Papers of Sir William Fletcher Shaw

Scope and Content

Papers of Sir William Fletcher Shaw, collated by him for his history of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists entitled ‘Twenty-Five Years: The Story of the RCOG, 1929-1954’, comprised of correspondence and papers from the period of his association with the College as co-founder, first Honorary Secretary and President between 1938 and 1942, copies of administrative papers and correspondence of the College, personal correspondence with co-founder Professor William Blair-Bell and Fellows of the College, extracts from his own diaries and drafts of chapters for the published history, together with records relating to his professional medical career in Manchester, reprints of his publications between 1906 and 1954, and family papers, in particular relating to the death of his son during the Second World War.

Distinct themes within the collection are:

Drafts of Sir William’s history of the RCOG and research notes (1940s-1954):-S34/1-9, S34/67/3, S34/68, S34/69/1, S34/69/7-12, S34/70/1, S34/70/4-6, S34/70/9-12, S34/72/1-3, S34/73/1-11, S34/74/1-4, S34/75/4, S34/75/7, S34/76-77, S34/80, S34/81/1-7, S34/82/1-2, S34/83/1-13, S34/91-92, S34/101, S34/178

Personal and professional correspondence with Professor William Blair-Bell, and officers and Fellows of the RCOG, including with Comyns Berkeley, Eardley Holland, John Shields Fairbairn, Victor Bonney, Ewen Maclean, Francis Champneys, John Munro Kerr, Thomas Watts Eden, C G Lowry, R W Johnstone, A A Gemmell, Archibald Donald, Bethel Solomons, and Wilfred Shaw (1926-1957):-S34/11-61, S34/64, S34/69/2-5, S34/70/2-3, S34/70/7-8, S34/75/3, S34/75/8-11, S34/78/1-5, S34/85/8, S34/89/1-6, S34/93-100, S34/181

Administrative papers of the RCOG (1924-1948):-S34/62-63, S34/65, S34/67/1-2, S34/69/6, S34/71, S34/75/1-2, S34/75/5-6, S34/84/1-7, S34/85/1-7, S34/85/9-19, S34/86/1-2, S34/87/1-2

Leaflets, programmes and material relating to Sir William Fletcher Shaw’s professional career in Manchester (1906-1938):-S34/102-108, S34/113, S34/115, S34/117, S34/119-120Leaflets, programmes and material relating to the RCOG (1960):-S34/110-112

Photographs relating to the Gynaecological Visiting Society (1937-1953):-S34/179/1-3Reprints (1906-1954):-S34/121-127, S34/130-175Family papers (1925-1994):-S34/118, S34/128-129, S34/176-177

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir William Fletcher Shaw was born and educated in Manchester, qualifying MB ChB in 1903. He held many posts at Manchester Royal Infirmary and St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, and in 1920 he was appointed Professor of Systematic Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Manchester, and Professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology in 1925. He co-founded the British College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1929 and served as its first Honorary Secretary and then as President between 1938 and 1942. He was knighted in 1942. His other appointments included Presidency of the North of England Society (1927), membership of the Gynaecological Visiting Society, and Advisor in Obstetrics and Gynaecology in the North West of England in 1948. He died in 1961 and was active in College affairs until the time of his death.

It would appear that Fletcher Shaw kept in his personal custody much of his correspondence and other papers relating to the foundation of the College and to his terms of office as President and Honorary Secretary. He preserved them for their historical value and when he ceased to be President in 1943 he returned to an earlier plan to compose a history of the foundation of the College. In November 1950 the College's Council approved a proposal that it would pay for the publication of the history. Simultaneously, however, Fletcher Shaw appears to have wished to record for a distant posterity memories, judgements, and documents that he must have recognised could not be published during the lifetimes of his own contemporaries and the following generation. In 1953 then College President, Sir Arthur Gemmell suggested that the history should be extended beyond the foundation years to cover the entire period up to the present and that it should be published as part of the College's Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1954.

