Thomas Radford Medical Illustration Collection

We have recently completed a cataloguing project on our medical archives, generously funded by the Wellcome Trust under its Research Resources in Medical History programme. In her final blog post, archivist Ginny Dawe-Woodings writes:

Thomas Radford (1793-1881) trained as an apprentice to his uncle, a surgeon attached to the Manchester and Salford Lying-in Institution, a maternity hospital. This first-hand experience with obstetric patients inspired Radford to become one of the nineteenth century’s eminent obstetricians, and gives him a proud place in Manchester’s rich medical history.

Before the eighteenth century, the care and treatment of pregnant women in Europe was an almost exclusively female pursuit which rigorously excluded men. The presence of a male doctor at a birth was a rare event, and only occurred when the midwife had exhausted all normal means of managing a complicated delivery. Having men deliver women of their children was seen as offending female modesty, and the medical community was suspicious of men entering the field. However, with the advances of the eighteenth century, such as the introduction of obstetric forceps, and the founding of lying-in hospitals, men entered an area formerly controlled by women.  Male obstetricians became an important section of the medical community, and by the late nineteenth century the delivery of infants by doctors had become normalised and popular.

Thomas Radford was arguably Manchester’s leading obstetrician in the first half of the eighteenth century. He was effectively in charge of the Manchester and Salford Lying-in Hospital (which became St Mary’s Hospital), and taught obstetrics at the Manchester School of Medicine. In the course of this work, he created a large and unique collection of medical illustrations. This collection has been in the custody of the Library for many years, but it is only recently that we have studied the collection, and realised its significance.

Radford 54: Watercolour and pencil illustration of blood vessels.

The collection contains over 250 individual images, created in a variety of media, including watercolour, gouache, pencil, ink, and oil paint. The illustrations are mounted variously on board, paper, canvas, or designed as posters; they range from postcard size to over 2 metres in length. Radford may have made some of the images himself, but most are evidently the work of trained illustrators and artists.

His commitment to pioneering obstetric techniques is reflected in the images. Radford was one of the first surgeons to advise abdominal section. He was present when Charles Clay performed his first ovariotamy and supported John Hull’s pioneering work on the caesarean section. There are numerous images in the collection of abnormal ovaries which have been removed post-mortem or have possibly been removed via ovariotomy. Similarly there are multiple examples of successful (and non-successful) caesarean sections featured. Aseptic surgery was still evolving during the nineteenth century and the high mortality rate associated with caesarean section meant the technique was rejected by the mainstream medical community.

These images were used as a teaching aids by Radford for his lectures in midwifery.  In addition to being medically and physiologically significant, the pictures are also distinctly artistic – the fine watercolours show rich,  detailed features contrast while some of the developmental diagrams are bold, abstract, almost Miró-like in appearance.

Radford 44: Diagram showing embryo development.

The Radford collection of medical illustrations is a useful, beautiful and captivating collection which is beneficial not solely for the study for the history of obstetric medicine but also the histories of anatomy, medical illustration, art and printing.

4 comments on “Thomas Radford Medical Illustration Collection

  1. Reblogged this on ginnyandthemoon.

  2. Elaine Burford

    I am seeking any indication of the whereabouts of any portraits of this gentleman, as i believe i have evidence that a relative of mine may have painted him between 1835 – 1861 and am anxious to locate any information which may enable me to verify this and locate the ‘missing’ portrait. i am currently engaged in researching and cataloguing the work of the artist, who exhibited a painting of a Dr. Radford at the Royal Insitute of Manchester between these dates. The artist concerned never signed any of his work but his style is almost instantly recognisable.

    • John Hodgson

      Hi Elaine,
      The Library doesn’t hold any portraits of Thomas Radford. According to his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, there was at least one oil painting at St Mary’s Hospital, here in Manchester, which was reproduced in J. W. Bride, ‘A short history of St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, and the honorary medical staff, from the foundation in 1790 to 1922’ (1922). I can’t guarantee that it is still there, but I recommend that you contact St Mary’s directly. Their website is
      Kind regards
      John Hodgson

      • Elaine Burford

        Hello John,
        Thank you so much for your reply which is most helpful, as I think I may have found an image of the painting, so your information may enable me to move on again in my quest.

        Kind regards,
        Elaine Burford.

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