Cataloguing the Thackray Museum of Medicine Archive

Robert Curphey is the first qualified archivist to be appointed at Thackray Museum of Medicine. His role is to catalogue the archive collections and make them more accessible for researchers.

My name is Robert Curphey, and I recently joined the Thackray Museum of Medicine as a Project Archivist. As a qualified archivist (and the first one to ever be appointed at Thackray Museum of Medicine – a great honour!) my role is to catalogue the archive collections at Thackray and make the collections more accessible for students, academics and researchers of the history of medicine and healthcare. There are approximately 5,000 archive items in our collection, and archives are mostly made up of paper-based objects such as ledgers, notebooks, correspondence and ephemeral material. I joined in November and since then I have been going through our archive and cataloguing the archive with the aim of making more details about them available online.

The archive makes up one of the many stores held at the Museum, and the primary focus of the archival collections is the medical supply trade, in particular surgical instrument makers. The first items to be acquired, and the most significant, are the company archive of Charles F. Thackray, the former Leeds based medical supplies company. The Thackray Company archive covers the life of the firm from 1902 – 1990, and contains items such as pattern books, ledgers, trade catalogues and publicity material, and journals recording the experiences by the Thackray Company of selling medical supplies across the world. The collection is particularly significant, as it documents the development of a major provincial medical supply company across the 20th century. It includes overseas representatives’ reports which throw light on the ways in which doctors adapted to working conditions in different conditions in the different countries as well as the flexibility the company had in adapting its products to the specific needs of its clients.

[Picture of the Oxford Knee Archive held in the Thackray Museum of Medicine Archive]

Other major collections held in the museum include The Oxford Knee, an archive relating to the development of the Oxford Partial Knee implant, the Downs Surgical Limited company of material relating to manufacture of medical instruments used in ear, nose and throat surgery, and many collections of personal papers donated to the Museum over the years, including a selection of papers relating to Dr John Frederick Wilkinson’s life as a hematologist and as a collector of apothecary jars, and personal papers of many doctors and nurses who worked in the Leeds area which have been donated to the Thackray Museum.

The archive also holds collections of dispensed prescriptions, pharmacy day books, invoices, correspondence, promotional letters and postcards, appointment postcards, business cards, packaging material, flyers, patents and annotated literature! Plenty of material for one archivist to catalogue, but extremely interesting, not just from a medical perspective but also socially and culturally.

[Certificate issued to Muriel Stammers by the National Blood Transfusion Service, 1975]

Although I started a month ago, I have already been fortunate to catalogue some interesting collections. These include the papers of Muriel Stammers, who gave blood transfusions in Leeds on over 75 occasions between 1949 and 1989, and all of the dates of Stammers’ blood transfusions are recorded in the collection, as well as a certificate recognising her achievements. Also, I have catalogued the papers of Dr Henry Shucksmith who was honorary assistant surgeon to the General Infirmary at Leeds and numerous hospitals in the area including St James’s and Seacroft. As well as recording his professional articles on the topics of vascular surgery and breast cancer, I have been able to uncover interesting items such as his visit to Malta in 1969 to unveil a plaque dedicated to Berkeley Moynihan, the Malta-born abdominal surgeon who practiced in Leeds for most of his career, and for those who received unusual Christmas cards recently, a card with a drawing of a surgeon carving a turkey on the front, sent to him by friends of his from his days serving in the Territorial Army during the Second World War.

Once they are catalogued more collections will be made available online via our website ( and more images from our archives will be digitised and made available online.

[Christmas card sent to Henry Shucksmith, year unknown]

Happy New Year!