World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

The 27th of October is the UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Hertiage, where archives, libraries, museums and other collecting institutions around the world celebrate the special qualities of the sound and moving image collections they hold.

“Through images and sound, audiovisual heritage provides unique insight to the past as the basis for looking to the future. […] Linking the past to the present, this heritage is part of our common history, and must be safeguarded and shared as a wellspring of identity and belonging, innovation and creativity.”

Irina Bokova
Director-General of UNESCO

To celebrate the event, our Archive is sharing a previously hidden gem from the early years of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Regular blog visitors may remember our look into the life and work of RCOG co-founder, the enigmatic William Blair-Bell, last November for Explore Your Archive week.

Three years before his death, Blair-Bell commissioned a short silent film, which followed him around his home, Eardiston Estate, and as he went about his work. We have had this film converted and digitised by the College’s talented AV Department and we present it for your viewing pleasure.

‘William Blair-Bell – First President of the College – At Home and at Work’ 1933 from RCOG on Vimeo.

Our heritage collection can shed a little light on some of what Blair-Bell was up to in this footage.

Tea at Eardiston House, Shropshire with Sister Nockold and Ray Datnow

Eardiston House near Liverpool was Blair-Bell’s primary home and was leased by him in 1926. It was here, on a day out shootin, that William Fletcher Shaw approached Blair-Bell with the idea of found a College of obstetrics and gynaecology in Britain.

Sister Eleanor Nockold was Blair-Bell’s house keeper and companion in the years after his wife, Florence, died. She was a trusted friend and also one of the executors of his estate.

Blair-Bell (back row, second from the left) standing between Sister Nuckold and Professor Miles Harris Phillips FRCOG. RCOG Archive Reference RCOG/PH1/1/14.

The Gynaecological Visiting Society in the Blair-Bell Operating Theatre, Royal Infirmary, Liverpool

The Gynaecological Visiting Society (GVS) was a club founded by Blair-Bell in 1911, providing a network for practicing obstetricians and gynaecologists to share knowledge and expertise, to visit each other’s places of work, and to meet, drink and dine.

Here we see of Blair-Bell and his visiting GVS members in full surgical garb at the Royal Infirmary in Liverpool. Blair-Bell was appointed as a Consultant at the Infirmary in 1905.

Professor William Blair-Bell and his surgical team operating in the Larrinaga Theatre at the Liverpool Royal Infirmary, c. 1920.

You will notice that the GVS members shown are all male. The GVS was closed to women, possibly partly down to the social climate at the time, which did not look kindly on unmarried women and men travelling together in this sort of setting.

The Women’s Visiting Gynaecological Club was founded in 1936 by several female Fellows of the RCOG, including Dame Hilda Lloyd and Alice Bloomfield.

At his home, Eardiston House; Blair-Bell with his pony

Blair-Bell was a great lover of animals. As well as a pony, he also owned several dogs.

Blair-Bell and his dog Rogue, circa 1930

According to his biography (William Blair-Bell – father and founder by Sir John Peel) Blair-Bell was gifted a pony by the son of Sir Robert Jones, the founder of Orthopaedic Surgery. Blair-Bell passed this on to Fletcher Shaw’s son David, who named the pony Roberta.

The O&G Congress at Birmingham, 1933

The 9th Obstetrical and Gynaecological Congress of 1933 was held in Birmingham and was attended by several RCOG early Fellows and Members, including Miles Harris Phillips, C G Lowry, R W Johnstone, John Munro Kerr, John Chassar Moir, William Fletcher Shaw, Eardley Holland, Morris Datnow and Hilda Lloyd.

Our Archive is lucky enough to have a copy of the very group photograph they are posing for in this film:

Group photograph taken at the 9th British Congress of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists held in Birmingham in 1933. RCOG Archive reference RCOG/PH8/1.

Editing the Fourth Edition of Blair-Bell’s Principles of Gynaecology

Blair-Bell’s Principles of Gynaecology was originally published in 1910. Here he’s editing the 4th edition, which was published in 1934.

At the 5 minute mark you will catch a glimpse of Morris Myer Datnow, Blair-Bell’s long-time colleague and friend, and a founding Member of the RCOG.

Professor William Blair-Bell relaxing in his garden with his dog. Copyright of the Datnow Trust.

The RCOG is incredibly fortunate to have surviving footage of its founding members. This short film captures the various sides of Blair-Bell, including his love of animals, his close network of friendships, and, most notably, his vanity.

Our project to digitise our audio visual collections continues. Keep an eye on our blog and on RCOG social media to see more treasures from our College’s heritage.


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