Fantastic Finds for Friday: A Presidency of ‘excellent progress and wide decision making’….

Copyright of the RCOG
Sir Stanley Clayton

The last few years have seen a determined drive in the work strategy of the Archive to create really good catalogue descriptions of the collections – descriptions which will help staff and Officers of the College and external researchers to find the information they are looking for.

But while we (me the Archivist and my wave of lovely volunteers) immerse ourselves in the papers, trying to extract meaningful and helpful content, the new stories that appear and the unexpected finds are always greeted with enthusiasm, and it is for this reason that this blog was created – to share what we find!

This week I have been looking at a small collection of papers relating to past President of the RCOG, Sir Stanley Clayton. These papers were given to the College by Sir Stanley’s son, probably sometime in the late 1980s (at a time which predates proper records of deposits made and the organisation of the Archive) and consist of a mixture of records relating to his private medical career and his very public role as the President of the College. Sir Stanley spent much of his career as obstetric surgeon and gynaecologist at King’s College Hospital and Queen Charlotte’s Maternity Hospital, receiving the Chair of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of London in 1963. He became a Fellow of the College in 1951, taking on the Assistant, and then full, Editorship of BJOG in 1955, and rising to Vice-President under Sir Norman Jeffcoate in 1970, and the President between 1972 and 1975.

There are several things which have stood out for me within this collection, and the most striking thing is the impression that Sir Stanley was a rather gentle, well-respected and quietly competent man – what he does say about his ascendency to the presidency in 1972 is his surprise and sense of awe in having to follow in the footsteps of Sir Norman Jeffcoate. However, the President’s Letters which he produced between 1972 and 1975 display an impressive array of issues with which he had to deal – the computerisation of maternity records, the establishment of the Joint Committee on Contraception, family planning services in the National Health Services, the Peel Report on hospital and domiciliary births, accreditation, hours of duty for junior staff, the Lane Report on the Abortion Act, the effects of EEC Directives on training in obstetrics and gynaecology, and control of private medical practice – the list goes on, and many of the topics seem not too different 40 years later. Admirable in particular was his diplomacy in trying to collate a College response to the Lane Report on the Abortion Act from the widely varying and vocal opinions of RCOG Council. Yet in a letter to the College Archivist in 1986 in which he commented on aspects of these President’s Letters, he looks back in a rather bemused way at the functioning of the College during his time at the top:
‘Obviously, the heat of discussion may not be recorded in either the letters or minutes. I was interested to discover how long it took to settle some things, especially anything that involved the government or the lawyers.’

Sir Stanley’s private practice is reflected in clinical records within the collection: index cards with minute writing carefully record the various surgical operations which he carried out between 1938 and 1947 at King’s College Hospital, Queen Charlotte’s Hospital and the Chelsea Hospital for Women. They include the surname of the patient (and sometimes the age) and a note of the condition and the procedure performed. There are a large quantity of cards for hernia, abdominal hysterectomy, cervical cautery and repair and vaginal hysterectomy. Although closed to research until 2022 due to patient data, this kind of record will be valuable for academic and medical research in the future.

Finally, copies of speeches within the collection give an insight into his days as a medical student in London and at Leatherhead Emergency Hospital as part of the Emergency Medical Service during the Second World War. He recalls that ‘patients were sent down from King’s [College Hospital] in converted Green Line buses. We dealt with a lot of air-raid casualties and [we] occasionally went as a surgical team to what was fatuously called an incident.’ Indeed the Dean of King’s writes ‘Owing to our shortness of experienced surgeons, on several occasions I refused to grant him permission to join the forces as he was irreplaceable.’

I will end with a wonderful quote on Sir Stanley’s medical student days:

‘First I vividly remember the sense of freedom in escaping from school to live as a student near to Victoria. Those Pimlico digs were sordid, but I had the feeling that the whole of London was waiting just outside the door. I used to travel to King’s in an electric tram that whined and jangled on rails in the middle of the road. The fare from Victoria to King’s was just two pence – old pence at that.’

Penny Hutchins, Archivist

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