Heritage collections relating to women's health

Fantastic Finds for Friday: Chinese Tradition of Third Day Bathing Ceremony, 1911

This week our Fantastic Find for Friday comes as a result of a tidy-up session! Last summer, following office refurbishments here at the RCOG, some interesting photographs and prints were transferred to the Archive, complete with their frames and quite a lot of dust from years of being hung on office walls and in corridors. A lovely and willing work experience student removed the items from the frames and placed them all in clean secol sleeves, putting them in a nice safe place ready for me to catalogue. Fast forward six months, and that nice neat pile finally beckoned!

Chinese silk painting depicting the Third Day Bathing Ceremony

Chinese silk painting depicting the Third Day Bathing Ceremony

This lovely pen and ink drawing on silk was one of these pictures which had adorned the College walls here for many years. Dated 1911, it depicts the third day bathing ceremony celebrated in China: rich Chinese families, celebrating the birth of a child, would invite the midwife to wash the baby on the third day after the birth. The family, relatives and friends would come to congratulate and watch the washing of the baby. The delicate and vivid colours of the painting prove that this picture certainly has not suffered from being exhibited for all these years, and we will continue to preserve it in the College Archive (Reference S130), hopefully bringing it to the notice of many more people – it is surprising how little we see the things that we pass by every day!

Just as interesting as the picture, is the person who gave it to the College! It was presented to the RCOG in November 1954, six years before the College moved to its present site in Regents’ Park, by Foundation Fellow, Professor John Preston Maxwell. John Preston Maxwell was born on 5 December 1871 in Birmingham, where his father, Dr James Laidlaw Maxwell, practiced medicine. He attended University College School, Hampstead and University College London, before taking his clinical training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, from which he emerged with a gold medal in obstetrics and went on to work as a resident at St Bartholomew’s. Then, following his devout Presbyterian faith, Maxwell became a Medical missionary for the English Presbyterian Church and, in about 1898, went to Yungchun Hospital at Fujian in China, where he spent the majority of his professional life. He specialised in obstetrics and was a leading authority on foetal osteomalacia. He became a Director of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Peking Union Medical College (a teaching hospital funded by the Rockerfeller Foundation), President of the Chinese Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and worked as secretary to the medical committee of the Lord Mayor’s Fund for the Relief of Distress in China.

We are privileged to hold in the RCOG Archive Professor Maxwell’s photograph albums of cases of osteomalacia encountered in China, with a collection of bound related articles from medical journals, 1830-1947 (Reference S64). These were presented to the College at the same time as the Chinese drawing. A unique man and a wonderful collection for the RCOG to have in its custody.


Fantastic Finds for Friday: Exciting new collections for the RCOG!!

It isn’t often that we receive new collections for the RCOG heritage collections, so you can imagine how excited I am to bring you news of two new and interesting additions to the unique collections held here in Sussex Place! The first is a collection of obstetric and gynaecological instruments which were used in the practise of RCOG Fellow, John Ritchie. John Matheson Ritchie became a Member of the RCOG in 1964, after training at the Middlesex Hospital, and was elevated to the Fellowship in 1977. Ritchie would have been one of the first to take the new style MRCOG exam, which asked for additional training and a third examination paper, and his training would have taken place against a background of concern for the shortage of maternity beds and staffing structures, and changing legislation on medicines.

Obstetric forcep, Ritchie collection

Obstetric forcep, Ritchie collection

The instruments have been stored for many years in a garden shed, so are in varying degrees of decay and we will need to review and assess the collection against the other items currently held by the College. The significance of this donation is that we do not often know anything about the background to our museum objects – who used these things, when, where – all those interesting snippets of information which really intrigue and help to create a sense of history and place. Potentially we may be able to gather more details about Ritchie from his son, the donor, and also from records held in the College Archive relating to his membership of the RCOG, and so begin to build a story around the collection.

