Our history

The Royal Marsden was the first hospital in the world dedicated to the study and treatment of cancer. It was founded as the Free Cancer Hospital in 1851 by Dr William Marsden.

Early days

Dr Marsden, deeply affected by the death of his wife Elizabeth Ann from cancer, resolved to classify tumours, research the causes, and find new treatments. The hospital, initially located at 1 Cannon Row, Westminster. consisted solely of a dispensary and the drugs prescribed were palliative and aimed at treating symptoms, but it allowed Dr Marsden the opportunity to study and research the disease.

The hospital quickly outgrew its original premises as it became apparent that some patients required inpatient care. It moved locations several times during the 1850s until its benefactors decided to find a permanent solution. In 1855, the board obtained the patronage of Baroness Burdett-Coutts, whose loan of £3,000 made it possible to purchase the Fulham Road site – about an acre of land. Architect David Mocatta drew up designs for the hospital and the foundation stone was laid by Baroness Coutts on 30 May 1859. The hospital opened to patients at its new site on Fulham Road in 1862.

Royal Charter of Incorporation

The hospital was granted its Royal Charter of Incorporation by King Edward VIII in 1910 and became known as The Cancer Hospital (Free). This was subsequently changed by King Edward VIII to include the word ‘Royal’ and in 1954 the hospital was renamed The Royal Marsden Hospital in recognition of the vision and commitment of its founder.

Creation of the NHS and expansion to Sutton

When the NHS was formed in 1948 The Royal Marsden became a postgraduate teaching hospital. In response to the need to expand to treat more patients and train more doctors, a second hospital in Sutton, Surrey, was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 20 May 1963.

Our achievements

The Royal Marsden is proud of its record of achievement:

  • In 1991 we became the first NHS hospital to be awarded the Queen's Award for Technology for our work on drug development.
  • We achieved the international quality standard ISO 9001 for radiotherapy in 1996 and for chemotherapy in 2003.
  • We have consistently met the Customer Service Excellence standard (formerly Charter Mark) for our services.
  • In April 2004, we became one of the country's first NHS Foundation Trusts. This new status has provided the financial freedom and greater flexibility to focus on allowing more patients to access our expertise.
  • In 2006 and again in 2011, The Royal Marsden and The Institute of Cancer Research were designated the UK's only Biomedical Research Centre dedicated solely to cancer by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). £62 million is provided over five years to support pioneering research work, to be shared across eight different cancer.
  • The Royal Marsden has a track record of the highest standards of performance in the quality and efficiency of services delivered to patients. The 2014 Annual Inpatients Survey placed The Royal Marsden among the best performing trusts in the country.
  • Today, The Royal Marsden, in association with The Institute of Cancer Research, has an unrivalled worldwide reputation for its patient care, cancer research and education.

Now gentlemen, I want to found a hospital for the treatment of cancer, and for the study of the disease, for at the present time we know absolutely nothing about it.

Dr William Marsden, 1851