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Cataloguing the Collector

As a new exhibition at Newcastle University explores the life of surgeon, professor and war veteran Frederick Charles Pybus (1883-1975) and his collection of historic medical books, Alexandra Healey, Project Archivist, asks ‘Who was Pybus?’

Newcastle University's Special Collections team have just completed a project to catalogue the personal archive of Emeritus Professor Frederick Charles Pybus. To celebrate, an exhibition is currently on display on level 2 of the Philip Robinson Library. The exhibition showcases aspects of Pybus' life, illustrated with key documents and items from the collection. But who was Pybus? And what is his relationship with the Library?

An esteemed surgeon, Pybus’ career spanned half a century and began when he graduated from Durham University College of Medicine in Newcastle upon Tyne, which later became Newcastle University. Pybus spent most of his career working in hospitals in and around the city and, in 1941, became Professor of Surgery at the same school from which he graduated.

But perhaps one of the most notable events in his career was his involvement in the requisitioning of parts of the University’s Armstrong Building for use as the 1st Northern General Hospital during the First World War.

Pybus’ memoirs recall the day he entered the building, with orders to take command:

Good day, you know why I have come, and it is a pity that it has come to this but here is my authority and from now onwards, this is the 1st Northern General Hospital and I want to survey it in a few minutes time. I understand that we are to have the services of your steward and that will, of course, be a very great help to us. And I want to assure you that we shall do our utmost as long as necessary to avoid causing you any undue disturbance.

Ultimately, all three of the buildings that originally constituted Armstrong College – the Armstrong Building, King Edward VII School of Art (now part of the Hatton Gallery) and the Agriculture Building – were requisitioned to house the 1st Northern General Hospital. The hospital was staffed by individuals who had an association to the College, primarily staff and students.

The Pybus Collection

Alongside his medical career, Pybus spent much of his adult life accumulating a large library of historic medical texts. Comprising around 2,000 volumes, the collection spans five centuries and includes works of international significance.

Featuring names such as Hippocrates, Galen and Vesalius, the collection covers all aspects of medicine, including anatomy, surgery and midwifery. In 1965, Pybus kindly donated the collection to Newcastle University Library. Fifty years after its deposit, the Pybus Collection continues to be a valuable asset and well-used resource in Special Collections.

Pybus’ personal archive complements the collection, containing book receipts, correspondence and photographs alongside other records which reflect Pybus' activities. The newly completed catalogue opens access to these documents for all interested parties, in particular researchers of medical history or book collecting.

For information on accessing the collections and requesting material, please visit the Special Collections website. You can also keep up to date with Special Collections’ activities on Twitter @ncllibspeccoll.

The exhibition showcases aspects of Pybus' life, illustrated with key documents and items from the collection.

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