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Wellcome library, London.I’ve spent several pleasurable hours yesterday and today poking around the vast and growing  Wellcome Library archive online, using my new reader card. Remarkably, they have managed a photo of me that is a reasonable likeness and less thuggish than usual. This is the most trivial of many very good reasons to embrace this excellent institution, right in our midst on the Euston Road, a matter of minutes’ walk from Euston Square and Warren Street stations. If you are researching social history in any way, or are perhaps simply curious, I recommend you do so too.

Last week a group of London Historians Members had an after hours tour of the library with Ross MacFarlane, its Research Engagement Officer, followed by a lecture and show-and-tell of items from the archives with Senior Archivist Dr Chris Hilton. All of us were struck by both the scale and scope of materials that the library keeps. On the open shelves alone, in addition to books, there is a vast collection of academic and popular periodicals.

Most people who have heard of the Wellcome Library but not visited it will think that it’s a medical library. It is that, of course, but it is also so much more. For while Wellcome does concern itself with disease and medicine, it is – to be more accurate –  a rich repository of social history. So hygiene comes into it, and therefore engineering. Diet comes into it, and therefore cuisine and recipes. Dermatology, and therefore tattoos. Alcoholism, alcohol and therefore gin and beer and Hogarth. And so on.

Apart from books and periodicals noted above, the library is a huge repository of primary source material: diaries, papers, prints, pamphlets, photographs, paintings and film. Even the prostitute cards from London phone boxes! Eclectic. Thorough. It also keeps the records from many institutions but notably hospitals. Digitisation of these objects, documents, papers, records is a massive ongoing project and constantly being put online for researchers.  Again: get your reader card!

All of this is the legacy of Sir Henry Wellcome (1853 – 1936), the London-based American pharmaceutical magnate – massively wealthy – who poured every penny he could spare adding to his collection of books, papers and artifacts, with an eye to establishing a public museum and library after his death. The handsome neo-classical building on the Euston Road which is the home to the Wellcome Collection and Wellcome Library was built in 1932 and extensively refurbished in the mid-2000s. It has a rather good cafe to the right of the spaceous entrance foyer: do give it a go.

Here are a few pictures from our special visit.

wellcome library

Ross MacFarlane in full flow: such an enthusiast.

wellcome library

How a good library should look.

wellcome library

Dr Chris Hilton tells us about Sir William Petty, 17C stats pioneer; the 1930s Peckham Experiment; Patrick Abercrombie, town planner; the 1858 diary of James Patterson; until we ran out of time: lovely stuff.

wellcome library

Ross and Chris (foreground) doing show and tell.

Thanks to Ross and Chris for a superb evening. For more information on Wellcome, the Wellcome Library and more, here are some great links Ross sent me:

Library website: http://wellcomelibrary.org/
Info on joining: http://wellcomelibrary.org/using-the-library/joining-the-library/
How to… http://wellcomelibrary.org/using-the-library/how-to/
Remote access resources: http://wellcomelibrary.org/using-the-library/how-to/remote-access-to-e-resources/

Wellcome Images: http://wellcomeimages.org/ (which you don’t have to be a registered Library member to use)
Wellcome Film YouTube page (including films from 1930s Bermondsey films): http://www.youtube.com/user/WellcomeFilm
Library Blog: http://blog.wellcomelibrary.org/
Library Twitter: https://twitter.com/wellcomelibrary

Archives sources Guides: http://wellcomelibrary.org/using-the-library/subject-guides/ (note those divvied up for different parts of London)

And elsewhere…
Medical Archives and Manuscripts Survey and Hospital Records Database http://wellcomelibrary.org/about-us/about-the-collections/archives-and-manuscripts/finding-medical-archives-elsewhere/

And two projects that will be of interest:
Medical London (http://www.medicallondon.org/)
Sick City (http://sickcityproject.wordpress.com/)

One of our group, the Westiminster Guide Joanna Moncrieff, has mentioned Wellcome Library in a recent post on her blog, plus other good London research institutions you should know about.

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