Fletcher Shaw resumed work with increased energy but his text aroused opposition, partly because of its account of the role of Victor Bonney in the College's formation, and partly because of its frankness. The publishers thought it actionable. After G F Gibberd (Honorary Secretary 1938-1947) had declined to revise the text, Fletcher Shaw contacted a former student, Harvey Flack, who, with an assistant, prepared the text for publication. It was published as 'Twenty-five Years: The Story of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists 1929-1954' (See also the College papers at reference RCOG/A4/4/15 and RCOG/A4/4/21). In his preface Fletcher Shaw praised Flack's skilful editing. Nevertheless it would appear that he felt that while compromise was necessary to ensure publication in 1954 it resulted in an incomplete account of events. It was apparently for this reason that he continued to revise and augment his different drafts and directed that after his death all his papers should be sent to the College. These papers therefore preserve all Fletcher Shaw's drafts together with supporting documentation, research notes, and specially prepared extracts from Council, and Finance and Executive Committee minutes, and from his personal diary. At the time of the latest revision to the catalogue record of this collection, no serious attempt has been made to identify the relationship of the different drafts to the published text in college history.

One of Fletcher Shaw's motives in writing his accounts of the history of the College was to record his own recollections and perceptions of events in contradistinction to William Blair-Bell's. Fletcher Shaw knew that Blair-Bell had composed his own account of the early years of the College and he was concerned that this account might be unduly informed by Blair-Bell's own bitterness and regrets (see in particular the papers at reference S34/3 and S34/69/9). It is unlikely that Fletcher Shaw ever saw Blair-Bell's history as it remained in the custody of the latter's executors until 1970 when it came into the College's possession. (It is now held at reference S33/1-2.There is some correspondence between Blair-Bell and Fletcher Shaw in the College papers at references RCOG/A4/4/22-24 on their respective plans.)

In order to assist him in his composition the College Secretary Miss Winifred Mallon sent Fletcher Shaw various College papers and documents. Many of these are to be found among these papers. He also corresponded with some of his contemporaries and colleagues in order to make use of their recollections.


Since the main part of the collection was obviously subject to the arrangement consigned to it by Sir William, the original arrangement has been retained together with original reference numbers. Original folders of papers are shown as series, and item level descriptions are given to each distinct part.

The folder covers, many of which were extremely dirty and worn, have been photocopied so that readers can make use of their titles. In six cases they have been preserved on account of their annotations and are to be found at reference S34/90.

Access Information

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Other Finding Aids

File level descriptions are available on application to the RCOG Archivist mailto:

Archivist's Note

Recatalogued and brought up to ISAD(G) standard by Penny Hutchins, College Archivist in 2014.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright is vested in the estate of Sir William Fletcher Shaw and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

Reproductions are available at the discretion of the College Archivist.

Custodial History

The Fletcher Shaw papers were bequeathed to the RCOG by Sir William Fletcher Shaw, and arrived at the College in 1962 packed in a wooden box, two packing cases and a brown paper parcel. They were consigned to the College safe, and under the terms of Fletcher Shaw’s will, were to be kept untouched until the time of the College’s 50th Anniversary in 1979. However, it was not until February 1992 that the papers were passed to the College Archive, where the work on cataloguing the collection began. It was then discovered that the College Archivist between 1985 and 1988 had worked on papers of Sir William Fletcher Shaw which had been delivered to the College at a later, unknown, date to the original bequest, and these papers had been assimilated into the main series of College papers. These papers were weeded out from their false location among the presidents’ papers and returned to their original provenance. Further accessions to the collection were made by the son of Sir William, David Fletcher Shaw, in 1992 and 1994.

The receipt of the different parts of the collection can be summarised as follows:

S34/1-90: bequest from Sir William Fletcher Shaw, 1962

S34/91-92: bequest from Sir William Fletcher Shaw, 1962

S34/93-100: bequest from Sir William Fletcher Shaw, post-1962

S34/101: donation from David Fletcher Shaw 1992

S34/102-177: donation from David Fletcher Shaw 1994

S34/178: transferred to the Archive from the RCOG Library

S34/179-182: no known source or date of donation

Related Material

Related material can also be found in the papers of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists at the following references:

RCOG/A4/4 Papers relating primarily to Fletcher Shaw's terms of office as Honorary Secretary and President

RCOG/A2/1 Fletcher Shaw's papers relating to Council matters

S33 William Blair-Bell's 'The History of the Origin and Rise of the British College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists'

RCOG/A1 Foundation records of the British College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 1926-1935


'The birth of a College', Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the British Empire, Vol 57, No 6, 1950, pp 876-890

'Twenty-five years: the Story of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists 1929-1954' (J & A Churchill Ltd, London, 1954)