Understanding Urology: The Leslie Pyrah Archive

Hyperparathyroidism, milk-alkali syndrome, and hyperoxaluria are just a few of the unusual medical terms I have needed to become familiar with over the past few weeks.

These are all terms which appear frequently in the archive of Professor Leslie Norman Pyrah (1899-1995), which I’ve been cataloguing. Pyrah was an eminent urological surgeon from Leeds, and his archive provides a fascinating insight into developments in renal medicine during the 20th century.

Portrait of Leslie Pyrah
Portrait of Leslie Pyrah, 1931 (unknown photographer). Image credit Leeds University Library

Pyrah had a distinguished career at the University of Leeds between 1930 and 1964. He was a student of the Leeds School of Medicine and trained at the Leeds General Infirmary. One of his training posts was with the famous abdominal surgeon Berkeley G.A. Moynihan (1865-1936), first Baron Moynihan.

In 1956, Pyrah took up the first ever Chair in Urological Surgery in the UK, at Leeds University. He set up the Medical Research Council Unit for the Study of Mineral Metabolism at the Leeds General Infirmary as well as the first renal haemodialysis unit in the UK, which was run by Frank Maudsley Parsons (1918-1989).

The archive spans the course of Pyrah’s impressive career. Many of the documents have been bound into 40 individual volumes which are arranged into various themes. We also have almost 50 boxes of drafts, illustrations and research material used for producing his book “Renal Calculus”, published in 1979. It’s been eye-opening finding out about so many different kidney diseases, operations, and treatments for stones.

Blood Transfusion Bottle
‘Blood transfusion bottle, capped, with associated parts, Eng’ by Science Museum, London. Credit: Science Museum, London. CC BY

Interestingly, Pyrah was the founder of the Leeds Blood Transfusion Service in 1931, establishing a list of volunteer donors in the city. The first ever blood donor service was set up by the Red Cross in London in 1921, and it’s likely that Pyrah’s was one of the earliest regional services.

Before the donor list was set up, hospitals would usually ask a member of the patient’s family to donate blood and would need to undertake blood type testing before it could be used. The Leeds Service was replaced by the National Blood Transfusion Service which was established in 1946, under the control of the Ministry of Health.

Explore the Leslie Pyrah Archive on our catalogue [ref: LUA PYR]


Source: British Red Cross website, ‘The history of blood transfusion’ http://www.redcross.org.uk/en/About-us/Who-we-are/Museum-and-archives/Historical-factsheets/Blood-transfusion [accessed 27/02/2018]

Medical Manuscripts Go Digital

Riza Hussaini, Medical Collections Project Assistant, writes about digitising medical manuscripts from Special Collections.

For today’s blog I’ve picked three of my favourite medical manuscripts to focus on, out of the thirty-eight I’ve digitised for the Medical Collections Project.

The first is ‘Lecture notes on medical topics, reputedly made by James Tatham’ (MS 2032/16).

Modern student notes may often contain rough notes, sketches, quotes and the occasional doodle.

A number of the manuscripts of medical lecture notes I have digitised dissolve that perception. Most are dense with information and some are beautifully illustrated.

It has been thought, for several of the manuscripts, that the student surgeon attended lectures around the country, with the notes providing reading material for other would-be surgeons.

Mostly compiled in elegantly bound volumes they all appear to be similar in style; introductions to medical conditions, followed by the causes, treatments and occasionally, patient cases. They are written in neat and fairly legible hand. The tone is utilitarian and doubtless, this was how the lectures were conducted.

Digitising this particular manuscript was tricky as a lot of the pages were brittle and holding together like a jigsaw. It has since been rebound; an example of how we are committed to preserving the collection through digitisation and physical conservation.

James Tatham Lecture Notes
MS 2032/16 James Tatham Lecture Notes; rebound. Image credit Leeds University Library

It may be surmised, but impossible to confirm, that this was transcribed by James Tatham, a surgeon-apothecary based in Leeds. There are lectures delivered by several notable individuals like Thomas Pridgin Teale Senior and William Hey III; founders of the Leeds School of Medicine.

