The requirement to be something of a Sherlock Holmes is not generally seen as being one of the skills needed for archive work, but this was certainly the case this week!
Quite often, in order to place the context to papers and enable access to as many readers as possible, we need to probe a bit deeper into the content and make use of other resources, both inhouse and externally, to provide proper meaning to the collection. The latest files to be catalogued from the papers of Professor William Blair-Bell largely consist of professional correspondence from 1920 to 1928, again with medics and patients pertaining to his work as an obstetrician and gynaecologist and to his innovative treatment of cancer. I found, hidden among these letters detailing symptoms of gynaecological horror and treatment, a small card dated November 1920 to Blair-Bell bearing the following words:
‘Your kind letter much appreciated. Good fellowship is a great help and one the of the best things, in life, to cultivate.’
Signed only ‘C.L’ and bearing a Harley Street address, who could resist but want to know the circumstances surrounding this short and heartfelt message? Luckily for me, I did not have to look further than the volume sitting on my desk of ‘The Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 1929-1969’ written by former President of the RCOG, Sir John Peel in 1975. This seemed to be a logical place to look, in the hope that someone who was so clearly well respected by Blair-Bell would also be involved in the life of the college which he helped to found.
So it was that I alighted upon Cuthbert Henry Jones Lockyer (1867-1957), a Foundation Fellow of the RCOG as well as Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and of the Royal College of Surgeons. Lockyer has been described as a brilliant surgeon, particularly in abdominal and vaginal surgery, and was also responsible for introducing the Wertheim operation for carcinoma of the cervix in the UK. His interest in pathology resulted in a unique and unparalleled collection of specimens which he donated as the ‘Lockyer Collection’ to the Charing Cross Medical School Museum. The deciding factor in this investigation was Lockyer’s credentials as a founder member of the Gynaecological Visiting Society, which was Blair-Bell’s own ‘baby’ founded in 1911.
So, I had my man, but what had happened to make Blair-Bell give his support to his colleague down in London? I suspect that this may have something to do with Lockyer’s co-authorship of the volume ‘Textbook of Gynaecology’ (with Thomas Watts Eden), the second edition of which appeared in 1920. Lockyer’s theory on fibroids and tumours, his main contribution to the volume, immediately became outdated upon the recognition of uterine endometriosis, and it may have been this fact that caused distress to this well-respected medic. Whatever the circumstances, I find snippets of information such as this, often found unexpectedly, open up a collection to a much wider set of readers and reveal links previously unthought of.