‘A Corporate Humanity’ – Cataloguing the Records of the Glasgow Public Health Department

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Thanks to a generous grant from the Wellcome Trust, a project is ongoing to catalogue the records of the Glasgow Public Health Department and its predecessor authorities. Work is finished on the departmental records themselves and an item-level list of this important collection is available for the first time.

The Public Health Department’s work lent itself to statistical analysis and they produced a wealth of reports, the most important being the annual reports of the Medical Officers of Health. These date from 1863 and include sections on population; causes of deaths by age and district; infectious diseases; and the work of the hospitals and reception houses amongst others. They are supported by files of raw data used to compile the reports along with weekly and fortnightly returns of mortality statistics (1844-1973); and returns of infectious diseases (1920-1973). There are reports on specific events such as the typhoid outbreak in 1880 and the influenza epidemic in 1957 and records relating to particular areas of the Department’s work such as smoke registers and files on the inspection of shipping.

The project has not stopped with the records of the Department, however. Acknowledging the complicated history of health functions in Glasgow, current work is to re-catalogue the Police records. In the 19th century policing the city was seen as much more than a crime-fighting operation. Records of the Board of Police and its committees date from 1800 and cover such subjects as health, hospitals, cleansing, and sewage disposal.

Similarly, those burghs absorbed into the city had public health functions and their records will also be re-catalogued, including a substantial amount of previously unavailable material.


Report on enteric fever outbreak, 1878 (ref: D-HE/1/5/14)

Report on enteric fever outbreak, 1878 (ref: D-HE/1/5/14)


Children receiving light treatment at Baird Street Clinic, 1926 (ref: D-HE/7/2/1/6)

Children receiving light treatment at Baird Street Clinic, 1926 (ref: D-HE/7/2/1/6)

Regulations on excluding from school children exposed to infectious diseases, 1931 (ref: D-HE/1/5/37)

Regulations on excluding from school children exposed to infectious diseases, 1931 (ref: D-HE/1/5/37)

For further information contact Alison Scott, Project Archivist: alisone.scott@glasgowlife.org.uk

Manhandling the Brain

Manhandling the Brain: Psychiatric Neurosurgery in the Mid-20th Century is an art/historical installation made by Ken Barrett, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine.

It explores the human cost of leucotomy, a surgical intervention used to modify unwanted behaviours and emotion. It was especially welcomed in large overcrowded state mental hospitals, institutions where care standards were often poor. Just how poor was revealed in a shocking Life magazine article published in 1946.

Manhandling the Brain is currently on display in the exhibition case at the entrance to the RSM Library until the end of December 2016.

Robert Greenwood
Heritage Officer
The Royal Society of Medicine Library
1 Wimpole Street

Open House London


During the weekend of 17/18th September 2016 many private and public buildings in Greater London are open for viewing with free admission.

These include several premises related to the history of medicine:

The Royal College of Physicians (+herb garden)
Apothecaries Hall
The Royal College of GPs
The Royal College of Nursing
The College of Optometrists
The Old Operating Theatre Museum

For details go to http://www.openhouselondon.org.uk/

Dogs cakes and drug doctoring: dogs and the retail chemist at the turn of the 19th century.

August 26th marks National Dog Day.[i]

The dog is of great importance to the history of medicine. Dogs have played a role for developing new treatments for an array of diseases, most notably diabetes mellitus. In 1889 Joseph von Mering and Oskar Minkowski demonstrated that by removing the pancreas from a dog, the animal developed diabetes: this led to the discovery that insulin regulated sugars in the blood.

The dogs’ significance in the history of research extends into developments of vaccines, toxicity tests and blood transfusions. There is more information on this rather grim history at:


This article focuses on a slightly happier story, the history of the dog biscuit and the wider context of the retailing of animal products and veterinary medicines within the medical marketplace.

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