Wellcome Historical Medical Museum and Library

  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


The archive provides a reasonably comprehensive record of the WHMM from its genesis in 1903, through its active period until its final dispersal in 1985. The archive also contains records for the Library up to 1960, the date at which it no longer reported to the WHMM, but as an independent unit. Post-1960 records of the Library, and of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine from 1968, are awaiting cataloguing and may be available to readers on request to the Archivist.

It appears that Wellcome never formalised in a written form his vision of what the WHMM should be or how it should develop. His statement in 1928 to the Royal Commission on National Museums and Galleries, provides the clearest written expression [see WA/HSW/OR/L]. Further information may be gleaned throughout the archive; for example an explanation of the concepts of arrangement of the WHMM hall of primitive medicine is in file WA/HMM/CO/Alp/6, guides and handbooks contain introductory statements Wellcome [see WA/HMM/PB/Han]. However, it appears that rather than having a pre-determined plan, the WHMM grew out of Wellcome's wide-ranging enthusiasms, and its development was partly shaped by the interests and specific expertise of key staff members at different periods. The archive thus contains material relating to all aspects of the WHMM collections and interests: not only the history of medicine, but also anthropology, archaeology, art and folklore are some of the other major areas of concern.

The reports [WA/HMM/RP] provide a summary of the major developments in WHMM policy and activity and are a useful starting point for wide-ranging queries. Many of the reports to Henry Wellcome are annotated in his hand, giving a vivid insight into the extent of his involvement with the policy and the routine management of the WHMM.

The largest group of records within the WHMM archive is the correspondence [WA/HMM/CO], falling into a number of interlocking and overlapping series which together deal with all aspects of the WHMM's work and organisation including the accession of objects, visitor and researcher access, and internal administration. In some cases the correspondence series contain material filed at other periods in specific series: for example re exhibitions [also in WA/HMM/EX]. Cross references have been given in the list where appropriate.

Accession records [WA/HMM/CM] and transfer records [WA/HMM/TR] are not catalogued here to object level, as the size of the WHMM collections has made this an impossible task. For guidance on how to locate the records relating to a specific object or collection, see the leaflet Museum objects: accession and transfer records. The accession and dispersal records for the period before 1936, and for the dispersal of objects before the 1960s, are less comprehensive and systematic than later records. For example, provenance information for the early period is rarely detailed or illuminating, perhaps reflecting contemporary museum practice. However, the early records are supplemented by files collated by WHMM staff in the 1970s and 1980s.

The final core group of records are the staff files [WA/HMM/ST] which give an indication of the development of a professional and specialised personnel. These files are subject to restricted access, at the Archivist's discretion, as they contain personal information.

Photographs of the WHMM premises, exhibitions and objects may be found in WA/PHO/Hmm.

This archive contains material relating to Wellcome's personal life, especially in Saint's correspondence series [WA/HMM/CO/Sai], which includes papers relating to the arrangement of Wellcome's funeral. Conversely, Wellcome's personal papers [WA/HSW] contain materials relating to the work of the WHMM: including photographs and correspondence with learned societies. Cross references are given in the list where known.

Persons or organisations featured in this material include:



Physical description

585 boxes



BU Premises and Buildings


RP/Hmm General WHMM Reports

RP/Dea Dean reports

RP/Mal 'Wellcome & Malcolm'

RP/Tho 'Thompson Reports'

RP/Jst 'Johnston-Saint Reports'

RP/Jst/A. Ms travel diaries

RP/Jst/B. Ts reports and correspondence

RP/Sta 'Staff Reports'

