Life and death in 1960’s Civil Service: Whitehall Study I collection now available

Posted Posted in Guest Post

Chris Olver, Cataloguing Archivist, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine has been at the centre of excellence for epidemiology and medical statistics for 90 years. Researchers at the school have contributed to our understanding of disease outbreaks, effectiveness of drug and vaccination treatments and effect of environmental and lifestyle choices on population health. The papers of one of the most renowned longitudinal studies on population health, Whitehall Study, is now available for consultation at the School’s Archive Service.

Infographic showing clinical procedure for health screening of the Whitehall Study volunteers. 

The Whitehall Study I, also known as the ‘Health Survey of Male Civil Servants aged 40 or over’, was a longitudinal health survey of male Civil Servants, aged 40-60, based in London, conducted from 1967-1970 by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Guy’s Hospital. The study involved a mass health screening of 18300 subjects selected across 38 departments conducted in a special screening centre situated in Whitehall. The initial purpose of the study was to identify early signs of cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic diseases and refer at risk patients onto medical services. The second phase of the study involved selecting subjects for a series of controlled studies on effectiveness of intervention methods, these included weight loss trials, exercise trials and a smoking cessation study involving 1445 men. The entire study cohort were then monitored and tracked by the survey team, through the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys (OPCS), with any deaths and certain disease diagnoses recorded.

Table showing smoking habits of Grade I (Administrators). The questionnaire asked volunteers about current smoking habits, previous smoking history along with a supplementary section for pipe and cigar smokers.


It was through the analysis of the resulting mortality data that the most famous finding of the study was revealed. Sir Michael Marmot noticed that lower grade employees were a third more like to die from various mortality causes than those employed at higher grades. This finding showed a clear social gradient in mortality and led to a second Whitehall Study being created that focused directly on the extent and causes of the social gradient. The Stress and Health Study, or Whitehall II, followed a new cohort of 10,308 male and female subjects, aged 35-55, from 1985 to the present day.


The archive collection provides an invaluable resource of the data collection, monitoring work and analysis conducted on the original Whitehall Study. The majority of the papers include raw data from the health screening, primarily questionnaires but also clinical test results including electrocardiograms, X-ray and blood results. Mortality data includes photocopies of death certificates, medical coding and computer coding forms and sickness absence reports collected from across the participating departments. Other material includes follow-up studies, primarily relating to the smoking cessation trial and graphs, tables and working papers regarding data analysis. The collection also includes a rich holding of material from preceding health surveys conducted at the School including material relating to General Post Office (GPO) health trials, 1964-1993, and the survey on the effects of air pollution on rates of chronic bronchitis in the Civil Service, 1950-1958.


Blank questionnaire from 1966 General Post Office health survey

The Whitehall Cataloguing Project sought to preserve, catalogue and make available the Whitehall Study collection for wider access. It was undertaken by the LSHTM Library & Archives Service between January and September 2017, with funding provided by a Wellcome Trust Research Resources grant. The catalogue description is available on the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine online catalogue and can also be viewed on the AIM25, Archive Hub and the National Archives Discovery catalogue.

TIHR 70 Festival programme goes live!

Posted Posted in Events, News

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


The Neurosurgical Case Notes of Sir Geoffrey Jefferson

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Archives, Guest Post, History of Medicine

By Karen Rushton, Wellcome Archivist/Curator, University Archive & Records Centre, The University of Manchester (


At the University of Manchester thanks to a generous Wellcome Trust grant we are currently working to catalogue the case files of 20th century neurosurgeon Sir Geoffrey Jefferson (1886-1961). Jefferson was the UK’s first Professor of Neurosurgery who spent most of his career at the Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI).


The case files we hold cover Jefferson’s time working at the MRI between 1927-1940 on a wide range of neurological disorders including brain tumours, epilepsies, neuralgias, head injuries, and congenital spinal deformities. We also see references to lingering war injuries from WWI, occupational and traffic accidents, neurosyphilis, and the use of surgical and diagnostic techniques later considered to be controversial. The files themselves contain a number of record types including detailed case notes and accounts of surgery, correspondence, x-rays, and both clinical and pathological photographs.

