Papers of Professor John Chassar Moir

Scope and Content

Personal papers of Professor John Chassar Moir covering his work on the effects of ergometrine on uterine action and his development of techniques to repair vesicovaginal fistulae, comprising of correspondence, publications, photographs and film recordings, including correspondence, rough working notes, and unpublished and published articles discussing his work on ergot, including with Professor H W Dudley, with whom he published the definitive work 'The Substance Responsible for the Traditional Clinical Effect of Ergot' (1935), and subsequent articles published by Chassar Moir, in particular 'The History and Present Day Use of Ergot' which he prepared for the Canadian Medical Association in 1955; records covering his work on fistula repairs following the publication of 'Vesico-Vaginal Fistula' in 1961; photographs used to illustrate 'The Vesico-Vaginal Fistula' (1st and 2nd editions, Bailliere, Tindall & Cassall, London); uterine tracings made by Chassar Moir in 1932 and 1935 in the Obstetric Department of University College Hospital, London, under the directorship of Professor F J Browne; and a series of film recordings, mostly made in collaboration with the Wellcome Foundation, showing the effects of ergometrine.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Chassar Moir CBE, MD, FRCS (Ed), FRCOG (1900-1977), Nuffield Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Oxford from 1937-1967, is best remembered for his work on the effects of the fungus ergot and its derivatives on labour. His early studies on the muscular activity of the pregnant and non-pregnant uterus led to the discovery of a new active principle in ergot, and in collaboration with H W Dudley he isolated the substance ergometrine, which was widely used for the reduction of haemorrhage after childbirth.

John Chassar Moir was born in Montrose in Scotland in 1900, where his family ran a grocery store called William Moir and Sons. He did his medical training at Edinburgh University and graduated in 1922. After qualifying he started work at University College Hospital (UCH) in London as assistant to Professor F J Browne, where he did some very original work on uterine action. He assessed uterine activity in labour, and also under the influence of oxytocic drugs, particularly ergot. Chassar Moir arranged for women in labour to have a measuring apparatus around the body, which recorded the frequency and strength of uterine activity and the frequency of contractions. To test the effects of ergot and its alkaline derivatives, he placed a small bag into the uterus of a woman seven days after delivery (when the risk of sepsis would be low). The bag was attached via a rubber pipe to a recording machine comprising a needle moving over a rotating drum. He first described these experiments in 1932. With his colleagues at UCH, Chassar Moir identified the component of ergot that induced uterine contraction, ergometrine. It was immediately taken up into general obstetric practice as a means of preventing postpartum haemorrhage and speeding the delivery of the placenta.

In 1933 Chassar Moir married Grace Bailey, and they had four children together. Following his role as first university reader at the newly founded Postgraduate Medical School at Hammersmith Hospital, he was appointed in 1937 as the first Nuffield Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Oxford University. Moir stayed at Oxford for the next 30 years, and built up the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department in the Radcliffe Infirmary from scratch. During his time in Oxford he took on responsibility for a large number of expectant mothers evacuated from London during the Second World War, and also developed considerable expertise in x-ray pelvimetry, later taking over the editorship of Munro Kerr's textbook 'Operative Obstetrics'. He was also a great pioneer in improving techniques of repairing fistulae between the bladder and the vagina, and women were sent to him from all over the country for the operation. He travelled widely as a lecturer in England, the Commonwealth and the USA. In addition, he frequently lectured for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists where he was also an examiner and ambassador.

He retired from his position in Oxford in 1967 but carried on working as visiting Professor to the Royal Postgraduate Hospital in Hammersmith almost until his death in 1977.


By subject keeping original file content where possible.

Access Information

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Other Finding Aids

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Archivist's Note

Catalogued by Penny Bonning, College Archivist, in July 2009.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright is vested in the estate of Professor John Chassar Moir.

Reproductions are available at the discretion of the College Archivist.

Custodial History

Two albums of photographs were donated to the College Library by Professor Chassar Moir prior to his death in 1977. It is probable that the remainder of the collection was passed to the RCOG Museum and Library by his widow during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and were transferred to the Archives from the College Library in September 2001. A further donation of papers and photographs were made in April 2003 by the son of Professor Moir. The terms of deposit are unclear.


A further donation was made to the College Archives in 2009 from the estate of Sir Thomas Lewis. No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

Samples of ergot together with a folder of photographs of instruments used by Professor J Chassar Moir for closure of vesico-vaginal fistula and a framed ergometric tracing made by Chassar Moir, are held in the College Archive, reference RCOG/B10/18/3, and at RCOG/PH18/2-3

Correspondence and papers of Professor Chassar Moir, 1932-1948 are held at the Wellcome Library, PP/JCM.