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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 2127 AAGBI
Held at: Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland
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Date(s): 1848-2002
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
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Extent: c65 boxes
Name of creator(s): Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland


Administrative/Biographical history:

Although there were a few earlier attempts, it is generally accepted that the first public demonstration of the feasibility of general anaesthesia took place in Boston, USA, in October 1846. The agent was ether and, as the news spread, anaesthetics were soon administered in Britain, and in continental Europe. Surgeons soon realised that the use of anaesthetics allowed the scope of surgery to expand beyond being a treatment of last resort. Once the possibility had been demonstrated the search began for more pleasant and potent agents. Further inhalation agents were introduced, beginning with chloroform in 1847. Local anaesthetics were pioneered with the use of cocaine in eye surgery in 1884, followed by local infiltration, nerve blocks and then spinal and epidural anaesthesia. A further important innovation came in connection with the repair of facial wounds during World War One, with the control of the airway by a tube placed in the trachea, a technique that was elaborated and became standard after World War Two. The introduction of intravenous induction agents (barbiturates) avoided the unpleasantness of induction by inhalational agents. Muscle relaxants first came into use in the second half of the 1940s and improved agents were soon introduced. Drugs were developed with specific actions, so as to be more potent and less toxic. From the 1960s the range of the specialty developed beyond the operating theatre, so that its modern practitioners provide a range of care for patients, from consultation in the preoperative period to involvement in High Dependency and Intensive Care Units, emergency medicine, and acute and chronic pain management. Anaesthetics today forms the largest clinical specialty in the hospital sector of the National Health Service.

The Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland (AAGBI) was founded by Henry W Featherstone (1894-1967) of Birmingham (President of the Section of Anaesthetics of the Royal Society of Medicine, 1930-1931), who became its first President at the inaugural meeting at the premises of the Medical Society of London in 1932. It was founded at a period when specialist training in anaesthesia was virtually non-existent. One of the Association's objectives was to promote progress and safety in the practice of anaesthesia by improving the expertise, training and status of anaesthetists, so ensuring the safety and comfort of patients in the operating theatre. It now represents anaesthetists in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, and some overseas members, but although it is often consulted by government bodies it has no direct statutory powers. The maintenance of academic standards is the responsibility of the Royal College of Anaesthetists. At the time of its foundation the Association was the only representative organisation, and it played an important role in developments including the introduction of the first specialist qualification, the Diploma in Anaesthetics (DA) in 1935, and the expansion of the specialty during World War Two (1939-1945). Publication of its journal Anaesthesia began in 1946. It played a part in the founding of the Faculty of Anaesthesia of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (1947), which later became the Royal College of Anaesthetists. It was involved in negotiations about the status of the specialty preceding the inception of the National Health Service (1948); in the founding of the Faculty of Anaesthetists of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland (1959); and establishment of the Junior Anaesthetists' Group in 1967 (renamed the Group of Anaesthetists in Training in 1991). The Association holds scientific meetings and provides a forum for clinical and academic discussion; promotes and undertakes research; and promulgates its political views both independently and through the British Medical Association. In addition to the journal Anaesthesia it produces the newsletter Anaesthesia News. The Association was granted the right to bear arms by King George VI in 1945. The Association moved from its offices in the British Medical Association House, Tavistock Square, to new headquarters at no 9 Bedford Square, London, which was acquired in 1985 and opened in 1987. In 2002 its members numbered over 8,000.

The Association is headed by a Council, led by an elected President. Working Parties examine particular issues of relevance to the profession. The Association organises events, including seminars on professional issues as well as its Annual Scientific Meeting (yearly conference) and Winter Scientific Meeting. In addition to its journal it publishes guidelines on professional matters, and an annual report. It also makes grants, including research and travel grants, and awards, including medals and prizes. The Group of Anaesthetists in Training (GAT) caters for trainee anaesthetists, having its own committee, and specific seminars and Annual Scientific Meeting. The Linkman organisation was founded in 1974 as a means of transmitting information to and from AAGBI members. From 1976 Linkman meetings have been held annually, usually before the AGM and ASM. A Junior Linkman scheme was begun in 1985.

