Queen's College (University of Oxford)

Alternative names
British (modern)

Biographical notes:

Formal clinical instruction of medical students had begun at the General Hospital in Birmingham in 1779, but it was not until December 1825 when William Sands Cox, son of Edward Townsend Cox, surgeon to the town infirmary, began a course of 'anatomical lectures with physiological and surgical observations'. Sands Cox had been educated at the King Edward VI school in Birmingham and was then apprenticed to his father before studying at Guy's and St Thomas's Hospitals in London from 1821-1823, and at the Ecole de Medecine in Paris after being admitted Member of the Royal College of Surgeons. On his return to Birmingham, Sands Cox placed an advertisement in Birmingham newspapers, and gave the first course of lectures at his father's house, 24 Temple Row, Birmingham. In 1826 the Apothecaries Society officially recognised him as a teacher of anatomy, and he was also recognised by the Royal College of Surgeons. In April 1828 he arranged a meeting of physicians and surgeons in Birmingham and persuaded them to support his idea to form a School of Medicine and Surgery, similar to institutions already established in Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds. Courses of lectures were adapted to prepare students for examinations of the College of Surgeons and the Society of Apothecaries.

Classes at the new Birmingham School of Medicine started in October 1828, at Temple Row, but the institution moved to a new building in Snow Hill a year later, and then to premises at Paradise Street which were opened on 4 June 1834. At this point it appears that twelve trustees were appointed, and a sub-committee was appointed to draw up rules and regulations for the management of the institution. The school was instituted to give full instruction in all departments of medical science, delivered in the form of lectures required by the constituted medical and surgical authorities of London, Edinburgh and Dublin. The school was managed by the governors who would meet quarterly, and would also meet at other times on the summons of the honorary secretary. All property arising from donations towards the museum and library were were the control of the quarterly board of governors, and were vested in the trustees. A general meeting of the governors was to be held annually, at which a report on the financial situation of the school would be presented. Expenses were to be paid by the lecturers, and all donations and bequests were under control of the governors who were also responsible for appointing lecturers to vacant posts, after seeking the opinion of the lecturers. The lecturers were to keep attendance records to be presented to the committee at monthly meetings, but all other matters relating to the lecturers were to be regulated by themselves. The anatomical museum, natural history museum, and library were open to all qualified members of the medical profession in Birmingham and the local area. The Birmingham Medical Students Debating Society was inaugurated in 1835.

Sands Cox was the first Secretary of the institution, later becoming its first Dean. He was successful in gaining the patronage of William IV in 1836, and the institution became the Birmingham Royal School of Medicine and Surgery. This patronage lapsed with the accession of Queen Victoria, but Sands Cox petitioned again in 1838, and gained the support of Queen Victoria and the dowager Queen Adelaide as patrons. Because Sands Cox was not a member of staff at the General Hospital, and perhaps because his personal relations with its physicians and surgeons were difficult, he had difficulty in obtaining clinical teaching. From 1839 he began to seek contributions towards a new clinical institution to provide clinical instruction to medical students of the Birmingham Royal School of Medicine. A site was selected at Bath Row, west of the town centre. Sands Cox received substantial financial support from one of his patients, Dr Samuel Warneford, Rector of Bourton on the Water, who donated funds to the medical school and gave money towards the purchase of the hospital site and its building. Warneford also contributed to schemes for the consolidation and expansion of the hospital during the 1840s and 1850s. The foundation stone was laid on 18 June 1840, by Earl Howe, and the ceremony was followed by a reception at the Town Hall. Queen Victoria agreed to give her patronage to the hospital, and it was named Queen's Hospital. Prince Albert accepted the invitation to become President, and Earl Howe became Vice-President. The building was completed on 18 June 1841, to a design by Bateman and Drury, a Birmingham firm of architects. The first medical staff was made up of Edward Johnstone and John Kaye Booth as honorary physicians, and E. T. Cox, honorary surgeon, with J. B. Davies, John Percy, and J. B. Melsom as physicians and William Sands Cox, G. B. Knowles and Langston Parker as surgeons. The wards were formally opened on 24 October 1841. The building was enlarged in 1845 and again in 1847.

Sands Cox obtained a Royal Charter for the institution in 1843 which transformed it from Birmingham Royal School of Medicine and Surgery into Queen's College. Certificates issued by the college were now legally recognised. The constitution provided for departments of Medicine and Surgery, Architecture, Civil Engineering, Law, Theology, and General Literature and Arts. Much of the money for the expansion of the college, as with the hospital, came from Warneford, who made it a condition that the college should be run on strict Anglican lines. New buildings at the Paradise Street site were designed by Bateman and Drury, and the foundation stone was laid by the Principal of the college, Dr Edward Johnstone, on 18 August 1843. The Theological Department was established in 1849 and opened in 1853. The college building included chapel, warden's residence, museum, examination hall, lecture theatre, anatomical rooms, laboratory and library, as well as curator's apartments, and a limited amount of accommodation for residential students, though this was discontinued in 1874. Sands Cox became Dean of the Faculty of Medicine. J. H. Chamberlain was Professor of Architecture, and Charles Rann Kennedy was the first Professor of Law. G. J. Johnson also held this post later. Other staff included Oliver Pemberton and Thomas Heslop, who helped to build up the college's library.

