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History of the College

The foundation of The Veterinary College, London, in 1791 marked the establishment of the veterinary profession in this country. The development of the profession can be traced to that single act. In the racing seasons of 1769 and 1770 the racecourses of England were dominated by one horse. That horse was Eclipse, so named because of the solar event on the day of his birth, 1 April 1764. Eclipse was never beaten on the racecourse and, in the absence of any competition, he was retired from racing in 1770 and stood at stud until he died in 1789 at the age of 25.

Eclipse was a sufficiently important horse to make it necessary to know not only the cause of his death, but also the secret of his successful life. A veterinary opinion was needed, but there was no veterinary school and no qualified veterinarian in the country except the Frenchman Charles Benoit Vial de St Bel. St Bel attended the corpse of the famous racehorse and subsequently published his post-mortem findings.

However, St Bel's chief purpose for being in England was not to attend dead racehorses but to gain support for his plan to establish a veterinary school. He was assisted in this quest by the Odiham Agricultural Society, which consisted of a number of enlightened gentry. These men recognised the need for a better understanding of animal husbandry and disease and had, for some years, been considering how to introduce the veterinary art into this country.

By May 1790 they had realised that this could be best achieved by establishing a veterinary school, and had set up a London committee to further this objective. Vial de St Bel had met one of their number, Granville Penn, the grandson of William Penn who founded Pennsylvania, and Penn had helped him refine the outline of his plans for such a school.

The Veterinary College, London, was born in the parish of St Pancras in 1791, on the present-day site of The Royal Veterinary College's Camden Town Campus. On 4 January 1792, the first four students attended the College to begin a three-year course intended to cover all aspects of the veterinary art. As funds became available the College developed, with facilities that provided a clear benefit to subscribers, such as stabling and an infirmary, taking precedence over a lecture theatre and dissecting rooms.

The College styled itself Royal from 1826 due to the patronage of George IV, but it was not until 1875 that this was substantiated when the College received its first Charter of Incorporation from Queen Victoria. Significantly, during the first 100 years of its existence the College progressed from a horse infirmary with a handful of students to a science based institution, producing veterinarians and scientists with reputations acknowledged all over the world.

John McFadyean, probably the first modern veterinary scientist in the country, joined The Royal Veterinary College as professor of pathology and bacteriology in 1891. During his time as Principal, from 1894-1927, he established a research institute in animal pathology, in which the commercial production of tuberculin and mallein not only contributed to the eventual eradication of tuberculosis and glanders as major diseases of man and animals, but their sale helped the finances of the College. McFadyean was succeeded as Principal by Frederick Hobday. Frustrated by the still inadequate College facilities, Hobday launched a mammoth fundraising campaign. The Giant Nosebag Appeal raised a magnificent £135,000 which, together with a government grant of £150,000, enabled the College to buy the freehold of the site at Camden and to initiate a construction programme. The old buildings between the recently erected pathology institute and The Beaumont Animals' Hospital (now The Beaumont Sainsbury Animal Hospital), which had been built in 1932 as a result of a single legacy, were demolished in 1935 and replaced with modern new facilities. The College's association with pioneering female veterinarians such as Aleen Cust, who took a revision course at the College before qualifying as the first woman to hold the MRCVS diploma in 1922, and Olga Uvarov - the first woman to become President of The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons - who qualified from The Royal Veterinary College in 1934, reflects our aim to provide equality of education for all.

In 1949 The Royal Veterinary College became a full part of the University of London. However, unlike any other University with a veterinary school, London has a federal structure, and so the College retains much of its independence under its own Royal Charter. This includes its own Council and a full time Principal who is appointed by the Council and not the University. As in all other veterinary schools students work for a degree which is recognised by The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. In 1955 the College acquired a country estate in Hertfordshire to provide a new field station, and in 1958 the departments of medicine and surgery moved from their wartime site at Streatley in Berkshire into the new buildings at Hawkshead. In 1956 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II granted a new charter to The Royal Veterinary College and formally opened the College's field station in 1959.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother opened the College's Northumberland Hall of Residence in 1965, and accepted election to Honorary Fellowship of the College in 1981. In 1982 The Queen Mother became Patron of the College's Animal Care Trust, and in 1986 opened the first phase of the new Queen Mother Hospital for Animals, which was built largely as a result of the Trust's work. 1986 also saw the opening of the Sefton Equine Referral Hospital Surgery Wing by HRH The Princess Royal as Chancellor of the University of London.

During 1991 the College celebrated its Bicentenary with a range of important events, including a renewed building programme which has involved the opening of a second students' hall of residence, Odiham Hall; the construction of the second phase of The Queen Mother Hospital; and, most recently, the establishment of purpose-built facilities for pathology at Hawkshead in the Mill Reef Pathology Building, which was opened by HRH The Princess Royal in May 1995.

In 2001, seventy-six years after the opening of the College's Research Institute in Animal Pathology at Camden, the building which once housed it became the London Biosciences Innovation Centre, the premier biotechnology incubator in Central London.

With expansion in student numbers and the increasing use of computer technology in the curriculum, the Hawkshead Campus saw the erection of the Eclipse Building containing the Learning Resources Centre which was opened by H.M. the Queen in 2003; this year also saw the opening of the Large Animals Clinical Centre at Hawkshead by HRH Prince Philip. The RVC's Royal connections continued with the appointment of the Duchess of Cornwall as Patron of the Animal Care Trust in 2005. The Lifelong Independent Veterinary Education (LIVE) centre and the Teaching and Research Centre (TaRC) were opened by The Princess Royal, in 2007 and 2011 respectively, to ensure the continuing development of professional skills for veterinary, paraveterinary and animal science students at the RVC to the highest level.

The Royal Veterinary College

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Established in 1791, the RVC is the UK’s longest-standing veterinary college—with a proud heritage of innovation in veterinary science, clinical practice and education.

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