Archive of Society of Medical Officers of Health, North Western Branch

Scope and Content

The Archive consists largely of minutes (covering most of the Society's existence), statements of accounts (1903-1947), some membership records and correspondence files (from 1967). The early minute books are a useful source for information about the provincial development of the Society of Medical Officers of Health and activities of medical officers. Later minutes and correspondence give a detailed picture of the changes to the Society in the 1970s.

Administrative / Biographical History

The North West region has played a significant role in the development of public health in England. In 1847, Liverpool appointed the first medical officer of health in the country, Dr William Henry Duncan. Although Manchester did not appoint a medical officer for health until 1868, the Manchester and Salford Sanitary Association was instrumental in founding the first provincial association of medical officers. In February 1875, they issued a circular to medical officers of health in Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire and the West Riding of Yorkshire calling them to a meeting in Manchester Town Hall. This meeting resulted in the formation of the North Western Association of Medical Officers of Health, the first of a number of provincial associations formed in a similar vein to the Society of Medical Officers of Health. The aim of the Association was to enable medical officers to know what was happening in nearby districts and to work together to promote public health issues. Membership of the Association consisted of acting and retired medical officers of health of the above mentioned counties. Individuals involved in public health who were not medical officers, such as members of the Sanitary Association, could be elected as associates, but without voting rights.

The Association held regular meetings; as the original quarterly meetings were insufficient for the quantity of matters requiring discussion, from 1883 meetings were held monthly. At first, meetings were held in Manchester, but the advantage of holding meetings around the region was soon recognised. Meetings were held in town halls (the bases from which Medical Officers of Health operated) and later in places of interest to medical officers, such as chemical works and factories. The Association acted as a professional association, discussing and commenting on employment practices and individual cases. It also provided a forum for discussion of many issues relating to public health, such as the spread of infectious diseases, the dangers of noxious vapours, inspection of schools and regulation of dairies. The Association submitted reports, memorials and petitions to the Local Government Board, the House of Commons and the British Medical Association. Letters and articles promoting public health issues were published in local and national newspapers and journals. Although an independent organisation, the North Western Association of Medical Officers of Health worked closely with other related associations and with the Society of Medical Officers of Health. The relationship was particularly close with the Yorkshire and Northern Counties Associations, with whom many joint meetings were held.

In 1888, the Society of Medical Officers of Health amalgamated with the three provincial associations (North-Western, Yorkshire and Midlands) to form a national society with regional branches. The Society of Medical Officers of Health was an important and respected organisation. The increasing responsibilities of local authorities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was reflected in the growth (in numbers, powers and responsibilities) of Medical Officers of Health. From the early twentieth century the Society acted as the central representative body of the Public Health Service. It aimed to promote the advancement of every branch of public health and to increase the education and knowledge of Medical Officers of Health, the medical profession and the general public in this field. With the amalgamation of the Society, the North Western Association became the North Western Branch of the Society of Medical Officers of Health, but retained its original objectives. Branches appointed their own officers and committees, arranged meetings, had control of their own business and bore their own expenses. The North Western Branch covered a wide area extending to Yorkshire, Liverpool and North Wales.

In the early years, the Society comprised Medical Officers of Health and their deputies and assistants. Later, doctors in the fields of infectious diseases, tuberculosis, child welfare and maternity services joined the Society in increasing numbers. The North Western Branch accepted its first woman member in 1905. Membership was further widened in 1948 with the acceptance of professors and lecturers in social medicine, child health and allied subjects.

The 1970s saw a period of great change for the Society and for medical officers in general. In 1972, the Local Government Act included legislation which would bring the post of the Medical Officer of Health to an end when it came into effect in 1974. In September 1974, reorganisation of the NHS led to a reorganisation of branches into regions to correspond with the new NHS regions. The North Western Branch separated into the Merseyside and North West Regions of the recently renamed Society of Community Medicine. These regions were officially separate and elected their own committees and representatives. However, the two regions came together for meetings, partly to continue to enable continuing satisfactory attendance. The historical precedence of the Branch was also a factor, indeed, this combined group was often referred to as the North West Branch.

The abolition of the office of Medical Officer of Health in 1974 and the formation of various new associations and the Faculty of Community Medicine contributed to the decline of the Society. The national society was nearly wound up in 1976, but survived, with a much reduced organisation. However, most of the regions had ceased to function by 1976. Although the combined Merseyside and North West Regions were comparatively successful, the general decline of the Society led to the idea of forming Section of Community Medicine within the Manchester Medical Society. This idea was put to members of the branch in March 1976 and was accepted at the last AGM on 1 July 1976. Most of the members of the Branch transferred to this new Section, although some retained membership of the Society of Community Medicine.


This archive has been separated from the Manchester Medical Collection of which it was formerly a part. Former reference: Manchester Medical Collection H 2 V

The archive has been divided into the following series:

  • NWH/1 Minute Books
  • NWH/2 Financial Records
  • NWH/3 Membership Records
  • NWH/4 Secretary's Correspondence
  • NWH/5 Papers of W. J. Elwood
  • NWH/6 Miscellaneous Correspondence
  • NWH/7 Miscellaneous Records

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

The collection includes material which is subject to the Data Protection Act 1998. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), The University of Manchester Library (UML) holds the right to process personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the UML to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, UML has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately. Users of the archive are expected to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998, and will be required to sign a form acknowledging that they will abide by the requirements of the Act in any further processing of the material by themselves.

Open parts of this collection, and the catalogue descriptions, may contain personal data about living individuals. Some items in this collection may be closed to public inspection in line with the requirements of the DPA. Restrictions/closures of specific items will be indicated in the catalogue.

Separated Material

Minute Book, 1894-1904, Contemporary Medical Archives Centre of the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine, GB-0120-SA/SMO-N.7/1 .

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 Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The archive came into the custody of the Library as part of the Manchester Medical Collection. The records had been transferred to the Manchester Medical Society's Section of Community Medicine when the North Western and Mersey Regions of the Society of Community Medicine (formerly the North Western Branch) was dissolved in 1976 and superseded by the Section.

Related Material

Archive of the Society of Medical Officers of Health, in the Contemporary Medical Archives Centre of the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine, GB 120 SA/SMO. Includes documents collected by the secretary of the Society from 1966-1981, concerning lists of members, formation of the region, and formation of the Section of Community Medicine in the Manchester Medical Society.

The official archive of Manchester and Salford Sanitary Association, 1848-1924, is located at Manchester Archives and Local Studies, GB 127 M126.

The Manchester Medical Collection (MMC) has sections on public health, MMC12-14, including some published material relating to the MSSA (MMC/13/2).

The records of the Manchester Medical Society, Section of Community Medicine can be found in the Society's Archive (MMS ), based at JRUL (minute books and attendance registers, MMS/2/9).


  • List of papers of the Society of Medical Officers of Health (ref SA/SMO) in the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine, by Amanda Engineer, 2000.
  • 'History of the North Western Branch of the Society', inaugural address by Dr Charles Paget given April 1893, from Public Health.
  • Health Journal (Manchester, 1883-1888). This journal was aimed at the general public and includes articles about Manchester Medical Men, Health Lectures for the People, essays, letters and proceedings of the North-Western Association of Medical Officers of Health, along with other local organisations concerned with public health.
  • Public Health, especially volumes 18 ('Jubilee Number') and 69 ('Centenary Number'). The journal of the Society, published from 1888.

Geographical Names