Guest Post

‘Approaches to Opening Up Medical Archives’ and welcome to the Wellcome-funded projects group blog post for HARG

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Victoria Haddock, Wellcome Project Conservator, Boots Archive

The professional seminar ‘Approaches to Opening Up Medical Archives’ hosted at London Metropolitan Archives on 19 January 2018 was an insightful collection of talks around the project management and conservation of two important collections: the Foundling Hospital medical records at LMA and those of the St. Mark’s Hospital Archives held by St. Bartholomew’s Archive. Both projects have received funding from the Wellcome Trust Resource Resources awards to enable their conservation and cataloguing, with the aim of opening up access to these collections – whether by allowing them to be a in a more stable condition to be viewed, or to be digitised.

The Foundling Hospital project at LMA focused on a distinct subset of the Foundling collection which was unfit for consultation and required much-needed treatment to enable it to be digitised safely. In addition to this the LMA was successful in its application for a public engagement fund which will allow a year-long programme of events to link in with the project including an academic conference, events for schools and an exhibition.

The St. Marks collection is over 50 linear metres of archival items which all require full cataloguing, which will begin in February 2018. Their conservation has been worked on since July 2017 by their project conservator, who gave an insightful talk on her approach to working on such a large collection. The usefulness of having the time to thoughtfully and accurately survey a collection was detailed along with an interesting example of the development of stationery bindings from the mid-nineteenth century.

Both were great examples of the variety of challenges that may happen during these kinds of projects and we all got the chance to see some fantastic examples of the conservation work done by the conservators on these projects, from full rebinding examples to more minimal preventive approaches such as bespoke book jackets.

It was a great morning to hear about these projects and sparked many questions and debates. It was also a really great opportunity to meet others in similar situations who have the same sort of issues to confront within medical archives.

The timing of this event was also fortuitous as recently a group has been set up in the hope to connect previous and current conservators and archivists that have worked on short-term projects funded by the Wellcome. Since beginning work on a rehousing project at the Boots archive, Nottingham, in January 2017, I was struck by how many projects similar to mine had been funded by the Wellcome Trust. But there was nothing out there to tell us where we all were and no central body linking us together, even though we were all linked by the Wellcome’s funding and the fact that we are all medical, pharmaceutical or scientifically based archives. This struck me as a wasted opportunity for collaboration as many of us may have been facing the same kinds of challenges and there might have been someone else who has found the answer already and may be able to share this experience.

Personally, as an emerging conservator who has only recently graduated, I was struggling with the context of the project I was working on being the only conservator – and the first and only conservator the archive had ever had – and so was faced with a lot of responsibilities and decisions to make without having that opportunity to consult with a team of conservators with greater experience than me, that others might have in a different institution. But I also discovered mine was not an unusual case at all, there being many conservators out there with short-term project based work being one of their first ‘proper’ jobs after graduating from a postgraduate qualification or similar.

So this led me to begin drawing together a network of conservators, archivists and others, who were currently or had previously worked on projects such as mine. It has been initially a closed group on Facebook and an emailing list. After the event in the morning those of us that wanted to meet up to discuss the group were able to do so by the kind offer of a meeting space at LMA.

Many topics were discussed such as what we want to do with the group, how best to do this, what kind of information do we want to share such as project reports, as well as shorter blogs or images to show what we are working on, and are there any skills or training we would like to get that would benefit us a group and our particular situations. To be honest we only just touched the tip of the iceberg!

Many more thought-provoking topics were raised such as the general nature of project work from both the perspectives of those working on projects and those hiring for and managing those projects, how case studies and reports about Wellcome funded projects are not made available for those thinking of applying for funding, or those currently in that process to give applicants a greater understanding of the nature and scale of what conservation projects might become, and also how archivists and conservators could and should be working together in partnership.

This is just the beginning of what I hope to be a really useful network for people working on short term projects that want to have a place to voice their questions, successes and feel part of a wider supportive community.

If you have any questions about the group or would like to join the mailing list please email


Retreat hospital archive available online

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The Borthwick Institute are pleased to announce that The Retreat hospital archive has been digitised (with funding from the Wellcome Collection) and is now available online.
The Retreat Archive relates to the one of the most important institutions in the care and treatment of mental health patients. The Retreat in York was founded by the Society of Friends and opened in 1796. The archive itself is unusually complete and includes administrative, financial, staff, estate and patient records and consists of bound volumes, loose papers, maps, photographs, artefacts from the museum and a small number of paintings.
Over 650,000 digital images have been captured by the project team – amounting to about 80% of the catalogued archive (note that material relating to patients dating from 1920 to the present day was excluded from the digitisation project).
There is a wealth of material in the archive that can be used for research. To get a flavour of some of the interesting things that staff have encountered whilst working on the project read some of our blog posts:
Or dive into The Retreat catalogue and follow the links that are available to the digital content hosted by the Wellcome Collection.

