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BELL, William Blair- (1871-1936): history of the BCOG

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 1538 S33
Held at: Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
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Full title: BELL, William Blair- (1871-1936): history of the BCOG
Date(s): 1934-c.1940
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 2 volumes; 2 folders
Name of creator(s): Bell | William Blair- | 1871-1936 | President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists


Administrative/Biographical history:

William Blair-Bell (1871-1936) was co-founder (with William Fletcher Shaw) of the College and its first President. The second son of William and Helen Bell, he was born in Wallasey in 1871 and educated at Rossall School, King's College London and King's College Hospital. In 1905 he left general practice in Wallasey and was appointed to the post of Assistant Consultant Gynaecologist to the Liverpool Royal Infirmary. In 1918 he became senior surgeon and in 1921 was appointed to the Chair of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Liverpool University, a position he held until 1931. In 1929 he married his cousin, Florence.

Blair-Bell was President of the Obstetric Section of the Royal Society of Medicine and of the North of England Gynaecological Society and the Liverpool Medical Institution. In 1911 he founded the Gynaecological Visiting Society (GVS). He was co-founder of the College in 1929 and presented the College with its first headquarters at 58 Queen Anne Street. He established the money for the William Blair-Bell memorial lectures and for other research projects. He was President of the College from its inception until 1935, the year before his death (bibliography: Sir John Peel, Lives of the Fellows, pp 73-77).

Background to The History of the Origin and Rise of the British College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists: Blair-Bell resigned from all committees of the College in April 1934, and it would appear that shortly afterwards he began to compose his history of the foundation and earliest years of the College. The prefatory explanation is dated 22 May 1934 and it was probably written before any other part of the text. It appears from a file of his correspondence with colleagues and others that he first began to seek information and papers to help him in late May 1934 (the file is A1/1 and covers May to June 1934. Fletcher Shaw's copies of his correspondence with Blair-Bell on the subject are in A4/4/23).

Blair Bell's will, which is dated 22 March 1935, contains the following clause: "I also direct that the historical composition concerning the origin and rise of the British College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists which I shall leave shall be kept sealed and unread and shall immediately be deposited in a bank until such time as it is published not sooner than fifteen years after my death and not until after the death of the last surviving member of the Finance and Executive Committees of the aforesaid College in existence between One thousand nine hundred and twenty nine and one thousand nine hundred and thirty four and I direct that the expenses of publication shall be defrayed by means of a grant from the final accumulated residue of my estate. The format printing and binding shall in accordance with a memorandum I shall leave with the typescript copies of the book and the copies printed shall be distributed in accordance with a further memorandum I shall leave. Should the history not be completed at the time of my death a fact which will be known by Miss Nockolds it is to be completed at once Arthur Capel Herbert Bell and Eleanor Nockolds from documents and letters in my possession and from extracts made from my diaries by Arthur Capel Herbert Bell. Editing of the whole or part completed by me is to be confined to typing and printing and verbal errors". In addition to instructions about format, binding, and printing, Blair Bell also left instructions with the typescript that one thousand were to be printed and distributed to various institutions and individuals, and to each fellow and member of the College. If the College wished to print copies it might do so, but at its own expense. In those circumstances the typescript was to pass to the College providing that College gave an undertaking not to alter the text in any way.

In a memorandum, the text of which may be seen in S33/3, it is stated that the text was completed by the trustees. It is unclear how much of the text was left unfinished by Blair-Bell.


Scope and content/abstract:

The History of the Origin and Rise of the British College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists by William Blair Bell, 1934-c1940; photocopy of the same with additional prefatory matter, 1934-c1940.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

the two copies of Blair-Bell's history are numbered S33/1-2 and S33/3-4. S33/1-2 comprise the original bound typescript. S33/3-4 comprise the photocopy and are in an inferior binding. S33/3, however, contains copies of important prefatory matter not all of which are found in S33/1 and the originals of most of which do not appear to be extant. The prefatory matter consists of a copy of a memorandum, which includes the text of the relevant clause of Blair-Bell's will, and which accompanied the unbound sheets of the original typescript, and was presumably composed by Blair Bell's trustees; instructions by Blair Bell on the publication and distribution of the work; a manuscript note by Blair Bell on the organisation of the text; instructions on binding and typography; a list of illustrations; and a title page. The amended Council minute of November 1969 refers to illustrations that it directs are to be kept with the copy, with the exception of two photographs of the opening of College House in 1932, which may be displayed in the College. The two photographs may be those copies of the opening ceremony photographs currently hanging in the president's room. The location of the other illustrations is not known; some may be in various PH classes.

