The University of Birmingham has purchased the personal papers of the man responsible for founding the University’s medical school 180 years ago.

The collection, which was bought at auction in London, provides a unique insight into the life and work of William Sands Cox, the founder of the University Medical School.

Sands Cox was a local doctor and pioneer, who began teaching anatomy and surgery to 19 students at his father’s house in Temple Row Birmingham, in 1825. These classes led doctors to set up a properly organised medical school in the city. The first lecture was given on 28 October 1828.

The collection of more than 200 personal papers and other documents cover 50 years of Sands Cox’s life. The archive contains personal letters, material relating to his family and documents, which are directly linked to the founding of the Medical School.

Bob Arnott the Director of the Centre for the History of Medicine said: "We are delighted to have acquired this collection, because Sands Cox is not only an important figure in the history of the University, but in the development of medical education in the West Midlands. There are records, which reveal new information about the decision to award royal patronage to the School of Medicine in 1835 and later correspondence, which includes a letter from the former Conservative Prime Minister, Robert Peel.

Although the documents have not been fully classified yet this is clearly a fascinating collection, which will tell us much about the life of Sands Cox."

Amongst the personal correspondence is a love letter from Sands Cox to his future wife Isabella from 1830 and a copy of their marriage certificate from 1866.

Archivist Philippa Bassett said: "This is a wonderful archive which brings the huge achievement of William Sands Cox to light through his own and his contemporaries’ writings. It is a fascinating mix of material which shows us how Birmingham became one of the most significant teaching centres for medicine outside of London. With the archive there were also a several interesting objects, which were owned by the Sands Cox family, including an engraved trowel, which was presented to Isabella Sands Cox, when she laid the corner stone of the church of St Thomas-in-the-Moor.

This valuable archive is a most welcome addition to the Special Collections Department’s substantial collections of archives relating to the University and its predecessor colleges. Once the collection has been properly catalogued we shall be making it available to researchers in the University’s Special Collections Department.


For further media information please contact Ben Hill, Press Officer at the University of Birmingham on 0121 414 5134 or mobile 07789 921163


An image of the portrait of William Sands Cox, which hangs in the Medical School is available on request.