RP/Lac Lacaille reports

RP/Kem Kemp reports


CO/Hme Historical Medical Exhibition 1903-1913

CO/Ear 'Early correspondence' 1904-1921

CO/Abc Alphabetical series A-C 1921-1952

CO/Chr Chronological series D-Z 1922-1963

CO/Chr/A. 1922-1924

CO/Chr/B. 1925

CO/Chr/C. 1926

CO/Chr/D. 1927

CO/Chr/E. 1928

CO/Chr/F. 1929

CO/Chr/G. 1930

CO/Chr/H. 1931

CO/Chr/J. 1932-1952

CO/Chr/K [A-Z] 1953-1963

CO/Sub Subject sequence 1931-1954

CO/Wel Wellcome bodies 1922-1952

CO/Wel/A WBSR 1922-1932

CO/Wel/B Dean and Malcolm memoranda 1929-1931

CO/Wel/C Dean and Underwood memoranda 1932-1952

CO/Wel/D Wellcome Foundation Limited 1935-1939

CO/Wel/E Other files 1927-1944

CO/Sai Saint correspondence 1921-1940

CO/Sai/A General correspondence 1921-1940

CO/Sai/B 'Saint, private' 1933-1945

CO/Sai/C 'Heugshem' 1933-1946

CO/Sai/D French Scientists 1933-1945

CO/Sai/E Belgian correspondence 1934-1940

CO/Sai/F Exposition Internationel, Paris 1937

CO/Sai/G Xth International Congress for the History of Medicine, Madrid 1935

CO/Eau Underwood correspondence 1946-1964

CO/Lac Lacaille correspondence 1932-1959

CO/Lac/A Caldey Island 1949-1959

CO/Lac/B Miscelleanous 1932-1941


CM/Cla Classification and registration scheme

CM/Not Notebooks 1921-1936

CM/Acc Accessions Registers, main series 1913-1980

CM/Reg Registers, supplementary series

CM/Reg/A British Museum [ethnographical materials]

CM/Reg/B 'C' register 1899-1902

CM/Reg/C Goods received 1913-1917

CM/Reg/D Loans register 1912-1961

CM/Reg/E Presentations 1913-1945

CM/Reg/F Stone implements 1919-1920

CM/Reg/G Burroughs Wellcome & Co 1969-1977

CM/Reg/H Loans by HMM 1969-1979

CM/Reg/J Objects transferred from store

CM/Reg/K Chinese exhibits 1939-1940

CM/Inv Flimsy Inventory Cards

CM/Inv/A Main sequence

CM/Inv/B First Subject Sequence

CM/Inv/C Second Subject Sequence

CM/Env Envoice books 1936-1959

CM/Lis Lists and inventories 1911-1941

CM/Col Collection Dossiers

CM/Pam Paira Mall 1897-1921

CM/Pam/A Diaries

CM/Pam/B Registers

CM/Pam/C Notebooks

CM/Pam/D Correspondence

CM/Dan EM Dance [Classical Medicine Gallery]1940-1946


FI/Hme Objects purchased for HME 1904-1910

FI/Pur [Special] Purchase Books 1907-1947

FI/Cas Cash Books 1913-1933

FI/Pri Private Purchase Books 1921-1935

FI/Led Ledgers

FI/Pet Petty cash books 1913-1933

FI/Ban Bankbooks 1906-1927



TR/Inv Inventory cards

TR/Inv/A 1936-1977

TR/Inv/A.1 Birmingham - ethnography

TR/Inv/A.2 Burroughs Wellcome

TR/Inv/A.3 Museum of Mankind

TR/Inv/A.4 Merseyside

TR/Inv/A.5 UCL


TR/Inv/A.7 Egyptology

TR/Inv/A.8 Miscellaneous

TR/Inv/B 1978-1983

TR/Inv/B.1 'B' Material

TR/Inv/B.2 'C' Material

TR/Pre Pre-War dispersal 1936-1946

TR/Pre/A. Files

TR/Pre/B. Item lists

TR/Pre/C. Auction catalogues

TR/Eth'Surplus ethnographic material' 1946-1953

TR/Eth/A. 'The Ten Distributions'

TR/Eth/B. 'Residue'

TR/Dis 'Disposals' 1964-1971

TR/Ret 'Retrospective' files

TR/Ret/A. Card Index

TR/Ret/B. British receiving institutions

TR/Ret/C. Receiving institutions abroad

TR/Abc 1978-1983 Disposal

TR/Abc/G. General policy and administration files

TR/Abc/A. 'A' Material

Abc/A.1 Registers

Abc/A.2 Other

TR/Abc/B. 'B' Material

TR/Abc/B.1 'The Wellcome Museum Inventory List "B"'

TR/Abc/B.2 'Typed transfer lists'