The second accession was brought to my notice originally by the manager of the online Oxfam store up in Edinburgh! A rather unusual donation to the charity in the form of a 150 original pencil and pen and ink gynaecological drawings is probably not something you find every day on the Oxfam Online Shopping site! We were informed about this and given the opportunity to have first bid before the items went on sale. The College was fortunate to be successful in this bid, and now has in its possession the original drawings commissioned by London-based obstetrician and gynaecologist, Wilfred Shaw, for the 1954 edition of his respected Text Book of Gynaecology. Most of the drawings are by artist, Leslie Caswell, better known for his work for popular magazines during the 1950s and 1960s, and a few are by the Austrian medical illustrator, Erich Lepier, whose work Shaw was familiar with from his studies in the Continent. Wilfred Shaw was a Foundation Member of the RCOG and received his medical training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital with a Shuter scholarship, continuing to win prizes and scholarships throughout his training. After qualifying, he received postgraduate experience in obstetrics in Dublin and in gynaecology in Vienna, and between 1926 and 1931 held the post of resident assistant physician accoucheur to St Bart’s, rising to surgeon in charge of the obstetric and gynaecological department in 1946. He also held consultant appointments at St Andrew’s, Dollis Hill and Brentwood Hospitals. Shaw is said to have been at his happiest when teaching, but he was also involved in pioneer work on dysfunctional uterine haemorrhage and ovarian tumours, and is also said to have been a pioneer in vaginal hysterectomy at a time when this operation was not largely performed by British gynaecologists. He completed his textbook of operative gynaecology shortly before his death at the age of 55, and it has seen countless editions since that date. He was elevated to the Fellowship of the College in 1932, and served on both the Museum Committee and Pathology Committee of the RCOG during the difficult war years.

Illustration for Shaw's Textbook of Gynaecology drawn by Leslie Caswell

Illustration for Shaw’s Textbook of Gynaecology drawn by Leslie Caswell


Illustration for Shaw’s Textbook of Gynaecology drawn by Leslie Caswell

Digital scans of a selection of the drawings have been matched to the plates in the 1954 edition of the textbook, and cover vaginal hysterectomy, copoperineorrhapy operation, myomectomy, abdominal hysterectomy, ovariotomy, and operation for prolapse. Such a collection certainly adds to the RCOG’s heritage assets: as well as being a direct produce of the work of a respected and important London gynaecologist, it complements the editions of the textbook held in the RCOG Library collection, as well as unpublished correspondence between Wilfred Shaw and College co-founder, Sir William Fletcher Shaw relating to the foundation of the College and it’s early administrative difficulties. I am looking forward to finding ways in which I can use this wonderful collection!

Fab Find for Friday: Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

Forget about the month of March being dedicated to the Roman God, Mars, who was the god of agriculture and warfare – it is undoubtedly the month for women worldwide! The list of dates observed during March include International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day, as well as Women’s History Day, and the whole month is dedicated to raising awareness of ovarian cancer.

The RCOG has been involved in research and management of ovarian cancer for over 80 years, and College co-founder, Professor William Blair-Bell conducted extensive research between 1911 and 1913 during his practice, both privately in Wallasey, Cheshire, and as assistant consulting gynaecologist to Liverpool Infirmary. A note book exists among his papers entitled ‘Chemical composition of the fluid contents of ovarian cysts’, providing anonymised patient data on surgery conducted for ovarian cysts and the pathology of the cysts. Blair-Bell returned to this early research in the 1930s, having by this time gained the chair in midwifery and gynaecology at Liverpool University and the presidency of the new College of obstetrics and gynaecology. This time he had the assistance of his protégé, Morris Datnow, who was very active in cancer research, and it was with Datnow that Blair-Bell produced a paper on ovarian ‘neoplasms’, looking at the pathology of ovarian tumours and making recommendations for management and treatment:

‘Radium has no place in the treatment of this disease, and in our experience x-ray treatment does more harm than good. With lead therapy we… have had much encouragement…’

Morris Datnow relaxing with his mentor, Professor William Blair-Bell, c.1920

Morris Datnow relaxing with his mentor, Professor William Blair-Bell, c.1920

Blair-Bell wasn’t the only Fellow of the RCOG making ovarian cancer his subject of research: one of the most important pieces of work published by Victor Bonney, the esteemed London gynaecologist who based his refusal to join the new college on a disdain for medical specialism, was his Technical Minutiae of extended Myomectomy and Ovarian Cystectomy, published in 1946 and accompanied by 242 line drawings by the author (copies of which are available in the RCOG Library).

