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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.