Step one of the project was to decide how to approach the cataloguing of the papers, which amount to some 24 archival boxes, roughly a third of which are unsorted. A decision was made to work through the existing descriptions, adding a good summary to each and repackaging the material, in order to gain a good overview of the existing collection. This would assist in later appraisal, sorting and arrangement of the uncatalogued material.
So a start was made, with seven files of material processed during week one (existing references S1/1-7). These files of personal papers cover Blair-Bell’s personal affairs, dating from 1919 to 1939, and range from letters with colleagues relating to meetings of the Gynaecological Visiting Society, arrangements for the staffing and equipping of Rodney House – his private clinic in Liverpool, professional invoices and purchase orders, and correspondence with solicitors regarding his search for a house, land and shooting rights near Liverpool and the subsequent lease of Eardiston House in 1926.
One unexpected aspect of these papers is the social comment afforded by the glimpse into the professional and semi-personal life of this brilliant yet formidable man. The apparent disregard for costs in equipping the premises for the Liverpool Medical Research Organisation, of which he was Director, is shown in the bills for furniture and surgical equipment. The circumstances of a ‘country gentleman’ are shown in the staff salary accounts for Eardiston House (1921-1932) as well as his very precise instructions during his search for the property. The correspondence from cancer patients and overseas physicians show the high regard in which he was held, as he sought to make his lead treatment a credible and viable treatment for cancer, and include discussions of cases and applications for the treatments. Beware though – a photograph of a cross-section of a foot subjected to the lead treatment is just one of the slightly unnerving treats in the collection!
I would like to reproduce some of the humorous verses created by Blair-Bell’s fellow members of the Liverpool Royal Infirmary Dinner Committee, but I fear the censor would object! Let’s just say that Blair-Bell’s chosen career in women’s health was predicted to be paved with gold!