Neurosurgery lecture, with Sir Geoffrey Jefferson on the back row second from the left & Norman Dott on the second row from the back on the left, n.d. ref: JEF/1/10/3


Going into the project the first major decision centred on what information we wished to record. The Lothian Health Services Archive in Edinburgh have recently completed a similar project centred on the case files of neurosurgeon Norman Dott (1897-1973) and so it was very helpful to be able to talk to staff there about their approach to the records. Most importantly we recognised that the Jefferson collection is one of a number of neurosurgery collections held across the country and it was important to recognise its part in a wider research web and so make our catalogue comparable to that of the Dott Collection.


When dealing with relatively modern patient records considerations surrounding data protection were paramount and procedures are in place to produce a public facing catalogue with all personal information removed and a complete catalogue for use in-house and to be accessed by approved researchers. MeSH has been employed throughout for indexing purposes and provides an invaluable tool for selecting files based on conditions and symptoms. It is here where expert advice from a neurologist based within the University has aided us in creating accurate indexing terms and updating old-fashioned terminology. However, the major barrier with MeSH has arisen regarding the potential indexing of surgical procedures. As a neurosurgeon rather than a neurologist the procedures that Jefferson performed were seen as being a very important factor in the descriptive content of the catalogue, but whether or not it was appropriate to index them or not was another matter. As a thesaurus of modern medical terminology MeSH essentially is not fit for this purpose. Whilst old-fashioned terms for conditions can be updated there is no appropriate terminology for now obsolete surgical procedures such as the frontal lobectomy.


Having worked on other medical case note projects in the past, namely the Stannington Project at Northumberland Archives dealing with children’s TB files, I was well prepared for the kinds of challenges we might encounter. Nonetheless there is an inevitable variation in the content of the records and in turn the approach to outreach activities and potential researchers. As all the Stannington files related exclusively to children many of the former patients were still alive meaning we were fortunate enough to be able to interact directly with subjects of the records. Equally the subject of TB feeds very well into existing narratives on public health and has many links to social history. Neurosurgery on the other hand is much less overtly approachable to those with a non-scientific or medical background and it is here where interpretative events and blogs have been essential in drawing out less obvious themes and material such as the possibility of the use of visual material in the files by artists working in the medical humanities.


Illustration of a brain aneurysm by Dorothy Davison, c.1940s, ref: uncatalogued


The cataloguing process is nearing completion but conservation and outreach work will be on-going as the project continues. As part of the Wellcome funding we will also be tackling several other medical collections including the work of 20th century medical illustrator Dorothy Davison, medical artwork from the teaching collections of 19th century obstetrician Thomas Radford, and papers relating to the pioneer of the artificial hip Sir John Charnley.

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

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Guest Post

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:


Towards Dolly: animal genetics archives at the University of Edinburgh

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Guest Post

Clare Button, Project Archivist, University of Edinburgh


Today, Edinburgh is world-renowned as a centre for animal genetics and genomics. This history stretches back over a century, and has left a rich documentary record. Over the past four years, Edinburgh University Library Special Collections has received two large grants as well as a scoping and digitisation grant, all under the Wellcome Trust’s Research Resources scheme, to preserve, catalogue and make available this important heritage.

I started as Project Archivist in 2012 with the project ‘Towards Dolly: Edinburgh, Roslin and the Birth of Modern Genetics.’ Since then, the work of this and related projects has encompassed a variety of activities: book and archive cataloguing, conservation, digitisation, public engagement, oral histories, an exhibition and academic research.

Plate from Mendel's Principles of Heredity, William Bateson (1930).  Roslin.S.21
Plate from Mendel’s Principles of Heredity, William Bateson (1930).  Roslin.S.21

The earliest archival collection relates to James Cossar Ewart, professor of natural history at the University from 1882 to 1927, who was instrumental in establishing genetics as a subject at the University. He is most famous for carrying out cross-breeding experiments on zebras, of which there are some fascinating photographs. The most recent collection is the records of the Roslin Institute, who hit world news with the birth of Dolly the sheep in 1996. And it’s not all just about the science: the collections also comprise artwork, a record of scientists singing comedy genetics songs, photographs of social events, a vintage microscope and even wooden signs from buildings! These collections tell the story of how genetics has diversified over the last century, from large-scale and long-running animal breeding experiments and perilous work with mustard gas, to modern-day cloning, stem cells and biotechnology. Since the projects began we have continued to receive donations from scientists and their families, which has expanded our collections from the original 9 to 23 (and counting).

