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

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Original and photocopies of the typescript to 'The History of the Origin and Rise of the British College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists' written by Professor William Blair-Bell, with annotations and additional material including a memorandum (possibly compiled by his Trustees) relating to the relevant clause of Blair-Bell's will, instructions by Blair-Bell on the publication and distribution of the work, and also the organisation of the text, instructions on binding and typography, a list of illustrations, and a title page. Two manuscript notes with the volumes relate to the choice of publishers and to the title page, and were possibly written by the two executors, Sir Arthur Bell, and Eleanor Nockolds, c.1940.

Administrative / Biographical History

Professor William Blair-Bell, co-founder and first President of the British College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, resigned from all committees of the College in April 1934, and it would appear that shortly afterwards he began to compose his history of the foundation and earliest years of the College. It appears from a file of his correspondence with colleagues and others, that he first began to seek information and papers to help him in late May 1934.

The will of Professor Blair Bell, dated 22 March 1935, contains the following clause:

"I also direct that the historical composition concerning the origin and rise of the British College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists which I shall leave shall be kept sealed and unread and shall immediately be deposited in a bank until such time as it is published not sooner than fifteen years after my death and not until after the death of the last surviving member of the Finance and Executive Committees of the aforesaid College in existence between One thousand nine hundred and twenty nine and one thousand nine hundred and thirty four and I direct that the expenses of publication shall be defrayed by means of a grant from the final accumulated residue of my estate. The format printing and binding shall in accordance with a memorandum I shall leave with the typescript copies of the book and the copies printed shall be distributed in accordance with a further memorandum I shall leave. Should the history not be completed at the time of my death a fact which will be known by Miss Nockolds it is to be completed at once Arthur Capel Herbert Bell and Eleanor Nockolds from documents and letters in my possession and from extracts made from my diaries by Arthur Capel Herbert Bell. Editing of the whole or part completed by me is to be confined to typing and printing and verbal errors."

In addition to instructions about format, binding, and printing, Blair Bell also left instructions with the typescript that one thousand were to be printed and distributed to various institutions and individuals, and to each fellow and member of the College. If the College wished to print copies it might do so, but at its own expense. In those circumstances the typescript was to pass to the College providing that College gave an undertaking not to alter the text in any way.

In a memorandum (the text of which may be seen in S33/3) it is stated that the text was completed by the trustees. It is unclear how much of the text was left unfinished by Blair-Bell

Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers by appointment, Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm. mailto: archives@rcog.org.uk

Archivist's Note

Catalogued by Penny Hutchins, College Archivist in November 2013

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright is vested in the estate of Professor Blair-Bell.

Reproductions are available at the discretion of the College Archivist.

Custodial History

Professor Blair-Bell died on 26 January 1936, and left various bequests, conditional and unconditional, to the College. Those that derived from the residue of the estate were to be held by the trustees, Eleanor Nockolds, and, Blair-Bell's nephew A C H Bell (later Sir Arthur Bell, PRCOG), for not less than fifteen years or until after the death of the last surviving member of the Finance and Executive committees between 1929 and 1934, whichever was the longer period. The last surviving member of the committees, Sir Eardley Holland, died in 1967. Between Blair-Bell's death and 1969, his estate was subject to litigation on several occasions, either as a result of the trustees and the College seeking guidance from the courts as to the will's interpretation, or as a consequence of the contingent residuary legatees pursuing their interests. The final court order, which established the Florence and William Blair Bell Memorial Fund and the Florence Blair Bell Art Fund, was made in the Chancery Division of the High Court in July 1969.

Around this time, the trustees of Blair Bell's estate (or more particularly Sir Arthur Bell, as Eleanor Nockolds was aged over ninety in 1969) took steps to resolve the question of Blair Bell's history. The typescript was received by the College in January 1969, but it appears that it was not formally deposited by Sir Arthur Bell with the President until November 1969. Conditions of access were then agreed by Sir Arthur Bell and the President, and approved by Council at its meeting of November 1969. On this occasion Council proposed that the original typescript should be copied and that both the original and the copy should be bound. An amended copy of the relevant Council minute was placed with this history (Archive Reference S33/1).

Related Material

Related material held at the RCOG may be found at the following references:

RCOG/A4/4/23 Fletcher Shaw's copies of his correspondence with Blair-Bell on the subject

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

S34 Drafts and other papers relating to William Fletcher Shaw's history of the foundation of the College, which was partly written in response to his knowledge that Blair-Bell was composing this account.