Victor Bonney, 1922

Victor Bonney, 1922

In 1980, Professor C Hudson gave the Victor Bonney Prize Lecture at the RCOG, and made the statement that ‘Improved understanding of ovarian tumours has been incorporated in the internationally recognised WHO classification. This has played a part in some spectacular advances in the treatment of certain rare types of ovarian tumour.’ More than anything he stressed the need for a multidisciplinary approach to the management of ovarian cancer, headed by the gynaecologist.

Specialists in gynaecological oncology, however, seem to have been few and far between: in 1990 there were 18 UK consultant subspecialists in gynaecological oncology, and 27 consultants with a special interest. Initiatives brought to the RCOG to review clinical practice against guidelines were greeted with enthusiasm by the College, who were committed to supporting better research to improve clinical guidelines, as evidenced by study groups, scientific advisory meetings, and research fellowships dedicated to the study. Between 2008 and 2015 the College Scientific Advisory Committee has produced opinion papers on many different aspects of ovarian cancer, proving that this is still an issue of great concern to those who have the ability to make a difference to women’s lives.

Fantastic Finds for Friday: Roses for Valentine’s Day?


Valentine’s Day. Not much romance in a medical college devoted to obstetrics and gynaecology, I thought, as I wracked my brains to come up with a blog post for this week. So my mind drifted from hearts and chocolates to roses, then the nursery song, ‘Ring a Ring of Roses’ popped into my head, and it came to me – the plague! Surely there is something in the RCOG Archive about the plague! (Apologies to those sceptics who have a different view to the popular nursery song’s interpretation!) Typing the word ‘plague’ into the database, I must admit that I was slightly surprised to find that yes, we did have something!

Blair-Bell with one of his dogs, c.1930 Reference RCOG/PH1/1/3b

Blair-Bell with one of his dogs, c.1930 Reference RCOG/PH1/1/3b

Among the papers of RCOG co-founder, William Blair-Bell, Professor of Midwifery at the University of Liverpool, can be found a notebook of handwritten notes kept by him, possibly as a medical student at King’s College Hospital between 1890 and 1896. Blair-Bell showed an early interest in disease of women, winning the Tanner Prize at King’s in 1895 (an award held in memory of the pioneer in diseases of women and children), and this notebook, entitled ‘Specific Infectious Diseases’ has detailed information about a host of diseases, from typhoid fever (‘occurs in our crowded badly sanitated neighbourhoods…the bacterium undiscovered’) smallpox (‘Negros especially susceptible’), scarlet fever, rubella, whooping cough, meningitis (affected by ‘mental & bodily depression, heat & squalor of large tenements’), leprosy and gout (helpfully illustrated by him as below!).

Page from Blair-Bell's notebook c.1890 Reference S1/1/7

Page from Blair-Bell’s notebook c.1890 Reference S1/1/7

A loose sheet tucked in the back of the notebook contains notes on the plague, including pathological details such as ‘killed in 30 mins by temp of 170F’ and a clinical history of major cases described as:

‘Onset quite sudden usually. There may be observed: 1) Nervous system – vertigo headache, staggering gait, passing into lethargy 2) Face paled, eyes infected…refusal to answer questions 3) Ordinary febrile pains in limbs, muscular weakness etc. 4) Tongue thick.. 5) Bilous vomiting….Buboes always occur in lymphatic glands…If the bubous…disappear it is almost a certain sign that death will ensue….Drugs tried have been useless’

Blair-Bell notebooks, c.1890

Blair-Bell notebooks, c.1890

I doubt if Blair-Bell had cause to test his theoretical knowledge of the plague, but he most certainly would have come across some of the other infections in late Victorian London, and Liverpool, where he returned after his studies to set up a private practice.

