Sydney Alexander Henry papers: a collection-level description

Scope and Content

A small collection of papers relating to the Manchester doctor, S.A. Henry, who specialised in occupational skin cancers. The collection comprises Henry's research notes compiled for his research into epithelioma in the 1920s and 1930s.

The collection includes:

  • File: cuttings and notes on women in mule spinning, including data on certificates of disablements and death certificates, 1924-1925; mills employing female spinners (mules and rings); and correspondence with the Factory Inspectorate concerning the use at certain mills of the Barnfield bolster which prevented oil splash.
  • Notes on oil notifications.
  • Typescript: ‘The Shale Oil Industry’, presumably compiled by Henry, mostly concerns the extraction of shale oil in the Firth of Forth area of Scotland.
  • File: 'Wool' – 'Woollen Weaving', rough notes; 'Wool Mule Spinning', notes and correspondence 1923-1924 re. Shale Oil; ms notes 'cases of epithdermayopms ulceration… included in the return for 1923’ and tables for other oil-related cases.
  • Typescript: 'The oiling of cotton'.
  • Table of cases from Oldham Royal Infirmary re. epithelioma.
  • Letter/report (Dr Bridge) concerning skin ulceration in boilermakers, 1929.
  • Bundle - papers on rubbing oil.
  • Guidelines re mule spinners cancer.
  • Bundle: deaths from scrotal cancer based on figure supplied by the General Register Office.
  • Bundle: papers on cotton workers supplied by the General Register Office 1927-1928, concern mortality of various types of operatives, includes Henry's notes.
  • Henry's historical notes on medical and social conditions of child chimney sweeps, including the parliamentary committees which reported on this subject, 1817-1983.
  • Bundle: papers concerning apprentices at Litton Mill, Tideswell, Derbyshire (Henry may have researched this as a personal rather than professional interest).
  • Oldham Operative Cotton Spinners Provincial Association, Monthly Report, March 1925 (annotated by Henry).
  • Copies on notice concerning "pitch warts" supplied to employees, described as "Propaganda at one chemical works" n.d.
  • A mounted photo "Spanish women spinning on condenser mules".
  • Report by Lancashire and Cheshire Miners' Federation on skin diseases at Parsonage Pit Wigan, with covering letter by T E Flitcroft, Leigh, who had reported to the Federation (1936).

Administrative / Biographical History

Sydney Alexander Henry was born at Rochdale, Lancashire, and studied medicine at the University of Cambridge and St Thomas's Hospital, London. He spent much of his professional life studying industrial diseases as HM Medical Inspector of Factories for Manchester. Henry specialized in occupational cancers, particularly epithelioma, a type of skin cancer, which was commonly encountered in the Lancashire cotton spinning industry (to the extent that it was colloquially called mule spinner's cancer). Epithelioma was believed to be caused by the carcinogenic properties of oils (shale oils) used routinely in the maintenance of industrial machinery, including spinning mules. Epithelioma became a major issue during the inter-war period, with trade unions campaigning for compensation for affected workers, and for the introduction of non-carcinogenic oils. The issue was extensively investigated by the Manchester Committee on Cancer, a body with which Henry was associated. Henry also served as secretary to a Home Office committee on mule spinner's cancer.

Henry helped establish the relationship between shale oils and epithelioma, which led to their prohibition within the textile industry. In a test case in 1924 a mule spinner successfully sued his employers for loss of earnings due to contracting epithelioma. In 1930 mule spinner's cancer became a registered industrial disease. In the post-war period, the Joint Advisory Committee of the Cotton Industry's report on mule spinner's cancer (1951), and the Ministry of Labour's Mule Spinning (Health) Special Regulations (1953) required that only technical white oils, animal and vegetable oils be used for oiling spindles.


Not currently arranged in archival order.

Access Information

Most of this collection is open to any accredited reader, but records which related to treatment of patients or otherwise contain sensitive personal data nay be closed to public inspection.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The custodial history of this collection is unknown.


No accruals expected.

Related Material

The Amalgamated Cotton Spinners' Archive includes a file on the Association's involvement with Henry and epithelioma research, ACS/6/7/3. This archive together with that of the Bolton Cotton Spinners Association (BCS) contains extensive material on mule spinner's cancer in general, e.g. ACS/6/7/1, ACS/6/7/4 and ACS/6/7/6.

The Manchester Medical Collection has both publications and biographical files for Henry (MMC/1/HenrySA and MMC/2/HenrySA). The MMC includes material on other Manchester doctors such as Charles Claud Twort, E M Brockbank and S R Wilson who researched mule spinner's cancer. The MMC section on cancer (MMC/15/1) includes documents on epithelioma.

JRUL also has custody of the minutes of the Consultative Committee on Cancer Research, a University Committee, which investigated mule spinner's cancer as part of its brief. (USC/28).