A Very Recognisable Head of Hair

Look at any group photograph of the Gynaecological Visiting Society and one head always stands out: that of the GVS’s and the RCOG’s co-founder William Blair-Bell. In a sea of dark hair and balding heads, Blair-Bell’s head of striking white hair (which, according to his friend Fletcher Shaw, ‘time whitened without thinning’) is instantly recognisable.

Photograph of the Gynaecological Visiting Society taken during a visit to the Royal Infirmary, Liverpool, featuring William Blair-Bell (centre, in white), Ewen Maclean, Eardley Holland, and Miles Phillips, in 1931
Photograph of the Gynaecological Visiting Society taken during a visit to the Royal Infirmary, Liverpool, featuring William Blair-Bell (centre, in white), Ewen Maclean, Eardley Holland, and Miles Phillips, in 1931

Today’s Explore Your Archive theme is ‘hairy archives’ and tips its head at the tradition of Movember (the annual event involving the growing of moustaches during the month of November to raise awareness of men’s health care). While you would be hard-pressed to spot a moustache among these neatly clipped and coiffed surgeons, we do know a little about their grooming habits courtesy of the RCOG Archive.

Per Blair-Bell’s personal correspondence, his go-to hairdresser was a Mr H. Hart of Liverpool.

Mr Hart would make house calls to Blair-Bell’s estate in Eardistone to given him a trim as often as once a month between 1928 and 1930. When Mr Hart fell ill and had to postpone his next visit, Blair-Bell chose to wait another week for his appointment rather than call on a different barber.

It is not surprising that Blair-Bell had a preferred hairdresser. He was infamous for having very particular taste in presentation. He was instrumental in designing the College’s crest, robes and seal. Our Archives contain several letters and memos from him to his colleagues where he would outline his vision for the College and its future in meticulous detail.

During the early years of the College, Blair-Bell suffered from illness and had to travel frequently between Liverpool and London for meetings and social events. However, his physical appearance had to reflect his professionalism and his unwavering confidence in the College and its future.

In honour of this Movember, we now know who was responsible for the bold, no-nonsense hairstyle that Blair-Bell sports proudly in his Presidential portrait.

Good job, Mr Hart.


Free Exhibit at the RCOG Library

Many Charming Letters

A selection of charming, amusing and illuminating letters exchanged between RCOG co-founders William Blair-Bell and William Fletcher Shaw during the early years of the College will be on display in the RCOG Library Reading Room from Monday 21st November.

Joining these letters will be artefacts from the College’s heritage collections including William Fletcher Shaw’s obstetric instruments, William Blair-Bell’s original designs for the College’s official seal, and the badge worn by the College’s Presidents at official ceremonies.

Close up of William Blair-Bell and his trademark hairstyle, 1930.
Close up of William Blair-Bell and his trademark hairstyle, 1930.

Entry is free and commemorative postcards will be on sale in the Library and at the College reception desk.

Visit us:

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist
27 Sussex Place
Regent’s Park
London NW1 4RG
https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/contact-us/directions/

Explore Your Archive

Explore Your Archive is a campaign designed for archives of all kinds throughout the UK and Ireland. It is run by The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association. This year the main launch week will run from 19 to 27 November 2016. 

Find out more at http://exploreyourarchive.org/

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