The Calvin Wells Palaeopathology Archive

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 532 CAL
  • Dates of Creation
      1897-1989, predominant 1955-1978
  • Language of Material
      English French Hungarian Dutch Spanish Portuguese Swedish Norwegian
  • Physical Description
      28 linear metres

Scope and Content

The collection holds archive material related chiefly to Calvin Wells' professional activities from the age of 47 in 1955 until his death at age 70 in 1978. In the main the material relates to Wells' career as a palaeopathologist, which included writing over 300 skeletal reports, over 200 journal articles, 2 books, attending regular speaking engagements, and contributing to radio and television. The type of documentation created during these activities includes offprints, typescripts, handwritten drafts, research notebooks and files, correspondence, maps and plans, and photographic material, including over 1330 black and white photographs, 1351 items colour transparencies and 700 radiographs. The collection also has 10 video-recordings of Wells lecturing on palaeopathology.

Additional material in the collection relating to Wells' professional activities outside of palaeopathology include typescripts and newspaper clippings of the columns, articles and reviews written for more general publications, such as the Eastern Daily Press and Times Literary Supplement. There is a series containing Wells' unpublished memoirs as well typescripts of unpublished short fiction, poetry and a theatre play. The collection also has third-party material about Wells, including newspaper cuttings, photocopies of reviews of his book, a copy of an ITV documentary profile, and biographies and obituaries.

There are over 1,000 pieces of correspondence in Wells' archive which cover both his professional and personal activities. This includes correspondence which belonged to Freddie Wells, who played a central role in managing Calvin's unpublished research and managing the transfer of his archive and library to the University of Bradford. There is little material in the collection from Wells' life before 1955 or from his career in medicine.

Administrative / Biographical History

Calvin Percival Bampfylde Wells (1908-1978) was a leading palaeopathologist in the United Kingdom who was active from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s. With over 130 published articles on palaeopathology, Wells remains one of the most prolific authors on the subject. Forty years after his death Wells' publications continue to be cited by researchers and academics working in a range of disciplines. A qualified general practitioner Wells' medical training significantly informed his approach to diagnosing disease in ancient skeletal remains. His major contributions to palaeopathology include his studies of cremations, his introduction of the concept of pseudo-palaeopathology, and his use of radiology in diagnostic examination. Moreover Wells played a significant role in the development of collaboration between anthropology, archaeology, history of medicine, clinical medicine, and laboratory science, in order to enhance the study of palaeopathology.

Born in Twickenham, Richmond upon Thames, London, on 2 April 1908 to Arthur Wells (1879-1970), a barrister and medical doctor, and Violet Caroline Annie Percival (1886-1929), Calvin attended various primary schools, and was at Charterhouse for two terms in 1922. Like his father, Wells studied medicine at University College London and qualified with a Conjoint Diploma in 1933. After receiving his qualification, Wells worked as an obstetrician in various London hospitals, including Wimbledon Hospital, Queen Charlotte's Hospital and Barking Maternity Hospital. For a time he served as an anaesthetist in the Department of Obstetrics at University College London. During the Second World War, Wells served for six years in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was stationed in Ramsey, Norwich, Luton and Colchester. In 1938 Wells married his first wife Ida Clara Warrington (d.1977). There is little information about their marriage other than they did not have children and quickly became estranged despite remaining legally married until Ida's death. Wells' longest relationship was with Winifred Peterson, or Freddie Wells (d.1997), then a nurse at University College Hospital. Together they adopted two children and settled in a former manor house known as the Old Manor Hall in Mulbarton, a village south of Norwich. It was in Norwich where Calvin established his general medical practice while pursuing his interest in palaeopathology.

By 1950 Wells had become a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians, a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and a fellow of both the Royal Archaeological Institute and the Royal Anthropological Institute. In 1955 Wells started to dedicate himself seriously to the study of disease in ancient bones through developing close links with Norwich Castle Museum and collaborating on articles with local archaeologists such as Roy Rainbird Clarke (1914-1963), Charles Green (1901-1972) and Barbara Green (1933-2018). Many of Wells' bone reports and palaeopathology articles were based on skeletal material excavated in East Anglia, particularly in and around Norwich. In the mid-1960s Wells retired as a General Medical Practitioner to devote himself full-time to palaeopathology. By this time Wells' skeletal reports and palaeopathology articles had been published in leading journals, including Antiquity, the British Medical Journal, Man, and the Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine. In 1964, Wells' first book Bones, Bodies and Disease was published and formed part of Thames & Hudson's Ancient People and Places series, edited by his friend and confidant Glyn Daniel (1914-1986). The book received generally positive reviews and sold enough to merit a second printing. In contrast Wells' second book Man in his World (London: Baker, 1971) was released to very little acknowledgement.

Alongside his writing, Wells undertook regular speaking engagements, lecturing at events and conferences mainly on topics related to palaeopathology or the history medicine. In 1966 Wells embarked on a lecture tour of Canadian universities and medical organisations organised by his friend and bibliographer Gerald D. Hart (1927- ), which was widely publicised by the Canadian national press. A natural showman, Wells enjoyed the spotlight and regularly contributed to radio and television. A career highlight was a 30 minutes profile about Wells' life and career titled Discovery: Down among the Dead Men made by Yorkshire Television and broadcast on ITV in March 1974.