TIHR 70 Festival programme goes live!

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Posted on behalf of Juliet Scott, Business Development Manager & Festival Director


We are delighted to launch the website for ‘Reimagining Human Relations in Our Time’, a festival celebrating 70 years of the Tavistock Institute.


At the heart of the festival is the Institute’s archive which over the last two years has been intricately and delicately catalogued at Wellcome Library. These two things coinciding – our anniversary and the launch of the archive – are a great cause for celebration because the insights of our forebears as they tackled past societal challenges are now available to you. How might we take inspiration from their learning as we grapple with today’s major concerns, such as an environment at tipping point, ageing and social care, displaced people and populations, crises in faith, identity and leadership, and our wellbeing at work?

TIHR Festival postcard

The festival website is the starting place for you to join us in these questions with access to a rich programme offering opportunities to take part, reflect, dream, debate, consider, listen and observe, and perform.

TIHR festival programme includes a range of events

With its online booking system and easy to view programme you will be able to curate your own festival experience, keep in touch with festival news, and access recordings, reflections, and photographs posted following each event via the festival’s ‘ArchLive’.


We look forward to seeing you in October.


Juliet Scott, Festival Director

Eliat Aram, CEO TIHR


+44 7950 809699



Publication of the Survey of Hospital Records In Ireland

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The National Archives of Ireland have published their survey of hospital archives in Ireland. The survey funded by the Wellcome Trust was carried out between May 2014 and December 2015 with the objective of establishing the location, extent, content and condition of the archives of hospitals in the Republic of Ireland. Approximately 200 locations were identified as holding records and It was envisaged that the survey findings and recommendations would provide a basis for the development of policy on permanent preservation and access, and facilitate the formulation of a strategy to ensure the transfer of all records of permanent value to the custody of archival institutions.

For more information on the survey and to download a copy please visit the following link:


Guest Post

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

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Alison Scott, Project Archivist, Glasgow City Archives

The Wellcome Trust is funding a project to catalogue the records of the Glasgow Public Health Department and its predecessor authorities.

Glasgow paid a heavy price for being the ‘second city of the empire’. Rapid industrialisation led to over-crowding and dangerous levels of pollution. The resulting effects on the health of the people were profound. In 1895 the Public Health Department was formed, as the city attempted to address these effects. Under its succession of dedicated Medical Officers of Health it slowly created a better city.


[View over Glasgow tenements, 1897 ref: D-HE/4/1/8/10]
The Department’s work lent itself to statistical analysis and the ultimate expression of this was the annual report of the Medical Officer of Health. The Department used the report both to quantify the issues and illustrate their progress. They date from 1863, when the first Medical Officer of Health was appointed, and the amount of information in them increases over time with a typical report from 1913 having 58 tables as appendices as well as further statistics in sections on population; maternity and child welfare; infectious diseases; respiratory diseases and tuberculosis; venereal disease; the work of the Port Local Authority; housing; Bacteriological Laboratory; food; air purification; and the work of the hospitals.

[Children receiving light treatment, 1926 refL D-HE/7/2/1/6]
The annual reports are supported by files of raw data used to compile them, along with weekly and fortnightly returns of mortality statistics (1844-1973); and reports on specific events such as the typhoid outbreak in 1880 and the influenza epidemic in 1957. Although not all the administrative files of the Department have survived, those that there are in the collection also help to add meat to the bones of the ‘official version’.


The collection also contains the Department’s working records such as reports on housing conditions and insanitary tenements (1920); returns of infectious diseases (1920-1973); prosecutions for smoke pollution (1899-1960); and files on the wartime inspection of shipping.


Apart from the core records other resources include 137 newspaper cuttings files on a wide variety of health and social subjects (1907-1939); publications by the Department (1897-1974); and a large number of glass negatives and lantern slides.


Work is already finished on the departmental records themselves and an item-level list of this important collection is available for the first time.


[Cover of a Public Health Department publication, c 1944 ref: D-HE/6/1/24]
The project has not stopped with the records of the Department, however. Acknowledging the complicated history of health functions in Glasgow, the current work of the project 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.


The project is similarly extended to the records of the burghs absorbed into the city through boundary extensions as they also had public health functions. Their records will be re-catalogued, including a substantial amount of previously unavailable material.


The quotation in the title come from the sermon given at the funeral in 1904 of James Burn Russell, Glasgow and Scotland’s first full time Medical Officer of Health. The minister presiding looked to a future where there would be ‘a corporate humanity, a public virtue, a body-politic with its laws, duties and responsibilities’. He saw Russell as having fought against both ignorance and selfishness to create a model of his work in sanitation for the rest of the world to follow.


An online article in celebration of James Burn Russell, Glasgow’s first full time Medical Officer of Health, can be found at:


For further information contact Alison Scott, Project Archivist: