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.

Our invaluable volunteers

Objects before conservation
Leeds School of Medicine objects before conservation work. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Leeds School of Medicine objects before conservation work. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Our Conservation Officer, Sharon Connell, talks about the contribution of volunteers in Special Collections.

Volunteering is a key element in making our collections accessible for research, teaching and public enjoyment. The Collections Care and Conservation Team has a longstanding commitment to welcoming volunteers with the skills, dedication and goodwill they bring.  Volunteers help us deliver projects as well as carrying out routine work, such as cleaning and repackaging collections.

Our volunteers have diverse backgrounds and a variety of experience and interests. This can make for lively interaction and has inspired some volunteers to explore further potential avenues of research and study based on the collections they have been working on. Some have gone on to work in conservation.

Apart from being lovely, community-minded people, united by a passion for history and heritage, why do they do it? Generally speaking, they want to build new skills or apply their existing ones in a new way, learn about what happens ‘behind the scenes’ in conservation or just meet like-minded people.

Recently, volunteers have been helping with our Medical Collections Project. Once soiled and difficult to access items are now clean and rehoused. Gone are the weird and wonderful packaging solutions of yesteryear like manila envelopes and ancient Kapok stuffing material, which were damaging the collections. Thanks to our volunteers these have been replaced with beautifully crafted paper wrappers and boxes, each made bespoke for particular items.  Medals, for example, are nested in inert foam in boxes and wrapped in archival quality acid free tissue.

Not only are the collections more stable and protected as a result of these simple actions but we all derive great satisfaction seeing how well cared for they now look!

Objects after conservation
Objects from the Leeds School of Medicine Collection after repackaging. Image credit Leeds University Library

“I was happy with the repackaging of the medals because I felt it paid tribute to all the medical staff who had received the awards”, Helen Utting, retired Senior Lecturer, Leeds University School of Healthcare, and conservation volunteer

Anyone can become a volunteer – no experience is necessary as training in handling and basic conservation techniques is given. Look out for roles, usually advertised as and when they are available, via Twitter @LULGalleries or Volunteer Connect.

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.

The Leeds General Cemetery burial records: a wealth of knowledge

As the summer draws to a close and September rolls in, our interns, Imogen and Kelsie, reflect on the findings of their project researching the Leeds General Cemetery burial registers.

Throughout July and August Kelsie and I have completed two student internships, which were a partnership between the School of History and Special Collections. The internships were funded as a result of Dr Laura King’s AHRC Leadership Fellowship, Living with Dying: Everyday Cultures of Dying within Family Life in Britain, c.1900s-1950s.

With this project we have returned to the Leeds General Cemetery Burial Registers Index, launched in November to great acclaim. Kelsie and I have produced a number of resources to help researchers use this collection. We have also investigated the research potential of the Index and asked, what can we learn from these burial registers?

In short, the answer is… a significant amount! The Index truly is a fantastic resource for genealogists, the study of medical history, death studies and other branches of social history.

Leeds General Cemetery Interns, Kelsie and Imogen
Project Interns, Kelsie and Imogen

Our internships kicked off with a week-long boot camp that trained us in statistics and the use of the software RStudio to analyse quantitative data. Kelsie and I are both Arts and Humanities students so we found this week challenging but ultimately really useful. We then applied our new techniques to the 97,121 entries in the Leeds General Cemetery (LGC) Burial Registers Index. Our report on the statistical analysis will be available shortly on the Living with Dying project blog.

Next we created a glossary of medical terms used within the burial registers. Many of the causes of death recorded in the registers have archaic terminology. For example, ‘consumption’ is the most common cause of death in adults in the LGC. Our glossary explains unfamiliar terms and gives the historical context of the registers’ main causes of death. It will be made available as website text to supplement the Index in future.

Finally, using census, birth, marriage and death records we have researched the history of ordinary families buried in the LGC. Special Collections already has some information about notable burials. We wanted to discover more about the cemetery’s role in the everyday lives of people in Leeds.

One family who used the cemetery extensively was the Frankland family. At least 25 people in the family were buried there between 1846 and 1963 in 6 different plots. To see biographical information about the Franklands and how they are all related, we’ve created a family tree.

Illustration of a Family Tree, by Imogen
Illustration of a Family Tree, by Imogen

Additionally, this timeline displays the chronological order in which these people entered the cemetery, and the different plots in which they were buried.

We have been writing up our research findings in a series of blog posts scheduled to be released in intervals in the forthcoming weeks. Do check these out to learn more about our research. We discuss the top ten causes of death in the registers, religion and class in the cemetery and the stories of families who used the cemetery. We also provide resources to assist with further research of the cemetery including our reports and Kelsie’s undergraduate dissertation on the LGC.

Do explore the rest of the Living with Dying project website. The Fellowship includes collaborations with a group of family historians, an artist and Leeds City Council in exploring experiences of dying and remembering the dead.

Kelsie and I would like to thank our project leaders Laura, Louise and Tim for all their guidance, help and support with this varied project. We would also like to give a shout out to the School of History, all the staff in Special Collections, our Systems Officer, Jonathan, the Library data repository team and all those involved with the Q Step Programme.


100 years of nurse training in Leeds

The Leeds General Infirmary Nurse Training Registers.
The Leeds General Infirmary Nurse Training Registers (MS 1656)

A new catalogue is now available for our collection of Nurse Training Registers, which record 100 years of training nurse probationers at the Leeds General Infirmary.

The 32 registers contain details of the training each nurse received, and date between 1856 and 1956. Four of the registers are enrolment registers for the Territorial Army Nursing Service (formerly the Territorial Force Nursing Service). The new catalogue has been produced as part of our Medical Collections Project, funded by the Wellcome Trust.

The Infirmary began formally training nurses in 1868. Nurses had to spend a year training as a probationer before becoming qualified. This was upped to three years in the 1880s, and four years in 1905.

1919 was a turning point, when the nurse registration process came into action after the passing of The Nurses Registration Act. This led to the formation of the General Nursing Council and nurse examinations. That same year, the Leeds General Infirmary established a Preliminary Training School for nurses. The University of Leeds was the first university in Europe to introduce a University Diploma in Nursing, in 1921.

Leeds General Infirmary Nurse Training Registers
Leeds General Infirmary Nurse Training Registers (MS 1656)

Alongside the cataloguing, our Project Assistant Riza Hussaini has been working hard with our volunteers to care for and improve the physical condition of the registers. The registers have undergone repairs, cleaning, and many now have bespoke “book shoes” or polyester covers for added protection. This has been a big job and a fantastic achievement for the team, making sure the registers can be better preserved for the future. For more information on the preservation work Riza has been undertaking, see her recent blog post To Protect and Pre(Serve).

Explore the Leeds General Infirmary Nurse Training Collection

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.