Blair-Bell 3: Letters of a very personal nature….

While in these early stages of the project almost all the files seem to have something of an interesting or unexpected nature, I am beginning to suspect that Blair-Bell’s material will produce nuggets of gold right to the end! This week, with eight more files catalogued and repackaged, it is Blair-Bell as the esteemed doctor and professional gynaecologist who comes to the fore.

 Half of this batch of files contain personal and professional correspondence written between 1919 and 1929 – letters, and copies of replies, to Blair-Bell from patients and medics, mostly from the Liverpool area. The letters from the medics are in the main dealing with patients referred to Blair-Bell by them for gynaecological or cancer treatment, and Blair-Bell’s replies contain some good and detailed surgical and symptomatic notes.

 Other letters with patients are semi-personal in the familiar tone of friendliness and gratitude with which they are written: women emotionally thanking Blair-Bell for curing them of their medical conditions, gynaecological or otherwise. The question of fees is raised quite often, and Blair-Bell’s sympathy for the ability of patients to pay is shown in letters where he has obviously offered to overlook a certain payments.

 These files are so important for the study of medical services pre-1948 and the establishment of the National Health Service. This correspondence shows the relationship between specialists, general practitioners and their patients, and vitally gives a good indication of the extent of Blair-Bell’s practice and the demands on his time.

Archive Reference: S1/9
Copyright of the RCOG
 One of the administrative difficulties discovered at this stage of the project is the attempt to unravel past attempts to arrange the material. Few signs remain of the original order, and while it is hoped that each file resembles the original files that were transferred as left by Blair-Bell, certain evidence reveals that this is not always correct. One of these files had been divided into two separate files during previous cataloguing by a well-meaning historian concerned about the confidential content of the material. Since eighty years have now passed since the creation of the files, I have made the decision to mark the files ‘Unrestricted with caution’, and so ensure that some of the unreserved outpourings of Blair-Bell’s female patients will continue to remain private!

 There are two contenders for ‘prize find’ this week! A letter to Blair-Bell from a fellow medic in 1920 contains the curious mistype ‘Will you please see the beare…who has a very badly misplaced womb’! However, my vote goes to the statement found in a letter from a gentleman in Birkenhead in 1920, who had apparently been unlucky in love previously – ‘My little wife is all the world to me – which you would appreciate if you knew my previous terrible trials with the First…’


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