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Barker, Sir Herbert Atkinson (1869-1950)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0114 MS0179
Held at: Royal College of Surgeons of England
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Full title: Barker, Sir Herbert Atkinson (1869-1950)
Date(s): 1903-1967
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 3 boxes
Name of creator(s): Barker | Sir | Herbert Atkinson | 1869-1950 | Knight | bone-setter


Administrative/Biographical history:

Sir Herbert Atkinson Barker was born in Southport, in 1869. He was educated in the grammar school at Kirkby Lonsdale, and then visited Canada for his health. On his return he was apprenticed to his cousin, John Atkinson, the bone-setter of Park Lane. Before he was twenty-one Barker set up practice on his own, and was successful in Manchester and Glasgow before he established himself in London. He soon fell foul of the medical profession which does not look kindly on people who practice without having received the traditional education of a teaching hospital, an attitude partly excused by the sincere wish to protect the public from quacks professing to cure disease. However Barker did cure patients, many of whom had failed to obtain relief from qualified doctors. Barker had many journalistic friends, such as R D Blumenfeld, to press his claims, and many of the patients whom he cured were well known in sporting and public life. The controversy reached its height after 1911 when Dr F W Axham was struck off the register for acting as anaesthetist for Barker. This action made Barker more popular with the public, and he gained further sympathy in 1917 when the refusal of his offer to treat soldiers was discussed in Parliament. It was eventually conceded that men might consult an unqualified person on their own responsibility. By this time many eminent people, including leading medical men, were seeking some sort of recognition of Barker's skill. The Archbishop of Canterbury in 1920 was asked to exercise his special powers and bestow on Barker the degree of doctor of medicine. Finally, Barker was knighted in 1922. He retired from regular practice soon afterwards and thereafter spent much of his time on the continent and in the Channel Islands. The animosity of the doctors gradually died down, and in 1936 Barker gave a demonstration of his skill before the British Orthopaedic Association at St Thomas's Hospital. Barker did make a contribution to humanity, not only in relieving suffering but also in stimulating doctors to make more use of this form of therapy. In 1941 he was elected as a manipulative surgeon to Noble's Hospital in the Isle of Man. There had been many bone-setters before Barker, but none attained his eminence. Barker had remarkable success and seemed to have the gift of healing. Experience taught him which patients were unlikely to benefit by his treatment, and his doctor friends were often inundated with patients, mostly incurable, sent to them by Barker. He died in 1950.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Sir Herbert Atkinson Barker, 1903-1967, comprising correspondence, 1903-1967; press cuttings, 1905-1950; publications relating to Barker and his work, 1911-1938; notes, papers and correspondence regarding the case of Thomas vs Barker (1911) and the disciplinary hearing of Dr Frederick Axham, Anaesthetist, 1911-1912; and miscellaneous documents, 1918-1964.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

As outlined in Scope and Content.

Conditions governing access:

By written appointment only.

Conditions governing reproduction:

No photocopying permitted.

Finding aids:

Additional manuscripts catalogue.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Donated by the family of Sir Herbert Barker in 1967, through his biographer, Reginald Pound.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Compiled by Anya Turner.
Source: Dictionary of National Biography, 1941-1950, pages 59-60.

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:
Sep 2008

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