This bewitching poison

An exhibition exploring 300 years of drinking history through the work of artists, doctors and satirists.

13 January – 28 July 2014 

First floor gallery and treasures room

Royal College of Physicians, Regent's Park, NW1 4LE

Visit Monday–Friday 9am–5pm, free entry

Getting to the RCP 

Special weekend events

From the ‘gin craze’ in the 1700s to minimum unit pricing debates today, our exhibition tells stories of drinking: consumption and regulation, excess and temperance, celebration and destitution, disease and cure.

Discover how doctors, campaigners, artists and satirists charted the pleasures and pitfalls of wine, beer and spirits and the ways in which the government and the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) responded – with far-reaching implications for us all today.

On display will be paintings, prints, rare books and intriguing artefacts with loans from the Museum of London, the Wellcome Library, the Cartoon Museum and others.

‘Bewitching poison’ events, guided tours and London walks

Watch the exhibition film One too many by artist Annis Joslin

Watch a BBC interview with exhibition guest curator Caroline Fisher 

 @RCPmuseum #BewitchingPoison


Exhibition highlights

‘Bewitching poison’ events programme

Find out more about our exciting programme of lectures, tours, guided London walks and weekend opening including:

Saturday curator tours
Book a curator-led 'Bewitching poison' exhibition tour

Saturday 26 July 2014: 11.30am (FULLY BOOKED) & 12.45pm

Tours last for 45 minutes with time for browsing the RCP collections afterwards. Places are free but limited - advance booking only
Email to reserve your place


Special event: The intoxicating walk down Gin Lane: a half day study tour to uncover the intriguing histories of London, alcohol & health.

Tuesday 15 July 2014 Advance booking only: Visit Discover Medical London to book your place.


About the exhibition

A history of campaigning

The RCP has campaigned on alcohol and public health for centuries. Former RCP president Professor Sir Ian Gilmore currently heads the call for a minimum unit price for alcohol. Back in 1725 RCP fellow Dr John Freind presented a petition to the House of Commons criticising the ‘the fatal effects of the frequent use of several sorts of distilled spirituous liquors’. By 1751, Parliament finally restricted the sale of gin, and Hogarth's famous print ‘Gin Lane’ features in the exhibition alongside its partner ‘Beer Street’.

The art of drinking

Artists’ responses to alcohol form a major theme of the exhibition and include works by 19th century illustrators Gustav Doré, satirists from George Cruikshank to Martin Rowson and MATT, contemporary painter and printmaker Paula Rego, and a specially commissioned artist’s film by Annis Joslin highlighting the impact of alcohol now.

Wine, beer and spirits

The exhibition will feature volumes from the RCP’s rare book collections detailing medical treatments and recipes throughout history that used alcohol as their main ingredient. A 1660s recipe book lists ‘an excellent drink against the plague’ of herbs, wine and distilled spirit. During the English Civil War, wine was the drink of Royalists and we will display a Charles II Coronation cup for ‘caudle’: sweetened wine mixed with cream and egg and served hot. 

 'This bewitching poison' was curated by Dr Caroline Fisher and the RCP museum team.


Telephone: 0203 075 1543

Twitter @RCPmuseum  #BewitchingPoison 

Find out more about visiting the RCP museum and garden

Getting to the RCP

The RCP is 5 minutes walk from Great Portland Street and Regent's Park underground stations and just a 10–15 minute walk from Warren Street underground station, the Wellcome Collection and the British Library.