Book Collection Pyb - Pybus (Professor Frederick) Collection

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Reference code



Pybus (Professor Frederick) Collection


  • 1478 - 1993 (Creation)

Level of description

Book Collection

Extent and medium

1758 books

Context area

Name of creator

(1882 - 1975)

Biographical history

Frederick Charles Pybus was born in 1882 to Thomas William Pybus and Annie Fenwick Cockerill in Stockton-on-Tees. He was one of four children and had three older sisters; Ivy, Norah and Dorothy. From an early age he was interested in natural philosophy, performing post-mortems on his wide range of pets after their natural deaths. Understanding anatomical structure was key to this curiosity. He was also influenced by his wider family as two of his uncles were doctors in the 1890s. Initially Pybus decided to pursue medicine, but after failing his Junior Cambridge Exams, he became a veterinary student based in Middlesbrough. Pybus disliked the rough work and the way animals were treated without anaesthetics, and soon returned to his ambition to study medicine. He moved to Edinburgh in 1900 for coaching for his medical exams, and went on to secure a place at University of Durham Medical School where he began his training in 1901. Here he developed his interest in dissection and anatomy, receiving the prize for surgery in his fifth year.

In his third year of training, Pybus began working in the Infirmary based near Newcastle Central Station, assisting in wound dressing and preparation for surgery. He worked with Sir Thomas Oliver, distinguished in the field of industrial disease - an area later investigated in Pybus' own cancer research. In 1905, Pybus was appointed the House Surgeon for the out-patient department of the hospital. This was an unpaid role so to generate income he also did exam coaching and anatomy drawing. He later became House Surgeon based in the Surgery department in 1907, where he performed emergency surgery, minor planned surgery and administering anaesthesia.

Following from these first pursuits, Pybus began seeking Fellowship with the Royal College of Surgeons. He moved to London and worked in different roles in a variety of institutions including St Bartholomew's Hospital, Gordon Hospital, Evelina Hospital for Children, The National Hospital for Paralysed and Epileptics and the Cancer Hospital (Free). Pybus spent only three months at the Cancer Hospital (Free) before he was offered the position of registrar at the Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary for the Ear, Nose and Throat, Gynaecology and Skin Departments. Though he regretted his decision, his financial position was precarious after taking a number of unpaid positions in London. In Newcastle, he was able to resume his coaching, and he became a Master of Surgery in 1910 and achieved his Fellowship in 1915.

Pybus was informed of his mobilisation in 1910 and was appointed a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps, Territorial Force. Initially he had very little to do in his role as Captain and he spent time visiting the York Military Hospital, camping at the Royal Station Hotel. In 1913, he was employed as the the personal assistant to the Senior Surgeon at the RVI, and was eventually persuaded by a colleague to become a Registrar. This involved being coached in military law, organisation and equipment, and after passing these requirements became a field officer. Now under the authority of the training unit based at the RVI, Pybus' primary role was to lead marches. This all changed on 4th August 1914 when Pybus received the mobilisation papers to take authority of Armstrong College and establish the First Northern General Hospital. He surveyed the college, allocating rooms to be converted into wards, bathrooms and sanitary accommodation, and within 48 hours had organised an emergency ward for wounded soldiers. Pybus was eventually reassigned to surgeon due to shortages, and was briefly posted in Alexandria in 1915 to set up the 17th General Hospital. Here he developed severe stomach problems due suffering from gastroenterostomy and retrograde jejunogastric intussusception as a child. He returned to Armstrong College as a surgeon, and went on to perform a minimum of 1346 operations. He also contributed to the invention of a high energy drink to sustain patients before operations, which was later developed, sold by a local chemist to Beechams and renamed Lucozade.

After the war, Pybus was appointed Assistant Surgeon at the Fleming Memorial Hospital for Sick Children. During his appointment, he produced a large amount of papers on children's diseases, and practiced, presented on and wrote papers about the guillotine method to remove tonsils. However, he felt the conditions in the hospital were extremely poor and became committed to improving them. He was concerned that most of the children arriving for treatment were starving, and he petitioned for a kitchen for them. When this was rejected, he resigned. Pybus then worked at the RVI in various positions in surgery, until he became Senior Surgeon.

During the Second World War, Pybus was appointed Group Hospital Officer in the North East due to his knowledge of the regions hospitals, and his role was to organise the Emergency Medical Services. Pybus was also the Chairman of the Radium Department for the RVI and Medical School, and made the decisions about how this material was to be dealt with in the event of an air raid.

Pybus retired from the RVI in 1944 and fully from practice in 1953. He had been appointed Professor of Surgery in the College of Medicine in 1941, where he helped develop the study of the History of Medicine, but retired from this position in 1958. He was also appointed the Surgical Consultant advisor for the region in 1948, and was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law in 1966 by Newcastle University.

Over his 50 years as an active member of staff in hospitals in the North East area, Pybus was a member of various boards in the region including the Regional Hospital Board where Pybus contributed as a consultant advisor. Spanning from this was the Gateshead Hospital Management Group, in which Pybus served as the Vice Chairman and eventually Chairman for three years before retiring in 1961. His significant achievement in this role was to gain permission from the General Nursing Council to install male nurses in the RVI in the 1940s.

