Research Defence Society

  • Research Defence Society
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


The collection comprises archives of the Society from its foundation. These include minutes; correspondence; materials relating to legislation on animal experimentation; financial and membership records; publications; scrapbooks and cuttings; photographs; slides; and tape-recordings.

Whilst the archives are incomplete, there are some interesting stray papers and an early scrapbook. A series of minute books date back to the establishment of the Society, and much information for the 1970s can be gleaned from the paperwork which the Society retained during its discussion over the bills leading up to the 1986 Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act. Surviving annual reports of the Society will be incorporated into the archive at a later date. The Society's publications include its regular magazine Conquest (until 1950 called The Fight Against Disease), and more recently a Newsletter.



Physical description

31 boxes, 2 o/s boxes, 2 card filing cabinets Uncatalogued: 11 transfer boxes


The collection is divided into sections as follows:

A. Early papers

B. Correspondence: stray administrative letters

C. Minutes

D. Membership, meetings and rules

E. Annual reports including Treasurer's reports (incomplete)

F. Accounts

G. RDS Publications

H. Copies of Acts of Parliament, Bills, Royal Commissions, etc. 1786-1915.

J. Correspondence and papers relating to animal rights Bills, 1927-37, 1965-80.

K. Literature and publications used by RDS

L. Anti-vivisection literature

M. Newspaper cuttings

N. Tape recordings and films

P. Photographs and slides

Acquisition note

In 1989 the Research Defence Society gave the library at Wellcome Collection its archives, including background papers of the predecessor body, the Association for the Advancement of Medicine by Research (AAMR).

Biographical note

The Research Defence Society was founded in 1908 to defend the use of responsible animal experimentation for the benefit of medical science.

The background to the establishment of the Society can be traced in the development of legalisation throughout the 19th century covering the treatment of animals. In 1875 a Royal Commission's recommendations led to the 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act which regulated experiments on animals: it permitted the infliction of pain but not deliberate cruelty in the pursuit of bona fide scientific knowledge. The Act required 'licence holders' and their place of work to be licensed, and it banned the use of paralyzing drugs without permission, restricting experimentation without anaesthetics. The Physiological Society was founded in the same year. Anti-vivisection debate continued and an anti-vivsection society brought a prosecution against the physiologist David Ferrier in 1881. Although the case was dismissed, it led scientists to believe that they needed to present a more positive image of their work and role in order to resist endless harrassment. Thus in 1882 an Association for the Advancement of Medicine by Research (AAMR) was founded, James Paget being its founder member.

A close relationship developed between the AAMR and the Home Office, the AAMR scrutinising all applications made to conduct medical research involving animals, prior to them being sent to an Inspector, at least until 1912. It thus had a quasi - official position.

The aims and objections of the AAMR were outlined by Professor Ernest Starling, President of the AAMR to the second Royal Commission on vivisection in 1906 as follows: "The Association is formed with a view of bringing the legitimate influence of the medical profession to bear more effectively on the promotion of those exact researches in physiology, pathology, and therapeutics which are essential to sound progress in the healing art. The aims and objects of the Association are: (1) To advise in the granting of licences. (2) To protect where necessary the interests of the licensees. (3) To watch proceedings in Parliament affecting the interests of research. (4) To publish and distribute to medical men and others who may desire it literature on the importance of research and the necessity of experiments on the lower animals. The Association shall consist of members of the medical profession and of other persons desirous of promoting the above objects."

Since the AAMR developed links with the Home Office, its role as an educating body was not developed. Hence the Research Defence Society (RDS) was established in 1908 as a separate body, developing from Professor Starling's Committee which had been set up principally to advise experimenters on methods of dealing with possible aggressive anti-vivisectionist activity. It was funded by Stephen Paget who was James Paget's son and was Secretary of the AAMR. The aims of the RDS were similar to those of the AAMR: "Advising on the grant of licenses; protecting, where necessary, the interests of licensees; watching proceedings in Parliament affecting the interests of research; and publishing and distributing to medical men and others, literature on the importance and the necessity of experiments of the lower animals."