The Association administers the British Oxygen Company (BOC) Museum (A Charles King Collection of Historical Anaesthetic Apparatus), which originated with the collection of A Charles King (1888-1965), an engineer and instrument maker who specialised in anaesthetic apparatus from the early 1920s, a period of technical development in the specialty. Following a series of financial problems King's company was taken over by Coxeter's, which subsequently became part of the British Oxygen Company (BOC). King worked with leading anaesthetists in developing instruments and amassed a collection of equipment, which he donated to the Association of Anaesthetists in 1953 and which has subsequently been augmented by further acquisitions. The artefacts date from 1774 to the 1990s. The collection was moved from King's premises in Devonshire Street to the Royal College of Surgeons in 1965 and to the new premises of the Association of Anaesthetists at no 9 Bedford Square in 1987. The Association also rents accommodation at Bedford Square to other organisations including the Intensive Care Society and the Pain Society.

For further information, see Thomas B Boulton, The Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland 1932-1992 and the Development of the Specialty of Anaesthesia (Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland, London, 1999). On the history of anaesthesia see also the website of the History of Anaesthesia Society:

The Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCA) is a separate organisation which has statutory responsibility for maintaining professional standards, which it does by the inspection of hospital departments and by examination for higher qualifications, the Diploma in Anaesthetics (DA), and its own Fellowship (FRCA).


Scope and content/abstract:

Archive, 1932-2002, of the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland (AAGBI), also including some material relating to the history of anaesthesia dating back to 1848:

Council minutes, 1932-1995; Annual General Meeting minutes, 1932-1988, 1997, and various other papers, 1934-1995 (with gaps); Advisory Committee minutes, 1978-1984, and papers, 1987; papers of various other committees, including the Safety Committee, Education and Research Committee, Archives, Library and Museum Committee, International Relations Committee, and Finance Committee.

Records of the Group of Anaesthetists in Training (GAT), including yearbook, 1993, 1995, 1997; GAT committee election papers, 1998-1999; circulated papers concerning 'New Deal Working Patterns', 1997.

List of Linkmen, 1995-1997; Linkmen's newsletter, 1995-1997, 1999.

Papers on constitutional matters, including transcript of grant of arms, 1945; constitution, 1962; amendments to rules, 1971 and undated; report on the constitution of the Council, 1974; printed Memorandum of Association [after 1981] and Memorandum and Articles of Association, 1985; copy of coat of arms, 1991; papers on composition of Council, its sub-committees and working parties, 1992-1993; Standing Committee in the Republic of Ireland constitution, 1997.

Album containing photographs and obituaries of Presidents, 1932-2002; Presidents' newsletters, 1970-1971, 1978; miscellaneous Presidential correspondence, including letters from HRH Princess Margaret (Patron of AAGBI), 1990-1998; list of Presidents (1932-1992), 1993; undated album containing photographs and biographies of officers; papers relating to elections, 1984-1998.

Annual reports, 1933-1999 (with gaps), including lists of members to 1969.

Papers relating to membership, including material on Fellowships, 1946-1949, 1953, honorary membership, 1987-1996, and subscription rates, [1991]-1995; lists of members, 1976-1995 (with gaps).

Accounts, 1983; directors' report and accounts, 1987-1995 (with gaps); financial papers, including charitable donations, 1991, 1995-1996.

Printed or typescript reports of the AAGBI, its Working Parties, or Irish Standing Committee, 1963-1997, on subjects including staffing and manpower, anaesthetists' workload, stress, the Lewin Report (1970) on the organisation and staffing of operating departments, provision of anaesthetic services and accommodation, private fees, dental anaesthetics and anaesthesia in general practice, day case anaesthesia, paediatric anaesthetic practice, management of trauma, intensive care, management of pain, use of drugs, anaphylactic shock, HIV and other viruses, anaesthetic equipment, recovery facilities, standards of monitoring, and other professional techniques and practices.

Publications of AAGBI, comprising guidelines, booklets and leaflets (largely aimed at Anaesthetists), 1975-1998, on subjects including anaesthetists' workloads, career appointments, professional references, fees for and conduct of private anaesthetic practice, anaphylaxis under general anaesthesia, prescription of Noscapine, consent forms, checklist for anaesthetic machines, standards of monitoring, obstetrics, intensive care, AIDS and Hepatitis B, and other professional matters; also including some information leaflets on anaesthesia aimed at the general public.