Beyond his work with children, surgery and board membership, Pybus had a wide-ranging interest in cancer. In 1925, Pybus was able to set up his own Newcastle based Cancer Research Institute which was supported by the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and the British Empire Cancer Campaign.The Institute created a bone tumour strain in mice, was amongst the first to propose atmospheric pollution as a major contributing cause of cancer, and its findings directly informed the Clean Air Act 1956. The institute published many cases and research papers in the medical journals concerning all aspects of his research. His papers primarily used statistical evidence and real-life cases to investigate the association of lung cancer and carcinogens found in air pollution - particularly benzopyrene in soot from burning materials and diesel fumes. Pybus also investigated the effects of tobacco smoking, but felt that air pollution was a bigger threat. He worked in his own research institute for 30 years before retiring from active research in 1955 and going on to campaign for cleaner air in the UK due to his findings. Pybus regularly wrote to the press and MPs about air pollution, and was vocal about his opposition to the burning of material in allotments near his home in Spital Tongues during the 1950s and 1960s.

Pybus' career led him to be involved in a lot of societies and associations related to his profession including: · Executive Committee for the Newcastle and Northern Counties Medical Societies (before and after the war) · President of The Medical Society for consultants in Newcastle · President of the Surgical Society in Newcastle · President of the Durham Medical Society (1915 1919) · Royal Society of Medicine from 1924 and President of the Diseases in Children Section · Moynihan Club · 1926 British medical Association Vice Presidents Orthopaedics · The North of England Surgical Society - Pybus was the first president and helped with its founding The Surgical Society commissioned the bust that was presented when Pybus gifted his Collection to Newcastle University.

During his lifetime Pybus was afflicted by several different aliments, issues with his stomach started at a young age which led to him being treated with a gastroenterostomy but later developing retrograde jejunogastric intussusception, he writes regularly about this in his papers. He also suffered from Radial and Medial Neuritis which damaged his right hand severely affecting his work in surgery. He later developed Rheumatoid arthritis which he had regular stints in hospital to ease and this prevented him from pursuing his Air Pollution Campaign as vehemently as he would have liked.

Pybus had many interests that are referred to in his papers. Very briefly, he was the President of the Swimming Club while working at the RVI before the First World War, later he also enjoyed fishing and golfing. After the War he became a member of several societies including the Lithosian Society in Newcastle, this was a debating society and the short-lived Print Collectors Society. He was also an active member of the Free Masons Minerva Lodge from 1927. He had a keen interest in the Barber Surgeons he wrote a brief history on this and also tried to gain entry to the Newcastle Barber Surgeons and Tallow Chandlers, but was never able to obtain membership. After acquiring Whiteknights he became a member of the Good Gardeners Association and was very proud of the peaches and roses he produced. He lived with his sister Norah while here and from his correspondence we can see he had some contact with his extended family and they had an interest in their family history which he indulged.

The most well-known of Pybus' interests is that for some 40 years he built up a collection of international importance on the history of medicine, including books, engravings, letters, portraits, busts and bleeding bowls. In 1965, he donated the collection to the Newcastle University Library. He began this collection in 1917 when he started with buying engravings. This interest developed in the 1920's in Rome whilst at an International Society of Surgeons conference, he went into a second-hand book shop and came across early medical works. He went on to visit an exhibition on rare medical texts which was when he made the decision to start collecting the four English Masters and Atlases of Anatomy. His first purchases came when the Bowes family Library based at Streatlam Castle were sold; he was offered several medical texts including those of Thomas Sydenham. When Pybus started collecting little was known about the value of these texts and Pybus was able to obtain them at reasonable prices and found them in second hand and antique bookshops. In 1965 when he was Emeritus Professor of Surgery he gifted this collection to the Newcastle University Library. He expressed that it was his dream to have this prestigious and rare collection housed at the University and felt that it would be of great importance to the University and studying academics.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The Pybus (Professor Frederick) Collection was donated to Newcastle University Library by Professor Pybus in 1965

Content and structure area

Scope and content

The Pybus Collection, originally brought together by the esteemed local medic and surgeon Professor Frederick Charles Pybus (1883-1975), is rich in material relating to the history of medicine. The collection consists chiefly of some 2000 volumes which are mostly classics of the history of medicine, with particular reference to anatomy, surgery and medical illustration.

Highlights are Gilles de Corbeil's De Pulsibus (1494), the first printed book on the pulse, as well as a 1648 edition of William Harvey's celebrated work Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis in which he published his discoveries about the motion of the heart and blood. There is also a 1555 edition of one of the most important and influential books in the history of medicine, De Humani Corporis Fabrica by Andreas Versalius. Most of the other celebrated anatomists are represented here too, as well as later pioneers and experts.

The Pybus collection also includes engravings, portraits, busts, holographic letters and a set of bleeding bowls (currently housed at the Walton Library).

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


No further material is expected to be added to the collection

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Custom classification scheme

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UK copyright law applies

Language of material

  • English

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Rare Books / Publications

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  • English



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