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Archive medical films bring historic healthcare to life

30 May 2014

Showing the medicine – and Cardiff – of the 1920s through to the 1980s, a new series of films has been donated by Cardiff University to the Wellcome Library.

The University has transferred 121 cinefilms from the former Learning Resources teaching collection to the Wellcome Library. The Library has catalogued the material and a group of 15 films was transferred from film to video for conservation purposes. A number of the films were of particular research interest and have been digitised.

Three of the films have been made available online:

  • The earliest film, from 1925, was produced to raise funds for the Cardiff Royal Infirmary. Titled 'An appeal from the heart to the pocket', it includes footage of the city and inside the Infirmary, including the wards and laundry. ‘An appeal from the heart to the pocket’ is an important illustration of medical institutions and care in the pre-NHS UK.
  • One of the most mysterious films in the collection is 'Reduction of Colles fracture', also from the 1920s. The film has a mysterious provenance; it was distributed by Stoll Picture Productions, of Cricklewood in London, one of the early makers and distributors of feature films in the UK. The film demonstrates the high production values associated with a professional and costly production. The treatment of fractures shown in the film fell out of favour very shortly after the film was made, when it was discovered that recovery was faster if joints and bones were not fixed.
  • A training film made for medical professionals in the 1970s, 'Intravenous procedures', was made by the renowned animation studio Halas & Batchelor. The film demonstrates the different intravenous procedures in hospitals, using a number of different techniques to illustrate the methods of providing fluids and taking blood using live action, graphics and animation.

Angela Saward, Curator of Moving Image and Sound Collections at the Wellcome Library said: "This collection is indicative of the excellence in medicine in Cardiff; many of the films were made by the medical illustration department for use in teaching and several of the films feature work by surgeons and consultants, including Sir John Lynn-Thomas and Dr J. D Spillane, who received international recognition. Although film collections of this size often present a range of preservation issues, the material is of significant interest to the research community and the Wellcome Library is committed to securing this material and making it available on an open access basis wherever possible."

Sarah Phillips, Cardiff University Records Manager, explained: "Donating these archive materials to the Wellcome Library ensures that they will be available to researchers in the generations to come. These films give researchers a unique view of healthcare in years gone by, as well as being important artefacts in their own right, contributing to the catalogues of some of Britain’s most well-known film and animation studios."

Find out more about the Wellcome Library Moving Image and Sound Collections

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