Next is ‘Notes on forensic medicine and on insanity’ (MS2032/19).

If you, like me prefer your medical notes to be accompanied by chemical formulae, this is it. The unknown author is thought to be Berkeley G.A Moynihan (1865-1936), but the provenance is unclear.

Manuscript in tête-bêche style
MS 2032/19 Notes on Forensic Medicine. This manuscript is in tête-bêche style (first half written normally, second half written from the back and upside down). Image credit Leeds University Library

It is a comprehensive toxicology guide offering a fascinating insight into forensic medicine. The manuscript focuses on different aspects of ‘insanity’ from the reverse. It goes into detail about the affective symptoms of different conditions to ascertain grounds for insanity defence in legal cases.

Finally, ‘Notes on surgery made by Leonard Ralph Braithwaite’ (MS 2032/23).

This is probably the most legible and also one of the youngest manuscripts (early 20th century). It is written in ball point pen and is one of the few manuscripts that has coloured illustrations.

The notes were written by Braithwaite during his medical training and early career as a surgeon, and delve into quite significant detail. For example, he provides information about how to perform both simple and invasive surgeries, such as amputations. Even without a medical background, I found the notes comprehensible and fascinating.

Leonard Braithwaite Notebook
MS 2032/23 Leonard Braithwaite Notebook. Three examples of illustrations. Image credit Leeds University Librar

If this has piqued your interest, you can explore The Medical Manuscripts Collection and search through the Special Collections catalogue to browse the digitised manuscripts.

New digitisation for the Kathleen Raven Archive

Today marks 107 years since the birth of Dame Kathleen Annie Raven (1910-1999), an influential nurse whose archive is held at Special Collections.

Kathleen Raven Report
MS 1721/3/4/1 Kathleen Raven Archive: Report on experimentation with various techniques in the prevention and treatment of pressure sores. Image courtesy of The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

The new Kathleen Raven Archive catalogue was launched earlier this year, and we’re pleased to announce that parts of the collection have been digitised and are now available online. This digitisation was supported by the AHRC project Exploring Histories and Futures of Innovation in Advanced Wound Care at the University of Leeds.

The digitisation focused on items related to the treatment of wounds and skin in the collection. This has included a number of Raven’s notebooks from her period of nurse training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, which have gone online for the first time. These cover various medical-related topics, such as dietetics, surgery, gynaecology, obstetrics and midwifery, as well as a focus on skin.

Kathleen Raven's notebooks
MS 1721/2/2, 4: Lecture notebooks written by Kathleen Raven during her nurse training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Image credit: Leeds University Library

In addition to the notebooks, we digitised documents from a project experimenting with methods for treating pressure sores, undertaken by Raven during her time as Matron at the Leeds General Infirmary.

The experiment ran at the Infirmary between July 1956 and August 1957. They investigated whether applying new barrier creams, rather than the usual practice of a soap and water massage, would help better prevent pressure sores in patients. They found that it was the frequent turning of the patients which had the most impact, rather than any particular topical cream.

Pressure ulcers are still a common healthcare problem today, and can be severely debilitating or even lead to life-threatening complications.

Explore the digitised items in the Kathleen Raven Archive

Some of these items, and other material in Special Collections relating to the history of nursing and wound care, will be on display at the upcoming event Nurses on the Frontline of wound care: from Passchendaele to pressure ulcers. It is being held on Friday 17th November, and will commemorate the life of the nurse Nellie Spindler during Stop Pressure Ulcer Week.

The event has been organised as a partnership between the University of Leeds and the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, and is supported by funds from the Leeds Teaching Hospitals Charitable Trust and Gateways to the First World War.

A pioneer of kidney dialysis: the Frank Parsons Archive

It’s been just over 60 years since Frank Maudsley Parsons performed the first kidney dialysis at the Leeds General Infirmary on 30th September 1956. The Artificial Kidney Unit at the Infirmary was the first of its kind in the UK.

