Manchester Medical Manuscripts Collection

A year-long project has recently begun to catalogue the varied Manchester Medical Manuscripts Collection. Altogether there are well over 200 distinct manuscripts within the collection all relating to the teaching and practice of medicine from the late 18th century to the early 20th century, with a particular focus on activities in Manchester as well as strong representations of teaching in Edinburgh and London amongst other places.

The majority of the manuscripts originally formed part of the library of the Manchester Medical Society, an organisation founded in 1834. The medical men responsible for the Society’s foundation made donations of books and manuscripts to establish the library and over the years it grew to form a large and rich resource. A sizeable part of the current manuscript collection originated from the Radford Library; a collection of works amassed by the gynaecologist Thomas Radford which he donated to St Mary’s Hospital but was transferred to the Manchester Medical Society Library in 1927 and incorporated into their collections.


Royal Institution
The Royal Institution, Manchester Creative Commons License CC BY 4.0 ©Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

The Medical Society library has moved between various locations since its formation, originally housed at 40 Faulkner Street, before moving to the Royal Institution in 1845, then on to Owens College in 1875, before being officially donated to Manchester University in 1930 where it remains today. Further additions have been made to the collection since it moved to the University, most notably the manuscripts of Dr John Hull, the Society’s first president.


Samuel Argent Bardsley Creative Commons License CC BY 4.0 ©Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

The collection incorporates lecture notes, case books, commonplace books, memoirs, theses, and correspondence which together provide a fantastic insight into the teaching and practice of medicine particularly at a time when there was no clear organisation or definition of the medical profession. Lecture notes from this period were often copied and sold and so it is possible to find copies of the notes of certain lecturers in other archives, however, within this collection we are able in some instances to attribute significant numbers of manuscripts to individual doctors and so gain a fuller illustration of their medical lives with records of the lecture notes they used as students as well as records of the cases they attended and correspondence with their fellow doctors. A few of the leading Manchester medical figures represented include John Windsor, Thomas Radford, Joseph Jordan, and Samuel Bardsley.

The collection has a strong focus on gynaecology and obstetrics as Manchester has a long history of the teaching, practice and development of new techniques and ideas in this area. The collection is not however limited to gynaecology and has a broad subject area including many general texts on anatomy, physiology, and surgery with some manuscripts also offering detailed medical illustrations.

Over the course of the year we will be keeping you updated with the progress of the project and insights into the collection and hope in time to see it become an easily accessible and well-used resource.

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