There are also some sheets of ‘diagrams of the nervous system in relation to lesions and diseases’ containing some very nice drawings by Blair-Bell of the brain and lungs, but sadly (for the purposes of a Valentine’s blog) none of the heart!

Fantastic Finds for Friday: William Smellie, the ‘Father of Midwifery’

I was recently asked by the College’s President about our holdings on the ‘Father of Midwifery’ William Smellie, and I must admit that the resulting list was quite impressive! So as our Fantastic Find for Friday, I thought I would bring an overview of some of the fantastic sources we hold in the College Archive and Library relating to William Smellie.

First though – a brief introduction. William Smellie (1697 – 1763) was born and educated in the town of Lanark, in Scotland, and probably received his medical education in Glasgow. In 1720 he commenced practice as a surgeon and apothecary in Lanark. He remained a country practitioner for almost twenty years. In 1724 he married Eupham Borland, but they had no children, and in 1733, Smellie became a member of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. Smellie obtained his medical doctorate from the University of Glasgow in 1745.

William Smellie

William Smellie

Following studies in Paris, where he attended lectures on midwifery, he went to London in 1739 and established a pharmacy. In London, William Hunter (1718-1783) came to live with him, and he began to give obstetrical lecture-demonstrations to midwives and medical students from 1741.The courses attracted large numbers of students, and his teaching is described by a pupil as “distinct, mechanical, and unreserved.” His fee for a single course was three guineas. He delivered poor women free of charge if his students were allowed to attend the delivery, thus establishing a trend towards the attendance of medically trained persons at childbirth.

Smellie had a prospering practice, and in 1759 he retired to Lanark to devote the last years of his life to completing his literary works. He established an estate outside the town, and there died on 5 March 1763. He was buried near the church of St. Kentigern in Lanark, where his grave is marked by a tombstone and inscription.

Smellie always emphasised the importance of the natural birth process, and in general advised against resorting to surgical methods. He is best known for his descriptions of “the mechanisms of labour”, or how the infant’s head adapts to changes in the pelvic canal during birth. To him are owed the first attempts to measure the foetal cranium in utero. Smellie was also reluctant to use the forceps, and permitted caesarean section only in the most extreme cases of narrow pelvis. To him the life of the mother always had priority to that of her offspring, so, when he saw it necessary, he never hesitated to perforate and destroy the brain of the foetus in order to save the mother. Smellie developed various types of obstetric forceps, some with lock and curved blades, called Smellie’s forceps. He developed craniotomy scissors – Smellie’s scissors – and the method of delivery of the after-coming head with the child resting on the physicians forearm is known as the Smellie method. This was a rational attitude considering infant mortality at his time.

Theory and Practice of Midwifery


The RCOG Rare Book Collection contains first and third editions of Smellie’s Treatise on the theory and practice of midwifery (1752), which examines all aspects of the position of the foetus in uterus, the delivery, and pregnancy complications, including this description of twins:

‘When two children are distinct, they are called twins; and monsters when they are joined together; the first…are produced when different Animalcula impregnant different Ova; and the last are engendered when two or more Animalcula introduce themselves, and are included in one Ovum’.

Also in the library can be found Smellie’s Anatomical Tables, including outstanding anatomical drawings of the female body and developing infant, together with transcriptions of the medical lectures given by him (1764) and pamphlets relating to the development of the forceps and other medical instruments.


