The History of RCOphth


College Motto: Ut Omnes Videant - so that all may see

The College was originally formed from the Ophthalmological Society of the United Kingdom and the Faculty of Ophthalmologists. The Society, founded in 1880 by Sir William Bowman, had held a scientific meeting every year with only a few exceptions during the Second World War. The Faculty, formed in 1946 by Sir Stewart Duke-Elder, was the professional organisation for ophthalmologists. The Royal Charter creating the College of Ophthalmologists was granted on the 14th April 1988 and the Royal Licence was granted five years later.

Sir William Bowman continues to be honoured by an eponymous lecture which is given every second year at the annual congress. The lecturer receives the Bowman medal, the most prestigious award offered by the College. Sir Stewart Duke-Elder has given his name to the Duke- Elder Undergraduate Prize Examination which takes place once a year in medical schools throughout the country.

Bramber Court

Bramber Court - where the College was first located

The College first operated from Bramber Court in Fulham, London and then moved into 17 Cornwall Terrace, Regent's Park in 1992. James Elmes (1782- 1862) an architect, civil engineer and artistic commentator wrote shortly after Cornwall Terrace was built:

The houses are not so large a scale as those in York Terrace, but possess a character for regular beauty that some of their more colossal neighbours want. This terrace is erected from the designs of Mr Decimus Burton, and possesses a character of beauty and scholastic regularity that is highly creditable to the talents of this young architect... The windows, dressings, accessories and other architectural and sculptural embellishments of this very elegant row of houses are in good taste and present to our view an architectural façade of singular beauty.

The College

17 Cornwall Terrace - where the College is now located

The College occupies a five storey building which forms part of the Crown Estates. The top floor has the Seminar Room which contains audio visual equipment and the Council Room, used for large committees. The College may be based in London but it was set up to be a national and international body. The UK members are able to vote for regional representatives who sit on Council, the governing body of the College. Each President holds office for a term of three years. It was decided early on that portraits of Presidents would be commissioned in their final year and these adorn the walls of the Council Room.

The Executive Team, Education and Training department and the newly formed Professional Standards department are on the second floor. Like other medical royal colleges, our charter charges us to maintain standards for the benefit of patients and we are increasingly concerned with improving the public perception of ophthalmology and ophthalmic disorders. We produce guidelines for patients and practitioners, and provide information for the media. Until 2005 the College inspected hospital training units but then the responsibility passed to the Postgraduate Medical Education Training Board (PMETB) which is a statutory body. The Education and Training department nevertheless remains very busy organising the curriculum for ophthalmic specialist trainees and continuing professional development for ophthalmologists.

On the first floor is the President's Room and the Oxford Room. The antiquarian library of over 400 books, including some rare editions of books on the early history of ophthalmology, is housed in the President's Room. The Oxford Room is so called because it was furnished from a donation made by the Oxford Ophthalmological Congress in 1993. It doubles as a meeting room for small gatherings and as a museum. The Museum contains a wide collection of optical and surgical instruments. Among the photographs and portraits hanging on the walls is one of Sir William Bowman Bart who, as stated before, founded the predecessor organisation to the College, the Ophthalmological Society of the United Kingdom (OSUK). In addition to his bronze bust there is also a photograph of Robert Doyne founder of the Oxford Congress in 1910.

The first floor also contains two delightful interlocking reception rooms and one of the most interesting artefacts therein is a painting of Richard Banister, 1624, who was the first ophthalmologist to observe that hardness of the eyeball was a cardinal sign of glaucoma.

On the stairwell there are portraits on long-term loan from Moorfields Eye Hospital, including that of the founder, John Cunningham Saunders.

The Examinations and Scientific departments and the entrance reception are located on the ground floor. The College is empowered to conduct examinations and award certificates and diplomas in ophthalmology and fellows of the College who have successfully passed the final examination may use the designation FRCOphth. The Scientific department is primarily concerned with organising the annual congress, a scientific meeting that is the biggest of its kind in the United Kingdom. It also has responsibility for a programme of seminars, the scientific journal EYE and the British Ophthalmic Surveillance Unit (BOSU). It oversees specialist working groups who advise on developments in ophthalmology and produce clinical guidelines for good practice.

The College has 3,800 members supported by the Operational Support department which is situated on the lower ground floor. Other adjacent services include a kitchen and photocopying facilities. Also on the lower ground floor is the Skills Centre fitted out with microscopes and audio-visual equipment for teaching micro-surgery. This important resource was opened in 2003 by His Royal Highness the Duke of York who became Patron of the College in 1993. A plaque commemorating the occasion is affixed to the wall.