TR/Abc/B.3 Files

TR/Abc/C. 'C' Material

TR/Abc/C.1 Gift registers

TR/Abc/C.2 Gift agreements

TR/Abc/C.3 Files [of Eric Freeman]

TR/Abc/C.4 Files [of Richard de Peyer]

TR/Abc/C.5 'Recipients' references


EX/A Joseph Lister 1927

EX/B Henry Hill Hickman

EX/B Cinchonna Tercentennary 1930

EX/D A Century of Progress, Chicago 1933

EX/E Paris International Exhibition 1937

EX/F Minor exhibitions 1947-1962


RE/A Opening ceremony 1913

RE/B Reopening ceremony 1926

RE/C Cornerstone ceremony 1931

RE/D Other receptions 1922-1932


VI/A HMM/HME 1913-1957

VI/B Library 1950-1964


LI/Acc Library accession books

LI/Bks Booksellers correspondence 1905-1922

LI/Cla Classificaton scheme 1913-1932

LI/Rep Reports and classifications

LI/Pur Purchase lists 1928-1932

LI/Odd Other materials 1946-1959


PB/Han Handbooks and guides 1903-1965

PB/Res Research Studies in Medical History

PB/Res/A. Published volumes

PB/Res/B. Drafts and correspondence

PB/Sta Staff Reprints

PB/Sta/A. Thompson

PB/Sta/B. Lacaille

PB/Sam Printing samples


ST/Ear Early series 1904-1923

ST/Ear/A. Alphabetical series

ST/Ear/B. General

ST/Lat Later series 1909-1961

ST/Ear/A. Alphabetical series

ST/Lat/B. Generaol


CT/A Papers and correspondence

CT/B Notes and unpublished writings

CT/C Publications


Acquisition note


Biographical note

Outline history of the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum and its successor body, the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, up to 1992:

1897 CJS Thompson began to collect books and manuscripts for Henry Wellcome's library

1898 CJST became an employee of BW&Co

1903-4 Historical Medical Exhibition planned

1911 Historical Medical Museum established at 54a Wigmore Street


Jun-Oct Museum open to coincide with the 17th International Congress of Medicine

1914 Museum re-opened as the WHMM


Administratively affiliated to the WBSR; practically still linked to BW&Co

1924 Wellcome Foundation Ltd established

1925 Malcolm appointed as Conservator

1926 October: Museum re-opened after refurbishment

1927 Willesden Store acquired

1931 183 Euston Road opened as the Wellcome Research Institution

1932 Museum moved to the new building; remained closed

1934 Johnston-Saint became Conservator

1936 HSW died

1941 Daukes appointed as Director

1946 Company took over the WRI as its headquarters; Trustees agreed to accept temporary financial responsibility for the Museum

1947 Moved to 28 Portman Square

1954 Returned to 183 Euston Road

1960 Ownership of the historical collections transferred from the Company to the Trustees; administration still carried on by the Company

1966 Trust established a Sub-department of the History of Medicine in the Department of Anatomy, UCL

1968 Name of Wellcome Institute of (later for) the History of Medicine replaced the WHMM and Library

1973 Decision to transfer the Museum collections and for the Institute to concentrate on academic and scholarly research

1976 Transfer of the Museum collections began

Scheme of association between the Institute and UCL and building up of the Academic Unit

1981 PO Williams became Director of the Institute

1982 Staffs of the Trust and the Institute administratively integrated

1986 Public Flotation of TWFL; transfer of ownership of the Wellcome Building from the Company to the Trust

1989 Company moved out of 183 Euston Road

1992 Wellcome Trust and Institute moved back to 183 Euston Road after refurbishment

A comprehensive examination of Wellcome's vision is given in Ghislaine M Skinner, 'Sir Henry Wellcome's museum for the science of history', Medical History, vol 30, no 4, Oct 1986. For a history of the WHMM development and dispersal see John Symons, Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. A Short History, The Wellcome Trust, 1993. A useful summary of the accession and transfer of objects is Georgina Russell et al 'The Wellcome Non-medical Material', in Museums Journal, vol 86, Supplement 1986. See also AR Hall and BA Bembridge, Physic and Philanthropy. A History of the Wellcome Trust 1936-1986, CUP, 1986; R Rhodes James, Henry Wellcome Hodder & Stoughton, 1994. See also A Engineer, 'Wellcome and the 'Great Past''', Medical History 2000, 44, 389-404; A Steel and L Hall, 'Sir Henry Wellcome's archival legacy and the contemporary historian', Contemporary British History, 2003, 17/3, 95-111