Page from Professor Miles Harris Phillips' research notes on Smellie

Page from Professor Miles Harris Phillips’ research notes on Smellie

The RCOG Archive has some little treasures which complement these publications, most notably the original printed issue of The Daily Advertiser, Wednesday 8 October 1746, which features advertisements for a course of lectures in midwifery by William Smellie, as well as lectures in physic and midwifery by Sir Richard Manningham, and lectures in anatomy by William Hunter. There is also a mounted printed certificate issued to one John Harvie and signed by William Smellie for attendance at lectures on midwifery, December 1757. Gilbert Strachan’s collection of engravings of eminent obstetricians includes a very distinguished looking Smellie, and three boxes of papers reside in the College Archive Store collected by Foundation Fellow, Professor Miles Harris Phillips which reflect the very real interest Smellie and his work had for his successors. Phillips analysed the publications of Smellie, he discussed his works with other eminent medical historians of the 1930s and 1950s, he even organised the restoration of Smellie’s library in Lanark, starting a fund for conservation of the books.


William Smellie's Library

William Smellie’s Library

Research into William Smellie would not be complete without reference to the obstetric instruments he pioneered, many of which can be found in the RCOG Museum collection. These include 8 sets of forceps (not including the wooden facsimiles) and a crotchet dating from 1750, which can all be attributed to Smellie.

Smellie's forceps

Smellie’s forceps


This is just an overview of some of the rare and unique items which can be found in the collections at the RCOG: all these items are available for research by appointment in the College Library – email archives@rcog.org.uk for more details.

Fantastic Finds for Friday: RCOG Christmas Cards

1931 Christmas Card

1930 Christmas Card







RCOG co-founder, Professor William Blair-Bell, can be credited with starting the Christmas card tradition at the College, with his card to the Fellows and Members in 1930, in a move which he explained to his Honorary Secretary, William Fletcher Shaw, as a way to ‘increase the personal interest of the Fellows and Members in the College’. This first card was very simple: the College crest in colour with description of the College arms on the reverse, and sent from Professor Blair-Bell’s private rooms in Rodney Street, Liverpool.

A second card in 1931 apparently included an illustration of the College robes worn by Fellows and Members, but sadly a copy of this card has not survived. However, we do have the card sent out in 1934 by College Honorary Treasurer, Eardley Holland, later to become President of the College. Inside this card was a chart showing progress of income and funds for the College from 1929 and the optimistic hope inscribed on the reverse that Fellows and Members ‘will keep this for recording Amounts year by year from the Annual Reports’.

Eardley Holland's card

Eardley Holland’s card

It was Sir William Fletcher Shaw who revived the custom of sending cards at Christmas to the membership, and in 1938 he sent a replica of Blair-Bell’s original card. A follow-up was forestalled by the Second World War, ‘a time of anxiety and cards seemed out of place…The following year things were too desperate to allow of the printing or posting of cards.’ It was Sir Arthur Gemmell who began again the festive tradition, and although his cards were rather austere, the 1954 card made an attempt to celebrate the College’s Silver Jubilee year.


1954 Silver Jubilee card

1954 Silver Jubilee card

However, it is not the cards sent out by College Presidents that interested me most on searching through the College Archive, but this rather unexpected find of a card signed by Clementine Churchill, wife of Sir Winston Churchill. It shows the great statesman dressed in military uniform and rubber boots in the snow, the trademark cigar in his mouth, and on the reverse, Sir William Fletcher Shaw had written ‘Christmas card from Mrs Winston Churchill with whom we worked closely on pregnant wives and the armed forces in World War II’.

Clementine Churchill's card

Clementine Churchill’s card


Explore Your Archive 2014: A volunteer’s experience at the RCOG

Chiara Codeluppi joined the archive at the RCOG in October 2014 on a voluntary work experience placement to learn more about how archives are managed in the UK and to extend her already extensive archival experience. Getting to grips with Adlib and records management processes, her enthusiasm is evident in both her work and in the following article, which she wrote for Explore Your Archives week.