The Society flourished in its early years and several branches were set up. It organised lectures, debates and publications (all of which it continues to do today). During its existence it has advised the government and Royal Commissions on the legal aspects of medical research on animals, most recently relating to the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act of 1986.

On Stephen Paget's death in 1926 a memorial lecture was established in his honour and this has attracted eminent scientists.

The Society has suffered from financial shortages for much of its lifetime, in spite of some wealthy bequests. Its charitable status was debated at length and in 1980 charitable status was granted for the educational work of the RDS.

An outline of significant dates in the history of the Society follows:

1835 Act to prevent cruelty to animals

1849/54 Cruelty to Animals Acts

1875 Royal Commission on the Practice of Subjecting Live Animals to Experiments for scientific purposes

1876 March Physiological Society created Aug Act to amend the law relating to Cruelty Aninals - legalised by licence the treatment of animals for experimental purposes.

1882 Association for the Advancement of Medicine by Research (AAMR) founded.

James Paget founder member, Prof. E. Starling first President. Increasingly advised Home Office

1897 Final Report Royal Commission on Vaccination

1906 Royal Commission on Vivisection set up (1906-1912).

1908 Research Defence Society (RDS) founded by Stephen Paget.

Temporary use of Lord Montagu's premises in Piccadilly.

In early years several branches established. Membership 800.

1911 Protection of Animals Act

Dorothy Burgiss-Brown appointed Secretary

RDS had over 3,000 members and 250 associate members.

1912 Lind-af-Hageby case. Membership 5,000.

Final Report of Royal Commission on Vivisection

1913 Dogs Protection Bill

1919 RDS, having changed premises several times, moved to a room in the Medical Society of London, 11 Chandos St.

1922 Special Appeal raised membership and veterinary surgeons allowed to join.

1923 Membership 4,000 (no record of membership between 1923 and 1949).

1926 Death of Stephen Paget. Memorial lectures established in his honour.

1927-36 Dogs Protection Bills.

1949 Miss Burgiss Brown (Secretary) retired. Membership 603.

1965 Report of the Departmental Committee on Experiments on Animals (Littlewood Committee Report on Workings of Cruelty to Animals Act)

1970s RDS gave advice on several bills to amend Cruelty to Animals Act

1980 New Constitution laid down scales of subscriptions for corporate Society and individual members.

Charitable status agreed for education aspects of work of RDS.

1986 The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act

1990 Membership, c.1,500.

2008 Merged with the Coalition for Medical Progress to form Understanding Animal Research

See also "History of the Research Defence Society", R.S. Vine, Conquest Feb 1987, No. 176, pp.10-18.

Lists of the Society's principal officers can be found in Notes.

Terms of use

This collection has been partially catalogued and the catalogued part is available to library members. Some items have access restrictions which are explained in the item-level catalogue records. Requests to view uncatalogued material are considered on a case by case basis. Please contact for more details.

Location of duplicates

The following photographs are held by Wellcome Images:

SA/RDS/P.3, Professor C. Best's lectures on Insulin: Fig 2 - first dog whose life was prolonged by Insulin, L0047544

SA/RDS/P.3, Professor C. Best's lectures on Insulin: Fig 3 - Leonard Thompson, the first person to receive Insulin on 11th Jan 1922, L0047543

SA/RDS/P.5/4, Glass lantern slide possibly used by Sir Leonard Rogers: "A striking example of the almost magical protective power of vaccination", L0047541

SA/RDS/P.5/7, Glass lantern slide possibly used by Sir Leonard Rogers: "2 young women (?yaws), one with smallpox", L0047542

SA/RDS/P.6/3-12, One of a series of ten glass slides showing colour drawings of examples of benefits in health care, made for the American Medical Association: "Thanks to Animals, Smallpox can be Cured", L0047545

SA/RDS/P.6/3-12, One of a series of ten glass slides showing colour drawings of examples of benefits in health care, made for the American Medical Association: "Thanks to Animals, we know that Sulfonamides are Safe and Efficient", L0047546

SA/RDS/P.8/5, Postcard of RDS shop front with literature in window advertising sale of report of the Royal Commission for Vivisection March, c.1912, L0047547

In addition, SA/RDS/C.2, Minute book 1920-1948, is held on microfilm as AMS/MF/93

Accruals note

The following is an interim description of material that has been acquired since this collection was catalogued. This description may change when cataloguing takes place in future:

6 boxes received in July 1991 (acc.389) consisting of Treasurer's files, 1954-1983.

