruments and artefacts.
Some are not for the squeamish. A 17th father and son by the name of Pujean left a chest of some particularly painful pieces: a corkscrew-type mechanism for removing bullet holes from the battlefield; a trepanation saw for relieving head pain; instruments for performing lithotomy - an excruciating operation a 25 year-old Samuel Pepys experienced and survived.
Other fascinating objects include an impressive display of 17th and 18th century apothecary jars, made in Lambeth, which contained everything from simple concoctions to ground-up foxes’ lungs. A rare survival is a set of anatomical tables from Padua. They contain real human veins, nerves and arteries and were used as teaching aids. There are only 2 surviving sets, the other is with the Royal College of Surgeons.
Currently the College is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm and entry is free.