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Visitors' Guide to the Historic Collections Library

The history of the Library

This Library comprises the amalgamated collections of the former Royal Naval Hospitals at Haslar and Stonehouse (Plymouth).  

Work on RNH Haslar began in 1745, and was completed in 1762, the wards being opened in 1754.   A museum and library were added in 1827, a grant of £400 having been made for the purchase of the initial book-stock, with £150 per annum to maintain it. 

RNH Plymouth was begun in 1758 and completed in 1762.  Sir David James Hamilton Dickson, Physician from 1824-1847, was instrumental in setting up the Library in 1832, and some of his books remain in the collection.  The Navy estimates 1833-4 allocated £700 for fitting up the Museum and Library rooms, plus £200 to purchase the initial book-stock and £100 for annual outlay on books and specimens. 

From 1836 onward the two libraries received an annual combined book budget of £100, while in 1838 and 1842 both libraries shared the bequests of, respectively, Dr Robert McKinnal, Surgeon RN, and Dr Leonard Gillespie, Physician RN.  80% of McKinnal's bequest survives in the present collection, but only about 45% of Gillespie's, possibly because duplication led to the disposal of surplus copies (at least two, for example, are now held by the main Admiralty Library collection).  The languages covered include French, Latin, Greek and Italian, and eight of the books date from the sixteenth century (Lattimore, M. I.  Early naval medical libraries, personal and corporate.  Journal of the Royal Naval Medical Service.  Vol. 69 (1983), pp. 107-111 + pp. 156-60).

The books at Haslar survived a bombing raid in 1940, but most of the museum specimens were destroyed.  In Plymouth, the library had a near miss during raids in 1941-42, and a bomb-splinter can still be seen embedded in Volume 36 (1891) of The Edinburgh Medical Journal – now on display.  RNH Plymouth's library was re-housed, re-organised and re-catalogued in 1962.

In 1995 RNH Plymouth closed, and its books, archives and anatomical specimens were transferred to RNH Haslar.  In 1996, RNH Haslar passed from the control of the RN to the Defence Secondary Care Agency, and a decision was made that the historical collections from both Haslar and Plymouth should be taken into the care of the Institute of Naval Medicine. 

The Historic Collections Library has been managed under a partnership arrangement between the Admiralty Library and the INM since 2000.  Holdings have been or are being added to the computerised catalogue of the Admiralty Library.  The catalogue uses SydneyPlus software supplied by International Library Systems, INM's copy having been purchased with funds donated by Hampshire County Council.

The present location and contents of the Library

The Library is now to be found in Monckton House, the Victorian gentleman's residence that forms the core of the INM complex.  The  Librarian's office is the Medal Room, on the ground floor, where some of the old specimens are also kept.  Books are housed in the Maillard and Conference rooms on the ground floor, and in two basement rooms.  Archive and photographic collections, including some manuscripts, are in the attic. 

There are draft lists available both of books and of archive materials, and the Librarian will carry out a certain amount of searching on request.  It is particularly helpful to have advance notice of visitors, and some indication of their area of interest.   All reasonable effort will be made to provide callers with the information they seek.

Please contact Jane Wickenden, Historic Collections Librarian
Tel: 023 9276 8238, Fax: 023 9250 4823, Email