James Cossar Ewart with a Burchell’s zebra ‘Matopo’, c.1899. Coll-14/4/6
James Cossar Ewart with a Burchell’s zebra ‘Matopo’, c.1899. Coll-14/4/6

In addition to the archives, we also hold an array of published scientific papers and some outstanding rare books originally from Roslin’s library, the earliest of which dates from 1573! These papers and books were catalogued by the project’s Rare Book Cataloguer, Kristy Davis, as were a collection of 3,500 glass photographic slides dating from the late 19th to early 20th century. This collection depicts not only different breeds of livestock but also people and scenes from around the world (our favourite is a picture of a man riding a llama). This fragile collection received conservation treatment, as did a number of rare books and archival items, and in 2014 the slides were also digitised to further facilitate access. All the slides are now available to view online at

Roslin glass slides, Anthony Wingfield riding a llama. Coll-1434/1695
Roslin glass slides, Anthony Wingfield riding a llama. Coll-1434/1695

At first I was daunted that my lack of genetics knowledge would make cataloguing difficult. However, we were lucky to have support from two academic advisers, Steve Sturdy (Professor of the Sociology of Medical Knowledge, University of Edinburgh) and Grahame Bulfield (former director of Roslin and Emeritus Professor of Genetics, University of Edinburgh). Steve and Grahame helped decipher laboratory notebooks, identify people and places and introduced us to useful contacts. This said, being immersed in the collections for so long has improved my scientific vocabulary, and I’m pleased to say I now know my DNA from my Drosophila

We’ve worked hard to engage the research community with these rich collections by presenting at conferences, networking at University events and maintaining a blog ( However, it has also been valuable to engage with the public about the collections and the stories they tell. At events like the Edinburgh International Science Festival, Doors Open Day and talks at local history societies, people often express a real sense of local pride in Dolly and surprise at the diversity of genetics research in Edinburgh’s history. Probably our most successful piece of engagement was the exhibition ‘Towards Dolly: a century of animal genetics in Edinburgh’, which ran in the Main Library from July to October 2015. This featured an array of material from our collections as well as items on loan from scientific institutions (including DNA models, stem cell artwork and the microscope used to clone Dolly) and, of course, Dolly the sheep herself from National Museums Scotland. Dolly is a hugely popular exhibit, and the exhibition received our highest ever visitor figures as well as a proliferation of ‘Dolly selfies’! You can see some of the exhibits here:*:*/Exhibition:%22towards+dolly%7C%7C%7CTowards+Dolly%22

Towards Dolly’ exhibition, image courtesy of the Digital Imaging Unit, University of Edinburgh
Towards Dolly’ exhibition, image courtesy of the Digital Imaging Unit, University of Edinburgh

As comprehensive as the collections appear to be, there are inevitably gaps in the records. With the help of Grahame Bulfield, we carried out a series of oral history recordings with ten contemporary scientists involved in genetics and genomics, one of whom had begun work as a scientist in the 1940s. These recordings, which we plan to make available online in the future, are full of personal anecdotes, reminiscences and valuable information which are not always captured in paper records.

‘Drosophila ballet’, photograph album from the Institute of Animal Genetics, 1955. EUA IN1/ACU/A1/6/4
‘Drosophila ballet’, photograph album from the Institute of Animal Genetics, 1955. EUA IN1/ACU/A1/6/4

After working so closely with this material for a number of years, it was hard to leave it behind once the projects came to an end. I was therefore delighted to receive a Research Bursary from the Wellcome Trust, which is currently enabling me to carry out academic research on the collections I have catalogued, as well as to visit other genetics collections which have received Wellcome Trust funding. From this research I hope to produce a journal article about the early history of animal genetics in Edinburgh, as well as continuing to engage with our academic and public audiences about these diverse collections. Dolly lives on!

Find out more about the projects here:


With thanks to the Wellcome Trust: