Cataloguing and conserving archival records from the Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville

Article from Mary Brown, Project Archivist at Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies

From September 2017, the Spinal 2 Sport team began work on a project to catalogue and preserve Paralympic history.  The team includes; Project Archivist Mary Brown, Trainee Archivist Hannah Bithel-Vaughan, and Conservation Technician Emma David.

Buckinghamshire is where the Paralympic Movement began over seventy years ago at Stoke Mandeville Hospital with the pioneering work of Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann.  The archival records in the Paralympic collections include medical records, early rehabilitative sports therapy, national and international games for spinal injury patients and more.  The varied nature of the materials in the collection makes our partnerships with our depositors and other organisations that much more important.  We use these relationships to aid us in things like the identification of people in historic photographs, or to elaborate on medical treatments and procedures from a trained professional’s or patient’s point of view. 

Our partners include: the National Paralympic Heritage Trust, WheelPower, the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sport Federation and the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

We are cataloguing and conserving the original patient records from the National Spinal Injuries Centre. The records are those of Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann, a pioneer in the medical treatment of people with spinal injuries.  His work was ground-breaking and he revolutionised this field of treatment. These records show the development of his treatments and methods of rehabilitation. Dr Guttmann increased the life expectancy of his patients from only two years after diagnosis to (following his innovative treatments) full and productive lives. We hope in carefully organising, cataloguing and conserving this material many generations will be able to benefit from the study of this material. 

A highlight for our Trainee Archivist, Hannah Bithel-Vaughan, has been the love story of two Spinal Unit patients and Paralympic athletes: Dick Thompson and Diana Gubbin. They met and fell in love while patients of Dr Guttmann in the Spinal Unit and became some of the most decorated early British Paralympians, famously competing in the 1960 Paralympic Games in Rome.

Our Conservation Technician Emma David has found the evolution of technology through advances in medical imaging particularly fascinating as it is so well demonstrated throughout the time span of our patient files.  A good example of this is in the treatment of pressure sores: imaging developed from black and white poor quality images, to colour images, to colour images with measurements and grids, and eventually, computer generated topography images.

Medical records are just one facet to this large collection.  We have many of the historical records from the founding organisations of the International Paralympic Committee. The history of disability sports both before and after the founding of the Paralympic Games provides us with varied records including: medals, trophies, minute books from organisational meetings, materials evidencing the development of the classification systems used in different Paralympic sports, programmes, results, uniforms and journals. The wealth of information means each day there is something new to learn, conserve and eventually share.  We are hoping to gather some volunteers to help us along the way as we have so much to do in a very short period of time.

During the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Paralympic Games, we will be having a Talking Archives event on the history of the Winter Paralympic Games given by County Archivist Laura Cotton. This event will take place on March 15th, 11-12am at County Hall, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. This event is free but space is limited so advance booking is essential. If you would like to attend please email: [email protected]

We hope to continue to bring you interesting information on all the different types of records we find.  Our team has only just begun, sorting, cataloguing and conserving hundreds of boxes of archival records.