Related material

At Wellcome Collection:

From the 1930s to the 1970s, some materials were removed from this archive to be held by the Western Manuscripts Department of the Library (now part of the unified Archives and Manuscripts department), where they are listed in the main manuscripts series (they all carry numbers between MS.8000 and MS.9000, but do not comprise every manuscript item in this range). At the time of cataloguing the WHMM archive, some material was returned from the Western Manuscripts series, but much remains, chiefly to do with research activities of staff. Cross references are given where appropriate in the catalogue.

Correspondence files relating to the work of the artist Langdon Kihn are held by the Iconographic Department, and it may be that other current Library departments hold further files relating to the books, manuscripts or iconographic materials in their care.

The personal papers of Sir Henry Wellcome are held as WA/HSW and also include material on the Museum.


Harrowby Manuscripts Trust, Sandon Hall: papers of Capt Johnston-Saint.

Terms of use

This collection has been catalogued and is available to library members. Some items have access restrictions which are explained in the item-level catalogue records.

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. To request access to this material please contact collections@wellcomecollection.org:

1 file received December 2011 (acc. 1868), consisting of: miscellaneous internal Wellcome Library material - including a report on a visit to the Wellcome Library in the interwar years, documents drafted by Dr Poynter, etc

14 transfer boxes, 8 O/S archive boxes, 18 archive boxes, 2 box files, and 3 microfiche boxes received August 2013 (acc.2008), consisting of: accession registers, correspondence, photographs, subject files, press cuttings, reports, publications, material relating to acquisitions, dispersals and exhibitions, and material relating to the library.

Acc 2642: Records relating to the acquisition, disposal and management of Wellcome's visual collections (paintings, prints and drawings). The majority of the material was created and collated by C. A. Earnshaw and the WHMM/L Prints and Drawings department c. 1936-1957, and maintained and added to by successor departments and staff. A small amount of material dates from after the WHMM period but has been kept together as it was collated and used by inheriting departments. c.1910-1999 [but the majority of the records are from 1936-1950s]. 4 boxes.

Acc 2694: Two files relating to French material and materials donated by French individuals and organisations in the WHMM/L collections. Titled "Presentations. French Scientists" and "French material".


Abbreviations used in the catalogue:

BMA = British Medical Association

BMJ = British Medical Journal

CJST = C. J. S Thompson

HSW = Henry Solomon Wellcome

PJJ-S = P. J. Johnston-Saint

RSM = Royal Society of Medicine

[W]BSR = Wellcome Bureau of Scientific Research

[W]CRL = Wellcome Chemical Research Laboratories

[W]EFL = Wellcome Entomological Field Laboratory

[W]HMM = Wellcome Historical Medical Museum

WLTM = Wellcome Laboratory of Tropical Medicine

[W]MMS = Wellcome Museum of Medical Science

[W]MTMH = Wellcome Museum of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene

[W]PRL = Wellcome Physiological Research Laboratories

WRI = Wellcome Research Institution

[W]TRL = Wellcome Tropical Research Laboratory.

Museum objects: accession and transfer records

A guide for researchers

The accession and transfer records of the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum [WHMM] form a large and complex body of materials. These records are all catalogued and accessible via the database or the printed lists.

Due to the size of the WHMM collections it has not been possible to catalogue the records to object level, so researchers should take a broad based approach to locate series of records which will contain the information they seek. In most cases, an object will have information recorded in a number of series of records.

The records vary in the amount of detail they contain about objects. Earlier records tend to be less detailed and less systematic than later ones, reflecting the development of museum methodology.

Accession records

The Collection Management records [WA/HMM/CM] provide information relating to the objects' provenance, acquisition and placement within the collections.

The records are most easily accessed if an accession number for the object is known. Three distinct series of accession numbers were used: 'A' numbers [e.g. A2310], 'R' numbers with a date suffix [e.g. R5736/1936], and an annual series of numbers with a date suffix [e.g. 3370/1939].

