New collection of medical photographs

Thanks to a grant from the Wellcome Trust, the Historic England Archive has completed a 12 month project to conserve, digitise, and catalogue a collection of photographic prints showing health and social care in Britain between 1938 and 1943.

The Mozelle Sasson High Voltage X-Ray Therapy Department at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, 20th January 1939. (MED01/01/0123)  Source: Historic England Archive

The 4,071 black and white photographs were taken by Norman Kingsley Harrison for the Topical Press Agency, and were only recently rediscovered in the Historic England Archive. The Topical Press Agency, established in 1903, supplied newsworthy photographs to the Fleet Street press and specialist journals. While it is not clear why all of the photographs in the collection were taken, it is possible that some were produced for journals such as Nursing Times. Each photograph is accompanied by a detailed caption written by the photographer, which has been transcribed and supplemented by further research.

A broad range of subjects is covered by the Medical Collection, including medical procedures, child welfare, blood transfusion, and nurses’ training. Wartime healthcare and nursing feature heavily, including auxiliary and military hospitals, improvised wards, and bomb damage.

The collection reveals a snapshot of 1930s and 1940s Britain, and shows a health service responding to the demands of a country at war. Significantly, many of the sites shown in the photographs have changed dramatically or have been destroyed or transformed, giving added significance to the collection as a photographic record.

Captivating oral history interviews with nurses who trained and worked in the 1940s and 1950s also form part of the Medical Collection, and a short film featuring the interviews and photographs has been published on YouTube.

The collection offers insights into the history of nursing, rehabilitation, specific procedures, and healthcare in the years prior to the founding of the NHS. It also provides a fascinating record of the development of social care, and documents ground-breaking medical developments during the Second World War, the beginnings of the National Blood Service, and the nursing of military casualties.

More information can be found at www.historicengland.org.uk/medical, and the digitised photographs can be viewed at archive.historicengland.org.uk by searching “MED01”. Low resolution images are available for free, and high resolution images for personal non-commercial use can be ordered free of charge. For more information about ordering, please contact archive@historicengland.org.uk

Abigail Coats, Cataloguing Officer, Historic England Archive

Posted in medical history, resources.

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