1 box received in August 1992 (acc. 439) consisting of Secretary's papers, c.1982-1986.

4 boxes received in March 2009 (acc. 1652), including: Council minutes, minutes of various committees, subject files, publications, press cuttings, pamphlets, and papers relating to animal protection and research legislation, mainly 1970s-1980s, but also including a small amount of material dating back to 1908.

1 file received in Feb 2017(acc.2344) of publications, including 6 annual reports (1990-2006) 4 issues of RDS News (2005-2007), promotional/informational material and a Communications Handbook to help research institutions develop communication plans for animal research.


Principal officers of the Society throughout its history:


1908 The Earl of Cromer OM,GCB,GCMG

1912 Sir David Gill KCB,LLD,FRS

1914 Rt Hon Lord Lamington GCMG,GCIE

1941 Sir William Bragg OM,KBE,FRS

1944 Rt Hon Lord Hailey GCSI,GCIE

1954 Viscount Waverley GCB,GCSI,GCIE,FRS

1959 The Earl of Halsbury FRS

1982 Sir Roger Ormrod FRCP, HonPsych

1987 Lord Adrian MD,FRS


1908-1931 Rt Hon Viscount Knutsford

1932-1940 Rt Hon Sir Arthur Stanley

1940-1951 Prof A V Hill, OBE,FRS

1951-1955 Sir William Jameson GBE,KCB

1955-1956 J.W. Trevan FRCP,FRS

1956-1969 Sir John Boyd OBE,FRCP,FRS

1969-1972 Prof Henry Barcroft FRCP,FRS

1972-1977 Prof W.D.M. Paton CBE,FRCP,FRS

1977-1979 Prof D.H. Smyth FRS

1979-1983 The Lord Perry of Walton FRCP

1983-1988 Sir Douglas Black FRCP

1988- Dr David Jack CBE

Hon Treasurer

1908-? J L Pattisson

1913-1918 Dr F M Sandwith

1919-1921 Sir David Ferrier

1921-1928 Sir David Ferrier and Lady Horsley

1928 Lady Horsley

1928 Lady Horsley and Sir Leonard Rogers

1928-1947 Sir Leonard Rogers

1947-1962 Mr W Reeve Wallace CBE

1962-1965 Mr D.W. Hudson

1966-1971 C.W. Maplethorpe

1971-1975 Prof F.A. Robinson

1976-1983 J.D. Spink

1983-1988 W. Dawson

1988- J.F. Cavalla FRSC

Honorary Secretary

c.1910-1919 Stephen Paget

1920 pro tem Lady Horsley

1921-1925 Daniel T Harris

1925-1945 Col G P Crowden

1945-1947 Prof O G Edholm

1947-1953 J Douglas Robertson

1953-1961 Dr W. Lane Petter

1961-1971 Prof A.D. Macdonald

1971-1976 Prof Henry Barcroft FRCP,FRS

1976-1982 Dr Olga Uvarov CBE,FRCVS

1982-1986 Prof T.J. Biscoe FRCP

1986-1989 Prof K. Michael Spyer

1989 Prof R.W. Guillery


1911-1949 Miss Dorothy Burgiss Brown

1949-1970 Mrs Katherine Williams

1970-1978 Mrs Catherine Ewen

1978-1989 Miss Margaret Franklin (General Secretary)

1989-1990 Dr Angela Drake-Holland (Assistant Director)

1989- Mrs Susan Place (a secretary, subsequently Administrator)

Executive Director

1980-1988 Mr James A. Noble

1988- Dr Mark Matfield

Ownership note

The safety film of 'Bacillus Typhosus' and 'The cholera bacillus', SA/RDS/N.1, has been transferred to the Moving Image and Sound Collection of the Wellcome Library in July 2006.

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Accession number

  • 320
  • 383
  • 389
  • 414
  • 439
  • 1652
  • 2344