Programme of the first Scientific Meeting, 1957; papers on the Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM), 1991-1997; papers on the Winter Scientific Meeting (WSM), 1992-1997; papers, including programmes and minutes, relating to various other AAGBI meetings, seminars, training events, lectures, dinners and other events, 1958-1998, including some joint events with other bodies, and some events relating to the history of anaesthesia rather than its current practice. Papers of the GAT ASM and annual Linkman Conference, 1995-1998, including some sound and video recordings, 1997. Ephemera and other material relating to events, including congratulatory address on the silver jubilee from the Finnish Society of Anaesthetists, 1957; historical note on AAGBI for the golden jubilee, 1982; diamond jubilee flag, 1992; ephemera relating to various social events, 1967-1998; menus for AAGBI Ancient Brethren Luncheon, 1995-1997; visitors' books, 1951-1972, 1984.

Various papers relating to honours and prizes awarded by the AAGBI, 1946-1998, including the Sir Ivan Magill Gold Medal and John Snow Silver Medal, John Snow lecture, and Pask Certificate of Honour; undergraduate prize essays, 1987-1997 (with gaps); entries for the AAGBI Safety Prize, 1995, 1997; reports and papers of recipients of travel grants and scholarships, 1997-1998.

Papers, 1984-1987, including correspondence, plans, press cuttings and other printed material, relating to the appeal for funds, acquisition and opening of the new AAGBI headquarters at no 9 Bedford Square, London, including material relating to the earlier history of the premises.

Papers, 1953-1995, relating to the King collection of historic apparatus, including its acquisition, and to the administration of the AAGBI museum, archives and library, including advertisements for museum exhibitions on the history of anaesthesia, 1991-1997 (with gaps), and offprint of K Bryn Thomas's 'The A Charles King collection of early anaesthetic apparatus', Anaesthesia, vol 25 no 4, October 1970.

Papers, 1947-1999, on professional issues accumulated by the AAGBI, relating to anaesthetics but also touching on wider medical issues, including papers of AAGBI working parties on professional topics, and also papers and publications, for instance reports and discussion documents, produced by government bodies (e.g. NHS Executive and Audit Commission) and by other medical organisations, including other professional bodies representing anaesthetists in the UK and overseas, among them papers relating to the implications of the creation of a College of Anaesthetists and the structure of anaesthetic organisation, 1974-1979.

Various papers relating to international conferences, 1978-1999, including joint meetings of the AAGBI.

Papers, 1857-1998, relating to the history of anaesthetics, including material on eminent anaesthetists, such as Sir Ivan Magill, John Snow and Sir Robert Macintosh, and the restoration of graves of some eminent anaesthetists; anniversaries in the history of anaesthesia including the 150th anniversary of the first public administration of ether at Massachusetts General Hospital (1846); the history of anaesthetic apparatus; a letter written at Lucknow, India, concerning an amputation, 1857; memoirs including Vernon Hall's Reminiscences and Anaesthesia in India 1939-1946 (privately published, 1997); published items including copies of articles on chloroform and vinic ether, 1875, and vapour of aether, 1933, and a facsimile edition, 1996, of Allen & Hanburys Ltd catalogue of anaesthetic and oxygen apparatus (1938); material relating to the history of the AAGBI, including its coat of arms.

Miscellaneous printed items relating to other organisations, 1987-1997, including the Pain Society.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:

Access is by appointment with the Archivist only, and in accordance with the Data Protection Act. Records are generally open unless access would contravene the Act.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Photocopies of material can be supplied, subject to copyright restrictions and suitability of the item for photocopying.

Finding aids:

Database. Searches will be undertaken on request. The archives are not fully catalogued.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Created and retained by the organisation.

Allied Materials

Related material:

The Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland also holds collections of photographs and audio-visual material relating to the history of anaesthesia, and deposited papers of various anaesthetists. Its other resources for the history of anaesthesia comprise the British Oxygen Company (BOC) Museum (A Charles King Collection of Historical Anaesthetic Apparatus) and the British Journal of Anaesthesia (BJA) Library, the latter including the former libraries of several anaesthetists and later acquisitions, among them books, pamphlets and technical literature including brochures on anaesthetic machinery from 1869 to the present day; journals include complete sets of Anaesthesia and The British Journal of Anaesthesia.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Compiled by Rachel Kemsley as part of the RSLP AIM25 project. Sources: Thomas B Boulton, The Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland 1932-1992 and the Development of the Specialty of Anaesthesia (Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland, London, 1999); website of the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland: (especially sections on the History of Anaesthesia by Dr David Wilkinson and on the AAGBI by Dr T B Boulton); information from Dr David Zuck.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Jun 2002

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