Inventory Site Record

Royal College of Physicians Medicinal Garden (Camden)

Brief Description

The Royal College of Physicians of London was founded in 1518; the present college dates from 1964, extended in 1996. Although there are some remnants from 1960s planting, the medicinal garden has been extensively replanted since 2005. It contains over 1000 different plants, arranged as a series of areas, including beds of medicinal plants from various cultures, plants with known medical value and those connected with physicians through the ages. There are mature London plane trees at the front, a sheltered south-facing lawn and beds to the rear. Eight gardens along St Andrews Place were planted in 2006/7 with box parterres containing plants from the 'Pharmacopeia Londinensis' published by the Royal College of Physicians in 1618.

Practical Information
Site location:
1-11 St Andrews Place and Peto Place
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Private Garden
Open to public?
Opening times:
Weekdays 9am-5pm; public open days for OGSW, National Garden Scheme, London Open House, College Open Days.
Has taken part in Open Garden Squares Weekend 16 times, most recently in 2024.
Special conditions:
Passes to visit may be obtained from College Reception
Toilets in College building
Tours first Wednesdays Feb-Oct, 2pm (book with College Reception 020 7935 1174 ext 200). Tours for groups at other times by appointment (020 7034 4901).
Public transport:
Tube: Great Portland St (Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan, Circle), Regent's Park (Bakerloo). Bus: 18, 27, 30, 88, 205, 453, C2
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.rcplondon.ac.uk/garden/

Full Site Description

The Royal College of Physicians of London had been founded in 1518 by a charter from Henry VIII and moved to the current site in the 1960s. It was initially set up in rooms in the house of its founder Thomas Linacre, known as the Stone House and situated near St Paul's Cathedral. In 1524 the whole property was bequeathed to the College. They also rented a small garden in the vicinity, and it is known that a few years after its founding, the College asked John Gerard, the surgeon herbalist, to provide a garden for growing medicinal plants, but there is no evidence that he ever did so. In 1614 the College moved to new, larger premises at Amen Corner, Paternoster Row, which it leased from St Paul's Cathedral. This large house with a garden was later owned by the College, donated by one of the Fellows, Baldwin Hamey (1600-76), who had purchased the property following its confiscation from the church in the Civil War. It was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666 and funding was eventually raised by the Fellows for a new College in Warwick Lane, which opened in 1675. It was designed by Robert Hooke and comprised a series of buildings around a courtyard, and here the College remained until 1825. The next site was in Pall Mall East, a grand classical building designed by Robert Smirke (1780-1867), which was the home of the College until 1964.

The present College is on the site of a large detached house that was designed by John Nash (1752-1835), for no fee, as the Adult Orphan Asylum. This was built in 1824 to provide for the education of orphaned daughters of clergymen and officers of the armed forces. It was renamed Cambridge House by 1893 and later known as Someries House in the C20th. It was extended while it was in use by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries but was eventually demolished in 1960 following bomb damage in WWII, in order to make way for the new Royal College of Physicians building designed by Sir Denys Lasdun. Lasdun's building of 1964 was extended in 1996 (Wolfson Lecture Theatre and Council Chamber) and was awarded the Trustees Medal from the RIBA as the 'best architecture of its time anywhere in the world'.

The College also has use of the adjacent terrace of St Andrews Place, also designed by Nash and built in 1826 by George Thompson. The Treasurer bought the lease of 1-8 St Andrews Place for the College and this was opened by HRH The Queen in 1986. Originally there was a wall along St Andrews Place, now replaced with railings.

When the main college was designed in 1964 there was no garden provided as part of the building although in 1965 two plane trees were planted, one of which has since been removed. A memorial plaque records that a garden was planted in 1965 in memory of Dr Sydney Monckton Copeman by his son Dr William Copeman, who recommended that the castor oil plant and a willow tree should be planted in the garden. In the 1970s-80s Dr Arthur Hollman had responsibility for the garden, but now it is cared for by Jane Knowles (Head Gardener) and Clare Beacham (Gardener), with Dr Henry Oakeley (the Garden Fellow). The College's medicinal garden has been extensively replanted since 2005, sponsored principally by the Wolfson Foundation. It extends around the College, under the mature London plane trees at the front, to sheltered south-facing lawn and beds to the rear. Recent developments in the garden include the Wolfson Southern hemisphere beds to the west of the lawn (2007), the Wolfson Terrace (2006/7), and the Socratic bed in Peto Place, planted with poisonous plants in 2007, together with the eight small gardens along St Andrews Place. Here, lawns were replaced in 2006/7 with box parterres containing plants from the 'Pharmacopeia Londinensis' published by the Royal College of Physicians in 1618, regarded as the first pharmacopeia to be authorised as the legal standard for a city. Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) first translated the 'Pharmacopeia Londinensis' into English in 1652, with extensive explanations. This was followed by his translation of the 2nd revised edition of 1650 in 1653, the 'Pharmacopeia Londinensis, or the London Dispensatory', which was immediately a best seller and an invaluable resource for the public. The pharmacopeia has separate lists of the plants whose flowers or leaves, or roots etc. were used in the medicines, and the beds in St Andrews Place are laid out according to these lists.

In all, the gardens contain over 1000 different plants, planted in a series of areas, including beds of medicinal plants from various cultures, plants with known medical value and those connected with physicians through the ages according to their geographical origins, including North America, the Orient, Europe, Central Asia and the southern hemisphere. Trees include a Platanus orientalis subsp. insularis, planted in 1965 to commemorate Hippocrates (c.460-370BC). It is a descendent of the plane tree on the island of Cos under which Hippocrates is said to have taught his students medicine. This tree on Cos is gigantic, but probably no more than 700 years old. Seed was brought back by the neurologist Dr Wilder Penfield and raised at the New York Botanic Garden, from which cuttings were sent to Kew, and one of these planted in the garden. Captain Winter of Drake's circumnavigation of the globe is commemorated in two tall trees, Drimys winteri, from Tierra del Fuego (the bark cured his men of scurvy), and the Revd. Stephen Hales, the first man to measure blood pressure, has Halesia carolina, the snow bell tree, named for him. Many of the plants, while used in the past, are of no value as medicines, but there are examples from antiquity, such as the pain relief from the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, to modern day medicines such as the anti-viral 'Tamiflu' sourced from chemicals derived from star anise, Illicium verum and Illicium anisatum. While some ancient plant-based medicines were derived from observation, the majority were chosen according to their resemblance to part of the human body, under the Doctrine of Signatures, or their imagined influence on the balance of the 'humours' in the Hippocratic medicinal tradition.

Among other features in the garden are a sundial of 1999 by Dr P G Arblaster; two original Coade stone plaques of the Rose of Lancaster and the Rose of York from the Camberwell house of Dr John Coakley Lettsom (1744-1814), the eminent Quaker physician; a Coade stone 'font' from the same source is found in a raised flowerbed in the north. A stone bust by Henry Weekes (1876) depicting Thomas Linacre (c.1460-1524), first President of the College from 1518-24, is found on the south wall of the college.

Sources consulted:

John Summerson, 'The Life and Work of John Nash' (1980); Geoffrey Davenport (ed.) 'The Royal College of Physicians & its Collections: An Illustrated History' (James and James, 2001); Sir George Clark, 'A History of the Royal College of Physicians of London' (OUP, 1964) vol 1 & 2, Asa Briggs vol 3; Dr Henry Oakeley 'A Walk around the Garden Open Day, September 15th 2007' (Royal College of Physicians of London). Also see www.rcplondon.ac.uk/garden.

LPGT Volunteer Research by Kristina Taylor, 2008

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ287823 (528770,182360)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
Royal College of Physicians
Site management:
Royal College of Physicians
1964/5; 2005-
Listed structures:
LBI: Royal College of Physicians (Denys Lasdun)
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Conservation Area name:
Regent's Park
Tree Preservation Order:
Yes (Group TPO plane and lime fronting Outer Circle)
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:
Central London

Royal College of Physicians Medicinal Garden

Royal College of Physicians Medicinal Garden, June 2007. Photo: S Williams

Royal College of Physicians Medicinal Garden, June 2007. Photo: S Williams
Royal College of Physicians Medicinal Garden, St Andrews Place gardens, June 2007. Photo: S Williams
St Andrew's Place, Regent's Park, engraving from a drawing by T H Shepherd, published 14 June 1829. Courtesy Westminster City Archives

Click a photo to enlarge.

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