Departments, systems, officers and constitution varied in detail and purpose between 1843 and 1867, largely as a result of Sands Cox's divisive behaviour, and his determination to run the college alone. Difficulties also arose from the over-rapid expansion of the college, and Warneford's conditions, which stipulated that all staff must be members of the Church of England. During the 1850s, probably stimulated by the success of Sands Cox, the staff of the General Hospital realised that their students were at a disadvantage compared to those at Queen's College who were able to obtain clinical training under the same authority as that of the medical school, and in 1851 Sydenham College was established in association with the General Hospital. Sydenham was free from the restrictions of Anglican doctrine which Warneford had helped to create at Queen's College.

Sands Cox had alienated opinion within the college so much that he was asked to resign in 1859. He refused, and in 1863 the Law department put forward a proposal to sell the college and start two separate institutions, in medicine and divinity. Cox eventually withdrew from the college in 1867, when it was £10,000 in debt. After an enquiry by the Charity Commissioners schemes were devised for the separate administration of the college, and parliament accepted the Queen's College, Birmingham Act in 1867. This Act repealed all previous charters and dissolved the corporations established by them. Queen's College was now separated from Queen's Hospital which became an autonomous body. The trusts were consolidated and a new corporation, 'The Governors of the Queen's Hospital at Birmingham' was created to give the hospital control over funds, appointments, and duties of staff, though the medical and surgical staff still held office subject to giving all students of the College the required clinical instruction. The end of the 1860s saw a reduction in the influence of Dr Warneford and the Church of England. During this period Sands Cox retired from the staff of the hospital and from his Chair in Surgery. In 1868 Sydenham College was dissolved, and its students transferred to Queen's College.

Queen's College developed its three original departments of Medicine, Theology, and Arts from 1867, with the Warden as resident head of all three, while other departments were wound down. In 1868 a new staff was constituted, when most of the old teaching staff disappeared. There was an influx of lecturers and students when the institution absorbed Sydenham College. The Arts department was closed in 1872. A joint board was appointed to arrange the clinical work of Queen's Hospital and the General Hospital and the first meeting of the Birmingham Clinical Board was held on 4 April 1873 when a scheme was proposed for the amalgamation of the clinical work of both hospitals, composed of three representatives from each hospital, with a chairman. All students were male. A suggestion that medical education should be opened to women students was vetoed in June 1873.

In 1877, a High School of Trade and Commerce was established, adapted for students pursuing a business career. The Theological Department was failing to attract many students, but the medical school was expanding. The chair of pathology was revived in 1874, and in 1880 a school of Dental Medicine and Surgery was formed. Queen's College entered an agreement with Mason College in 1882 that students should take lectures in chemistry, botany, and physics at Mason College, taught by Mason College professors. In 1884 the Anatomical Department was enlarged, and Bertram Windle was appointed professor. Courses were offered in practical pathology from 1886 and a laboratory was provided. A Materia Medica museum was also opened the same year. In 1885 the 'Borough Lunatic Asylum' was brought into association for clinical study. By 1890 the number of students had more than quadrupled since 1868. On 1 September 1892, the Medical Faculty of Queen's College became the Queen's Faculty of Medicine in Mason Science College.

The Theological department continued, but student numbers declined further. In 1907 the remaining Queen's College buildings were used as a hall of residence for male students at the University of Birmingham, but the experiment was abandoned in 1911, and the buildings were closed. Bishopscroft, the former residence of the Bishops of Birmingham, was acquired by Queen's College Council in 1921, and a residential Theological College was established there in 1923. It became a recognised Theological College of the Church of England in 1934, and is now called the Queen's Foundation for ecumenical theological education.

Sources: Dictionary of National Biography http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/6532 accessed July 2012; The University of Birmingham: Its History and Significance' Eric W. Vincent and Percival Hinton, Birmingham 1947; 'A Short History of the Medical School', University of Birmingham Medical Faculty, 1957; 'The Minute Book of the Birmingham Medical School 1831-1838' B. T. Davis, reprinted from the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry Bulletin

From the guide to the Queen's College and its predecessor institution, Birmingham School of Medicine, Records of, 1831-1905, (University of Birmingham, Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections)



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  • Medical education
  • Higher education

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