In addition to Wells' palaeopathology work he wrote extensively for newspapers and magazines on a range of subjects. This included a regular column for the Eastern Daily Press which Wells authored under the pen-name 'Calliphon'. Similarly Wells was a frequent contributor to the Times Literary Supplement, in which he reviewed both scientific and more general publications. Based on the material in Wells' archive, which includes unpublished memoirs as well as short fiction and poetry, it is evident that he possessed literary ambitions.

Outside of his professional endeavours Wells was interested in architecture and house renovation. After selling the Old Hall in the mid-1970s, Calvin and Freddie bought and extensively renovated an old pub in Hapton, Norfolk. Similarly the couple kept a cottage in Buis-les-Baronnies Drôme south-eastern France where they spent the summer months. An active person up until his death Wells water-skied almost daily and was a member of Norwich Water Ski Club. Another major interest was cartography, and Wells had a large collection of antique maps which he often lent out for museum exhibitions. At the beginning of 1977 Wells was diagnosed with an aggressive carcinoma. At the time he was organising an international meeting on Disease in Ancient Man to be held at the Royal Society of Medicine in London in 1979. He had an operation in October 1977 followed by two further surgical procedures and radiotherapy, though treatment proved unsuccessful. Wells died at home on 31 July 1978. Following his death Freddie was dedicated to getting all of her husband's remaining work published in order to preserve his legacy. This included her involvement in getting Calvin's archive and library transferred to the University of Bradford in 1984. Freddie Wells passed away on 7 January 1997.


The Calvin Wells Palaeopathology Archive has been arranged into 14 sub-fonds either reflecting the Wells' professional output (skeletal reports, journal articles, lectures, etc.) or the type of material (photographs, offprints, objects, etc.).

Access Information

Available to researchers, by appointment. Access to archive material is subject to preservation requirements and must also conform to the restrictions of the Data Protection Act and any other appropriate legislation. All correspondence in this Archive is restricted under the Data Protection Act until it has been catalogued in detail.

Acquisition Information

Following the death of Calvin Wells in 1978, his archive and library was held in interim by the Wellcome Library until a suitable recipient for the material could be identified. It was Calvin's wish that his archive be donated to a university which established a graduate course in palaeopathology. When an MSc in Human Osteology and Palaeopathology was introduced at the Department of Archaeological Science at the University of Bradford in 1984, Dr Keith Manchester, Honorary Visiting Professor in Palaeopathology, made a successful bid to Freddie Wells, Calvin's widow, to donate the collection to the university. In the initial transfer, the archive material was divided between the Department of Archaeological Science and Special Collections at the J.B. Priestley Library. The department received Calvin's scientific papers and research material, e.g. skeletal reports and journal articles, photographs, transparencies and radiographs, and offprints, while Special Collections received his correspondence and library. Following a Research Resources Grant from the Wellcome Trust in 2016, the collection was brought together, catalogued, partly digitised, and re-packaged for long-term storage at the University's J.B. Priestley Library.


Selected items within the collection have been digitised.

Alternative Form Available

Norwich Castle Museum 24 Castle Meadow, Norwich NR1 3JU, hold copies of Calvin Wells' skeletal reports on remains held in their skeletal collection.

The East Anglia Film Archive, The Archive Centre, Martineau Lane, Norwich NR1 2DQ, hold copies of Calvin Wells' palaeopathology video series.

Archivist's Note

Described by Project Archivist James Neill and Project Osteologist Michelle Williams-Ward. Conservation duties were undertaken by Vanessa Santos-Torres. The project was generously supported by the Wellcome Trust.

Conditions Governing Use

Copies may be supplied or produced at the discretion of Special Collections staff, subject to copyright law and the condition of the originals. Applications for permission to make published use of any material should be directed to the Special Collections Librarian in the first instance. The Library will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Appraisal Information

All archive material donated has been preserved aside from duplicate items and unrelated third-party material which has been disposed of.


No further accruals expected.

Related Material

The J.B. Priestley Library also holds the Calvin Wells' library, a collection of books on subjects related to medicine, osteology, archaeology, anthropology and related disciplines. These are described individually on the main University of Bradford Library catalogue.

Norwich Castle Museum, Norwich, holds one box of archive material and items of clothing belonging to Calvin Wells.


Bones, Bodies and Disease by Calvin Wells (London: Thames & Hudson, 1964)

Man in his World by Calvin Wells (London: John Baker Limited, 1971)

Calvin Percival Bamfylde Wells (1908–1978) by Charlotte Roberts and Keith Manchester in The Global History of Paleopathology: Pioneers and Prospects Edited by Jane Buikstra and Charlotte Roberts New York, NY: Oxford University Press (2012), pages 141-145

Crooked Timber: The life of Calvin Wells (1908–1978) by Tony Waldron in Journal of Medical Biography 2014, 22 (2), pages 82-89