My name is Chiara and I am an Italian archivist in London. My passion for historical documents and for the archives comes from the love I feel for history. This passion grew up when I was writing my degree thesis: I had to attend several archives to write it, and in that moment I understood how fascinating places the archives are. Until that moment, I had studied history in the books, in an archive I could study history directly from the source!

So, after getting my degree in art, I decided to go the School of Archive, Paleography and Diplomatics at the Archivio di Stato of Modena; I got my Diploma in June 2008 and, with a lot of enthusiasm, I started to work: at first, I had an internship at the Regio Theatre in Parma, then I worked in Municipality Archives, I digitized a bank archive and I worked as genealogist.

At the beginning of this year the enthusiasm I had in 2008 was totally disappeared: in Italy, with the economic crisis, the funds for Cultural Heritage have been reduced, sometimes withdrawn, so a lot of people, like me, who decided to work in this field, have lost their job.

So, in June of this year I decided to move here in London. Before coming here, I had an interview via Skype with the archivist at Transport for London Corporate Archive; in June I started my experience at the TfL Corporate Archive. Now, I am volunteering in two archives: I began in the Archive of Neurology and Neurosurgery (Queen Square Library) in August and at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists last month.

What does being a volunteer in an archive here mean?

For me, means two things. First, I am learning a job, I am learning experience and with the responsibilities I have, day by day, I feel more sure of myself as archivist in a country which is not mine.

Second, through the way you [archivists in the UK] have to take care about your archives, and their development, is possible to see the respect you have for your past and for your history. Furthermore, through everything you do related to the archives promotion, is possible to see the passion which you have.

For this reason I am learning not just a job: the archivists I have met here are an example to follow and I do hope I will able to live up to them.

Explore Your Archives 2014: ARCHI’VE DISCOVERED!

As I see it, Explore Your Archive week is as much about telling everyone about the amazing stories which have been discovered as well as those which still wait to be told, and here among the collections of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives, there have been two wonderful stories which are just crying out to be shared!

The first relates to a story already shared on this blog back in November 2012, about a midwife, Eveland Hutchings, and her attempts to get the King’s Bounty for a mother she had recently delivered of triplets. Eveland worked as a midwife during the 1920s and was enrolled on the register of the Central Midwives Board in 1921. The collection of papers here at the RCOG feature photographs of her with the children she helped to deliver, together with a letter from the Privy Purse Office at Buckingham Palace, dated January 1926, referring to her application to get a £3 bounty for Mr and Mrs Stevenson of Ilkeston, to help them with the financial burden of having triplets. As a result of this blog, featuring the photograph of Eveland Hutchings with the Ilkeston triplets, the son and daughter of one of the triplets contacted the archive, having found this previously unseen photograph of their mother as a baby with the midwife who delivered her!

Ilkeston triplets

The second story is just as wonderful and also relates to a case of lost and found! In the absence of a full online catalogue, the RCOG and RCM have parts of their archive catalogue included on a national network of catalogues, the Archives Hub. It was the inclusion on the Hub of a special collection of papers relating to obstetrician Dr Walter Spitzer which reunited a family in New Zealand with the son of the obstetrician who saved their mother’s life! Dr Spitzer was a Czech obstetrician and gynaecologist who came to England at the outbreak of the Second World War under a refugee scheme. He subsequently found a position at Kingston Hospital, but his application for Membership of the RCOG was unsuccessful due to requirements of training in the UK. Eric Holman contacted the archive in May 2014 in great excitement:

‘…I have just had the most wonderful news from looking at your website. I have been searching for some years now for information on Dr Walter Spitzer who saved both my mother’s and my life in 1946 in Kingston County Hospital.’

Dr Spitzer attended Eric’s mother when the Harley Street surgeon responsible for the case had handed her over to him, having given up on the chances of her recovery after she suffered fits and an emergency Caesarean Section.

‘My mother told me Dr Spitzer had asked my parents if they would mind writing a testimonial of the expertise and care he provided so as to help get his medical credentials recognised in the UK…we were so happy to see his good work continued in England and that he spent many years at his chosen profession.’

