Blood Vessels Thomas Radford, VFA.8.54

History of Medicine Collections

Manchester has played a pivotal role in the development of medicine since the mid-eighteenth century.

On the Fabric of the Human Body, Andreas Vesalius, R51228
On the Fabric of the Human Body, Andreas Vesalius, R51228

Long-standing, close ties between the University of Manchester, the influential Manchester Medical Society (founded in 1834), Manchester Royal Infirmary (founded in 1752) and other major teaching hospitals have enabled the Library to develop an outstanding collection of manuscript and printed resources for studies in the history of medicine.

The collections encompass manuscripts, archives and printed books dating from the early medieval period to the twenty-first century. Some of the earliest materials are medical texts in the Greek, Latin, Persian, Turkish and Hebrew manuscript collections.

Our holdings are a particularly rich source for the medical history of the Manchester region, but they have considerable potential for broader interdisciplinary social, economic, cultural and intellectual histories.

Manuscripts and archives

Our collection of medical archives is a particularly rich and important resource for the study of the medical history of the Greater Manchester region since the mid-eighteenth century. The collections include the Manchester Medical Collection, archives of regional medical societies and personal papers of eminent Manchester doctors. These have considerable potential for broader interdisciplinary social, economic, cultural and intellectual histories of a city that was in the forefront of modern industrial development and was home to a leading university medical school and several nationally important hospitals.

The Library holds the archives of several local medical associations, including the Manchester Medical Society, the Manchester Odontological Society Archive, the Manchester Paediatric Club, the Pathological Society of Manchester, the Manchester Surgical Society, the Manchester branch of the National Medical Union, the North Western branch of the Society of Medical Officers of Health, and the Charles White Club. All provide valuable insights into medical politics and the development of medical specialisms.

There are also the personal papers of several Manchester doctors. Three archives are of particular importance: those of the orthopaedic surgeon, Sir Harry Platt (1886-1986); the neurosurgeon, Sir Geoffrey Jefferson (1886-1961); and the diagnostic radiologist Sir Ian Isherwood (1931-2018).

The Manchester Medical Society Manuscripts comprise a large number of 18th and 19th-century medical manuscripts, including physicians' notebooks, pharmacopoeia and lecture notes.

Elsewhere, there are 19th and 20th-century medical records among the Hibbert-Ware Papers and the Heald-Hall Family Papers, while the papers of the factory inspector Samuel Hird shed light on industrial health. The Records of Henshaws Society for Blind People document the history of a charity involved in the education and welfare of the blind and partially-sighted.

A core collection of the medical archives is the Manchester Medical Collection (MMC). This was the creation of Ernest Bosdin Leech (1875-1950), a physician at the Manchester Royal Infirmary and a medical historian. Leech intended that the collection document all aspects of the medical history of the Manchester area including the lives and writings of local medical practitioners, local hospitals, medical education, local medical societies and charities, and major subjects such as nursing, public health and disease in Manchester.

Earlier material is to be found within the Greek, Irish, Arabic, Persian and Turkish manuscript collections and the Genizah fragments among the Hebrew Manuscripts.

Printed resources

The Library’s holdings of printed material for the history of medicine are among the most important in Britain. The library of the Manchester Medical Society forms the basis of the Medical Printed Collections. Under two exceptional librarians, John Windsor, librarian from 1858 and then his son Thomas, the Society amassed an outstanding collection of books ranging from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries. Supplementing this is the pamphlets collection containing nearly ten thousand articles, reports and papers of a medical nature, written by Manchester-related medics since the nineteenth century; many are exceedingly rare.

There are also medical texts in other collections – for example the Bullock Collection contains Italian medical texts from the sixteenth century onwards. The Marie Stopes and Birth Control Collection deals extensively with issues of birth control and eugenics in the first half of the twentieth century. The Deaf Education Collection is extensive and contains works from the fifteenth to twentieth centuries.