Special Collections holds Frank Parsons’ archive, and we’re pleased to announce a new catalogue is now available online.

Explore the Frank Maudsley Parsons Archive

Frank Parsons Archive catalogue screenshot
Special Collections website: Catalogue of the Frank Maudsley Parsons Archive

Parsons’ pioneering work in the use of dialysis for treating kidney failure was significant in the development of renal medicine. Born in 1918, he was an alumnus of the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, graduating in 1941. After this, he worked as a surgical trainee at the Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) under the urologist Leslie Norman Pyrah (1899-1995).

He went on to become the Director of the Renal Research Unit at the Infirmary in 1967. Parsons also held a research post at the university in the 1950’s, and by 1974 was Senior Clinical Lecturer in Renal Medicine. He retired in 1983.

Find out more about Frank Parsons (1918-1989).

The archive contains files of papers, letters and publications by Parsons, spanning the course of his career. Many of the files contain notes and papers for a range of lectures he delivered, at conferences and events across the UK and around the world.

Cataloguing this archive has been fascinating, with the records providing an insight into Parsons’ research and how the technology used for dialysis developed. Interestingly, one of the files includes documents relating to a BBC series Your Life in Their Hands, as one of the programmes covered a visit to the LGI and the Artificial Kidney Unit in 1958 (see LUA FMP/1/2).

The new catalogue has been prepared as part of our Medical Collections Project, funded by the Wellcome Trust.

The Lady with the Lamp: Florence Nightingale Letters now online

Letters by Florence Nightingale held at Special Collections are now available to view online.

Special Collections holds six complete and five partial letters from the famous nursing reformer, which have now been digitised and made available on our catalogue.  Explore the Florence Nightingale letters.

The letters are also available as part of the international digital collaborative The Florence Nightingale Digitization Project, hosted by the Howard Gotleib Archival Research Center at Boston University.

The aim of the project is to create a comprehensive database of digitised Nightingale correspondence – so far we are one of 18 partners who have added their letters to the database, which is available to search online. All of our letters can be found here.

The letters we hold originate from two separate archive collections. The first set of letters are all to Flora Masson, (1857-1937), who was a nurse and author from Edinburgh. She trained at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, and went on to become Matron at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, and at the Eastern Fever Hospital, Homerton. The letters date from c.1880-1910, and one of them is a reference Nightingale supplied to Flora Masson for her application to the role of Matron at the Radcliffe Infirmary (dated 3rd August 1891).

There are also two letters within the BC Egerton Leigh Autograph Collection – one to a Mrs Richard Morris, and one to Lydia Leigh (d 1893).


Leeds General Cemetery burial records now online

Louise Piffero, our Medical Archivist, writes about the launching of the Leeds General Cemetery Burial Registers Index.

I’m very pleased to announce the launch of the Leeds General Cemetery Burial Registers Index  – a brand new Special Collections resource offering a unique insight into life and death in Leeds over the course of a century.

The Index contains over 96,000 transcribed entries from the burial registers of the Leeds General Cemetery, which have been digitised. The registers record details for each person buried at the cemetery, between 1835 and 1992. These are now openly available online for students and the general public to access and use for research.

In addition to the index, a new catalogue for the Leeds General Cemetery Company Ltd Archive has been completed. This work was undertaken as part of our Medical Collections Project funded by the Wellcome Trust.  Explore the Leeds General Cemetery Company Ltd Archive

The Index provides researchers with a new way to access the information the registers contain, which includes: the deceased person’s name, age, gender, dates of death and burial, cause of death, occupation, and details on their parents.

Not only will it be much easier for family historians to find information for individuals buried in the cemetery; the Index can also be used for more in-depth research into areas such as social or medical history. For example, you could chart the prevalence of a particular disease recorded in the registers.


Explore the Leeds General Cemetery Burial Registers Index