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Topical Press Agency Medical Collection

We've uncovered a remarkable collection of more than 4,000 medical images, deep within the vaults of the Historic England Archive.

The images document health care from 1938 to 1943, and detail wartime hospital staff, patients, procedures and practices. Many of the images are quirky, surprising and emotive, revealing an extraordinary slice of 1930s and '40s Britain.

Explore the collection

Student nurses learning how to bandage on a life size dummy
The caption on the reverse of the photograph reads: “Picture shows students receiving from Sister Tutor a lesson in bandaging, for which a life size dummy is used.” Atkinson Morley's Convalescent Hospital, October 1940. Source: Historic England Archive MED01/01/1037

The photographs in the collection are very well annotated, providing great insight into medical treatments during the Second World War. They feature hospitals and practices all around the country, from Liverpool to London.

Picture of the back of one of the annotated pictures
Source: Historic England Archive MED01/01/0986a

The collection taps into the zeitgeist of the formative years of the National Health Service, capturing health care in the few years preceding its inception.

We showed the collection to four nurses who trained and worked in hospitals in the North West from the 1940s and '50s. Watch Dorothy, Audrey, Margaret and Jean's testament to the spirit of the age:


Teachers can download this video (.ZIP 67 MB) for use in teaching activities.

Topical Press Agency Medical Collection image gallery

Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.

  • A woman holding a bag designed to house a hearing aid
  • A patient lying beneath the x-ray tube while an operator adjusts the position of the tube
  • Man carrying a tray of rubber gloves
  • A patient with her pet budgerigar in a cage, which sits on her hand
  • Nurses waving from a merry-go-round
  • Nurses and students skating on ice
  • X-ray film being taken of a foreign body in a man's eye
  • Patient resting and smoking in a saline bath after the dressings have been removed
  • A nursing sister giving a class of nurses a demonstration in the ward on the B.L.B. oxygen mask
  • Sister Arnold watching the return of some of her nurses from taking the children out in the prams
  • Nurse with the special jointed model which student nurses in the training school use for practical work
  • A nurse, aseptically garbed, taking a throat swab
  • Nurses practising gas decontamination in the special gas centre
  • Nurses on stationary cycles in the gym
  • A physiotherapist directing remedial exercises, whilst standing on a stool behind a patient seated in front of a mirror
  • A surgeon examining an x-ray photograph

Search the collection for images near you - you can search the collection by keyword or location. For instance "MED/01 Bristol" will bring up all images in the medical collection related to Bristol.

Search the collection

With thanks to the Wellcome Trust for grant funding the conservation, cataloguing and digitisation of the collection.

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