A Surgeon and his Dog

Few things are more iconic than the image of a man and his dog. Today’s Explore Your Archive blog post looks at RCOG co-founder William Blair-Bell and his relationship with animals and with country life.

While he had no children, Blair-Bell did keep dogs at his country house, Eardiston Estate. The most personal and humanising images of Blair-Bell feature him in the gardens of his home with his family and pets, including his dog Rogue (pictured here):

Blair-Bell and his dog Rogue, circa 1930
Blair-Bell and his dog Rogue, circa 1930
Professor William Blair-Bell relaxing in his garden with his dog. Copyright of the Datnow Trust.
Professor William Blair-Bell relaxing in his garden with his dog. Copyright of the Datnow Trust.

Blair-Bell loved dogs and kept several hounds, treating them great affection. In Blair-Bell’s obituary, published in the British Medical Journal, Eardley Holland wrote:

‘Even with his best friends [Blair-Bell] could be stern, at times almost ruthless; and yet there was another side, an almost boyish charm and love of mischief, and a disarming tenderness to children and animals, who instinctively loved him.’

A successful sportsman in his younger years, Blair-Bell took to car and dinning clubs in later life as well as more traditional country pursuits. At his estate, he also hosted one of his other great hobbies: shooting parties. Blair-Bell’s personal archives contain several references to shooting, including his shooting permits.

However, what is not widely known is that one of these shooting parties was pivotal to the establishment of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. It was at one of these parties that the RCOG’s other co-founder, William Fletcher Shaw, struck up a friendship with Blair-Bell and later approached him with the idea of founding a College for obstetricians and gynaecologists.

According to the archived, unpublished version of Fletcher Shaw’s history of the RCOG, he and Blair-Bell met at a meeting of the Gynaecological Visiting Society. Originally finding Blair-Bell’s personality abrasive, Fletcher Shaw tended to avoid him until Blair-Bell invited Fletcher Shaw to shoot with him at Eardiston. Fletcher Shaw, ‘not having any desire to spend a whole day with him’, refused the invitation. Blair-Bell asked a second time and Fletcher Shaw felt compelled to accept out of politeness.

‘We pottered about all day,’ wrote Fletcher Shaw, ‘[Blair-Bell] proved himself to be a most delightful host, as I was so often in later years to find him; gradually I thawed and so began a friendship which was to culminate in the foundation of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.’

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.

Archive Ref: RCOG/PH1/1/9b
The RCOG’s first President William Blair-Bell

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

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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