Personal papers of Sir Francis Champneys

Scope and Content

Papers relating to the ethical work of Sir Francis Champneys in relation to contraception and the Central Midwives Board, comprising published editions of addresses made by him relating to 'Preventative and Rescue Work', on 'Maternity and Child Welfare' delivered at the Liverpool Town Hall (July 1917), and on 'Sex' read by him to the Chichester Diocesan Purity Association (June 1927), together with correspondence with Dr Mary Scharlieb covering her views of contraception and his draft notes on 'coitus interruptus', contraception control and indulgence; a printed leaflet highlighting the symptoms of cancer of the womb written by him in his capacity as Chairman of the Central Midwives Board (June 1908); and handwritten notes by him on his association with the Central Midwives Board from 1873, which appear to have been written in defence of some claim made against him by the midwives.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir Francis Henry Champneys, first baronet (1848-1930), obstetrician, was born on 25 March 1848 in Whitechapel, London, the fourth son of the Revd (William) Weldon Champneys (1807-1875), rector of St Mary's Church, Whitechapel, afterwards dean of Lichfield, and his wife, Mary Anne, fourth daughter of Paul Storr, of Beckenham, Kent. The third son was the architect Basil Champneys (1842-1935). Francis Champneys was educated at Winchester College, where he was a scholar (1860-66), and at Brasenose College, Oxford (1866-70), where he obtained a first class in natural science in 1870 and was captain of boats. He then proceeded as a medical student to St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, qualifying for the degrees of BM in 1875 and of MD in 1888. Elected to the Radcliffe travelling fellowship of Oxford University in 1872, Champneys spent half of each of the following three years in study at Vienna, Leipzig, and Dresden. He became a member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1876 and a fellow in 1882. In 1880 he was elected assistant obstetric physician to St George's Hospital and obstetric physician to the General Lying-in Hospital, York Road. In 1885 he became obstetric physician to St George's. In 1891 he succeeded James Matthews Duncan as physician accoucheur to St Bartholomew's Hospital, where he remained until his retirement in 1913.

Champneys had considerable success as a consultant and as a teacher. He also tried to influence medical practice through his writings, but his bias towards the medical aspects of obstetrics and gynaecology was out of step with a growing interest in the introduction of surgical procedures. His most important contribution to his profession was through his many public services. He was a fellow of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of London and played an active part in the uniting of the various medical societies of London into the Royal Society of Medicine. He was elected president of the society in 1912. Although he had very decided convictions and a tendency towards conservatism, Champneys had an openness of mind and a breadth of outlook which meant that other medical professionals sought his help and advice. He is perhaps best known for the prominent part he took in the movement to raise the status of midwives which led to the Midwives Act of 1902 and for his chairmanship of the Central Midwives' Board (CMB), the regulatory body set up under the act.

First as a member (1882) of the board for the examination of midwives of the Obstetrical Society of London, later as its chairman (1891-5), and finally as president of the society (1895), Champneys advocated the legal recognition and registration of midwives. This drew the attention of the General Medical Council to the form of certificate issued under his signature, and led to its revision after mutual discussion. When the functions carried on by the Obstetrical Society were taken over by the CMB in 1903, Champneys became its first chairman and was re-elected annually until his death, twenty-seven years later. Champneys was a controversial chairman. He helped to advocate the vision of midwifery reform held by the well-educated, middle-class leaders of the Midwives' Institute, who believed that the practice of midwives should be limited in scope and that they should defer to doctors. This was not always shared by rank-and-file midwives who were disciplined by the CMB and who found the chairman harsh in his judgements and scathing towards those who were not submissive enough to the board.

Champneys was also crown nominee from 1911 to 1926 of the General Medical Council, where he strove to improve the training of medical students in practical midwifery. In 1929 he was involved in founding the British College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, despite at first being opposed to the bringing together of the disciplines of obstetrics and gynaecology. He became a foundation fellow of the college and was elected vice-patron.

Music was Champneys's chief relaxation and he was regarded in his day as the finest musician in his profession in London. He had a wide knowledge of sacred music, which he studied under Samuel Sebastian Wesley while at Winchester, and composed hymn tunes, anthems, and other metrical works. As a young man, under the name of Frank Champneys he contributed five tunes to Hymns Ancient and Modern (BMJ, 16 Aug 1930). He installed an organ in his house in London and took it with him to Sussex, where it became a very important part of his later life. For many years he was a member of the council of the Royal College of Music and of its executive committee.

Champneys married on 12 September 1876 Virginia Julian (d. 1922), the only daughter of Sir John Warrender Dalrymple, seventh baronet, of Luchie, North Berwick, with whom he had three sons and one daughter. Champneys was created a baronet in 1910. He died at his home, Littlemead, Nutley, Sussex, on 30 July 1930. He was buried on 2 August at Hampstead cemetery. The funeral was preceded by a requiem, and a memorial service was held on the same day at the church of St Bartholomew-the-Less. Champneys was succeeded, as second baronet, by his youngest and only surviving son, Weldon Dalrymple-Champneys (b. 1892).

Source: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, article written by J S Fairbairn


As received

Access Information

Open to researchers by appointment, Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm. mailto:

Archivist's Note

Catalogued by Penny Hutchins in May 2011

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright is vested in the estate of Sir Francis Champneys.

Reproductions are available at the discretion of the College Archivist.

Custodial History

Internal transfer to the Archive from the RCOG Library 'Autographed Letters Collection' in August 2007.

Corporate Names