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Our history

In the 19th century, the founder of the Royal Free, William Marsden, followed a radical policy of treating people whom other medical institutions chose to turn away.

1837 - Granted the title of ‘Royal’ Free by Queen Victoria in recognition of the hospital’s work during the cholera epidemics.

1874 - The London School of Medicine for Women was founded (later renamed the Royal Free School of Medicine). The Royal Free was the first hospital in England to train women doctors.

1898 - Formal association established between the Royal Free and the London School of Medicine for Women. The name of the school of medicine was changed to the London (Royal Free Hospital) School of Medicine for Women.

1964 – First hospital to install kidney dialysis machines in patients’ homes.

1965 – Biggest purpose-built haemostasis unit in the world.

1988 – Liver transplant programme established.

1996 – Established the lysosomal storage disorders unit (LSDU), only one of six nationally designated units in the UK for patients with these rare inherited disorders.

2008 – Founder member of UCLPartners (one of five academic health science centres in the UK).

2011 – UCL scientists at the Royal Free designed, developed and constructed the synthetic scaffold used in the world’s first man-made windpipe transplant.

2012 – The trust achieved a major milestone in its 184-year history by being authorised as a NHS foundation trust.

2013 – First hospital in the UK and the fourth in the world to introduce a new imaging technology for breast cancer called breast PET (positron emission tomography).

Our illustrious alumni include:

Sophia Jex-Blake
Student founder of the London School of Medicine for Women.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

  • The first woman to qualify in medicine in Britain.
  • In 1872 she founded the New Hospital for Women – the first hospital staffed by women for women. 
  • Dean of the Royal Free Hospital School of Women from 1883-1902 – first female dean of a medical school.
  • 1908, elected mayor of Aldeburgh – first woman to hold the office of mayor in Britain.

Dame Louisa Aldrich-Blake

  • First woman to hold the post of registrar in general surgery (1896).
  • The Royal Free’s first appointed anaesthetist.

Dame Mary Scharlieb

  • One of the first two women to gain an MB (1882).
  • In 1888 she obtained the first masters degree of the University of London.
  • First female consultant in a general hospital (1888).
  • Instrumental in setting up hospital services and a medical school for women in India.

Dame Elizabeth Cockayne

  • Matron at the Royal Free from 1936-1948.
  • Became the first chief nursing officer of the newly created NHS and first nursing advisor to the Ministry of Health.

Dame Sheila Sherlock

  • In 1959 became the first woman to be appointed professor of medicine in the UK.

The Royal Free Hospital 1895 The Royal Free Hospital 1895


Sophia Jex-Blake Sophia Jex-Blake

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

Dame Louisa Aldrich-Blake Dame Louisa Aldrich-Blake

Dame Mary Scharlieb Dame Mary Scharlieb

Dame Elizabeth Cockayne Dame Elizabeth Cockayne

Dame Sheila Sherlock Dame Sheila Sherlock