Through the medium of the archive staff, Eric was put in touch with Walter Spitzer’s son, who lives in London and was responsible for donating the papers to the RCOG. The two went on to share stories and photographs, so adding another dimension to the records already held in the archive.


Explore Your Archives 2014: A Day in the Life of an Archivist

As part of yesterday’s national Twitter event among archivists to celebrate Explore Your Archives by tweeting their typical day, I decided that mine would take the form of a blog post. Thus a run-down of my day as Archivist and Records Manager here at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists!

8am – in early to deal with some secure disposals of confidential material resulting from this month’s review of semi-current records. Picked up record (for us) amount of emails resulting from yesterday’s television appearance for Explore Your Archives – at least one being an offer of a donation for the RCM archive.

8.30am – all staff email sent following up clearing up the College shared drive, this time asking staff to delete duplicate and draft files as well as look out for images.

9am – appraisal of boxes of semi-current records

9.30am – guided reader through archive catalogue and discussed possible avenues of research

10am – meeting with staff member to give advice about retention of records, in particular taking responsibility for deleting own digital records at end of retention period.

10.45am – talk with volunteer about contributing her experiences to blog

11am – tweeted link to 1WW blog post from August in time for 2 minute silence.

11.02am – continued appraisal of boxes

11.30am to midday – answered emails with enquiries, offers of material etc.

12.30pm – pulled together records management advice and policies for external but affiliated organisation.

1pm – 4pm – on library enquiry desk, but no archive readers in this afternoon so assisting with general library enquiries.

1pm – completed paperwork required in response to a reproduction request from one of the College’s guidelines.

1.30pm – clear up inbox!!!

2pm – cataloguing of President’s papers, 1970s – bringing legacy catalogue entries on Adlib up to ISAD(G) and also looking out for any stories during the process.

4pm – return all items to store.


Look out for more posts to the blog this week as part of Explore Your Archives week!



Fantastic Finds for Friday: Professor Geoffrey Chamberlain

Our Fantastic Finds for Friday this week follows up the sad news last week of the death of former RCOG President, Professor Geoffrey Chamberlain. Knowing from my previous trawls through the archive that Professor Chamberlain had a choice way with words, I sought out a file of his personal correspondence, collated between 1993 and 1994 when he was College President. I was not disappointed, as the extracts below will show!

November 1993 – on agreeing to undertake a talk at the RCOG for first-year preclinical students on the history of medicine for the Wellcome Trust/Society of Apothecaries course: ‘I would, of course, be happy to meet your students at the museum of the RCOG…I will keep about an hour clear and will take them through the stories of obstetrics, called by polite people history.’

November 1993 – in reply to a congratulatory letter from Arnold Klopper FRCOG, an old friend: ‘I am aware of the problems of medicine at the moment. These are being forced down my neck like a cold snowball every day by the Department of Health removal of central control and rushing head long down the hill like the swine after market forces. I shall fight them, for I have basically a socialist background and will try to ensure that the College maintains standards.’

April 1994 – on providing a testimony for Angela Kilmartin, a pioneer in research into cystitis, he wrote: ‘I enclose a foreword for her book. I did write an earlier version of this, but the dictation tape got de-magnetised and in consequence it could not be heard by my staff. That is a modern variation on the fact that the manuscript was eaten by a dog.’

My favourite piece from this file (and the one which brought a smile to my face and a glance down at my own feet) is the page torn out from the Daily Mail, April 1994, with a fashion article about the wearers of Doctor Marten boots. And as can be seen below, our own Professor Chamberlain was included as a dedicated DM wearer! He explains in the article that ‘I bought my first pair four years ago. A doctor is on his feet a lot and Doctor Marten’s are jolly comfortable. The other consultants were very complimentary. I’ve also got a pair of DM evening shoes which I use for dancing. The image of the football fan with metal caps is one end of the range. This is the other end.’

Professor Chamberlain


Post Navigation


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.