Conditions governing access:

These records are available for research only with the prior permission of the President of the RCOG. The text may not be published or circulated in any form without the permission of the trustees of Blair Bell's estate or their heirs. Please contact the College Archivist & Records Manager for more information

Conditions governing reproduction:

The text may not be published or circulated in any form without the permission of the trustees of Blair Bell's estate or their heirs. Copyright is vested in the Trustees of Blair-Bell's estate.

Finding aids:

A general index to the files listed in the catalogue of the Archives of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is maintained in the College Archives; refer to the College Archivist.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Blair-Bell died on 26 January 1936. In addition to directions about his of the College Blair-Bell left various bequests, conditional and unconditional, to the College. Those that derived from the residue of the estate were to be held by the trustees, Eleanor Nockolds, and, Blair-Bell's nephew A C H Bell (later Sir Arthur Bell, PRCOG), for not less than fifteen years or until after the death of the last surviving member of the Finance and Executive committees between 1929 and 1934, whichever was the longer period. The last surviving member of the committees, Sir Eardley Holland, died in 1967. Between Blair-Bell's death and 1969 his estate was subject to litigation on several occasions, either as a result of the trustees and the College seeking guidance from the courts as to the will's interpretation, or as a consequence of the contingent residuary legatees pursuing their interests. The final court order, which established the Florence and William Blair Bell Memorial Fund and the Florence Blair Bell Art Fund, was made in the Chancery Division of the High Court in July 1969. Around this time, the trustees of Blair Bell's estate, or more particularly Sir Arthur Bell, as Eleanor Nockolds was aged over ninety in 1969, took steps to resolve the question of Blair Bell's history. The typescript was received by the College in January 1969, but it appears that it was not formally deposited by Sir Arthur Bell with the President until November 1969. Conditions of access were then agreed by Sir Arthur Bell and the President, and approved by Council at its meeting of November 1969. On this occasion Council proposed that the original typescript should be copied and that both the original and the copy should be bound. An amended copy of the relevant Council minute was placed with S33/1.

Immediate source of acquisition:

This item was presented to the College by A H Rowson, FRCOG, in April 1990.

Allied Materials

Related material:

RCOG Archives holds a copy of the text of Blair Bell's will (Ref: S20); the College's papers relating to his will and the administration of his estate (Ref: H1; see the introductory note to that series); drafts and other papers relating to William Fletcher Shaw's history of the foundation of the College, which was partly written in response to his knowledge that Blair-Bell was composing this account (Ref: S34). In his will Blair-Bell had bequeathed to his nephew his private diaries, medical manuscripts, drawings, photographs, lantern slides, sections, letters, cuttings, and personal and scientific notes. He directed that Bell might extract from the private diaries any matter that he considered to be of historical or scientific interest, but no one else was to be allowed access to the diaries and that they were to be destroyed within six months. In July 1971 Sir Arthur Bell gave the College bound offprints of all papers published by Blair Bell and by the scientific staff of the Liverpool Medical Research Organisation, and various photographs and documents associated with Blair Bell. The offprints are in the College Library. There appears to be no list of these particular photographs and other documents, but it is possible that some of the photographs now in PH1 formed part of this gift. Sir Arthur Bell's widow gave the College drawings of College robes and designs for the presidential badge which had belonged to Blair Bell. These drawings and designs comprise S36/1-3. In H1/4a there is a copy of a letter, dated December 1945, from Eleanor Nockolds to A C H Bell in which she says that 'I know that all papers etc in connection with the College were sent to it after the Professor's death'. However she then refers to making a search of papers in her possession for a copy of the designs of the presidential badge. It is possible that some or all of the papers sent to the College after Blair Bell's death are now in A1.

Private papers of Blair-Bell, deposited at or acquired by the College, from various sources since 1986 (Refs: S1, S10, S14, and S18).

Related material in other repositories: papers relating to Blair-Bell's experimental work at the Liverpool Medical Institute are held at the Thackray Medical Museum, 131 Beckett St, Leeds.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Biographical details of the individuals who have presented material to the College and/or comprise the subject of the records, have been compiled using information in administrative files and, where relevant, consulting Sir John Peel's book The Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists 1929-1969, Whitefriars Press Ltd, 1975. Compiled by Clare Cowling, Archivist, RCOG.

Rules or conventions:
National Council on Archives, Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997; ISAD(G), Second Edition, 2000.

Date(s) of descriptions:
September 2000

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