The accession number can be used to locate entries within the accession registers [WA/HMM/CM/Acc], notebooks [WA/HMM/CM/Not], and flimsy inventory cards [WA/HMM/Inv]. These records give details of an object's provenance, method of acquisition, price or value, description and an indication of where it was placed within the collections. In some cases entries were subsequently annotated with details of transfer or disposal.

The name of the donor or vendor of the object, as given in the accession records, can be used to generate a database search to locate any correspondence files [WA/HMM/CO]. Typical donor or vendor correspondence may give information on the provenance or history of the object, its value and existence of other similar objects.

It should be noted that the accessioning process was not foolproof and there exist numerous cases of objects assigned no number at all, or assigned a number that had already been used. At some stage a run of numbers in the 600,000s was set up to cover these items. The Collection Management records held in this archive do not document these high accession numbers so if a researcher is attempting to identify an object and is equipped only with a high number like this, it may be best to go back to the documentation held at the institution now in possession of the object, and see if this also lists a lower number within the range held here.

If the accession number is not known, searching can take place on a chronological basis, browsing through the accession registers until an entry is found. Objects were not always accessioned on arrival, due to the fast growth rate of the collections. It was only after Wellcome's death in 1936 that accessioning was systematically tackled, with objects grouped into categories for entry into the accession registers; for example, scientific instruments may be entered in sequence. This can help to speed up browsing the register. Once the object entry is located, the accession number can identified and used to access other records as described above.

During the 1960s-1980s a series of 'Collection dossiers' [WA/HMM/CM/Col] was compiled by WHMM staff. These files acted as a reference tool about the major collections acquired by the Museum, and include original and copy records and correspondence extracted from elsewhere in the archive, as well as inventories, published catalogues and research notes.

Transfer records [WA/HMM/TR]

Transfer of the WHMM collections began soon after Wellcome's death in 1936, and reached completion in 1985. The amount of detail in the records varies: with the pre-war dispersals often having only scanty information recorded. It was only during the final dispersals that systematic record practices were established.

In the 1980s an attempt was made to collate information about the earlier transfers of collections (1936-1977), and the resulting files are arranged by name of receiving institution [WA/HMM/TR/Ret]. These files are supplemented by series of inventory cards 1936-1983, arranged by institution, type of material and accession number [WA/HMM/TR/Inv]. The files and cards together act as points of entry into other series of transfer records.

The main body of records falls into series reflecting the different, distinct periods of transfer activity: 'Pre-War dispersals' 1936-1946 [WA/HMM/TR/Pre], ethnographical materials 1943-1956 [WA/HMM/TR/Eth] and final disposals 1978-1983 [WA/HMM/TR/Abc].

If the name of the receiving institution or dealer and date of transfer is known, access to the records is straightforward. If no such information is known, the records will have to be approached on a subject basis - browsing to locate appropriate receiving institutions or dealers for the object under research. Appendices of materials sold at auction, receiving institutions, and subject or collection listings with their receiving institutions are given in Georgina Russell, "The Wellcome Historical Medical Museum's Dispersal of Non-medical Material", Museums Journal, vol. 86, supplement 1986. Russell's article also gives a useful history of the transfer process.

Correspondence relating to the transfer of objects [WA/HMM/CO] can be located using names of individuals or institutions identified in the transfer records to generate a database search.

Ownership note

The archive of the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum is a large and complex body of records. Although the archive appears to have survived in a fairly complete form, it has suffered from periodic and partial rearrangement schemes, which have obscured original archival order by removing some materials from their context or by creating new sequences.

The arrangement that follows in this catalogue attempts to reflect the original order where it remained, but it also retains some of the later, rearranged schemes. These later schemes are most evident in the chronological correspondence sequences [WA/HMM/CO/Chr and Alp], where a new filing scheme was imposed in the 1960s on earlier sequences dating from 1922-1952.

At the time of cataloguing, materials which had been removed from their original archival context were replaced in this context wherever possible. However, in some cases this context was not identifiable, so a few artificial series were created to pull together materials of a similar apparent provenance or function.

Permanent link


Accession number

  • 2235
  • 1868
  • 2008
  • 2642
  • 2694