BOA Archive Update (November 2020)

03 Dec 2020

By Ian Stephen
BOA Honorary Archivist

A lot has happened since I last reported on the state of the BOA Archive.

David Adams and I have completed the process of cataloguing all the items in the Archive on spreadsheets, packaging them into file boxes and envelopes and labelling them.

Altogether, we have catalogued and labelled over 4,500 paper documents, 900 photographs and drawings, 120 films and videos, 10 records and audio tapes, 250 books, 65 donated objects and 190 instruments and prostheses.

All these are presently housed in filing cupboards, display cabinets, bookcases and on the walls of the BOA offices in Nuffield House. These premises have to be vacated next year, when the offices will be relocated to the newly rebuilt Royal College of Surgeons of England next door.

Storage space in the new premises will be severely limited, which has prompted a critical review of our holdings and a search for a new home for the Archive. We have formed an Archive Working Group of interested members and engaged the help of professional archivists from the National Conservation Service.

We have been successful in establishing a partnership with the Borthwick Institute at the University of York, who have agreed to house and manage the paper and audio-visual part of the collection. The books and physical objects will be stored elsewhere: at present, the Archive Working Group are working to identify which of these we should retain, according to agreed retention criteria.

An exciting recent development has been that we have made contact with a PhD student appointed to the National Archives, in partnership with the University of Leeds whose topic is 'British State Provision of Prosthetic Limbs and the Two World Wars'. The BOA of course had considerable involvement in this, particularly during and after the Great War, especially our first President, Muirhead Little, who acted as surgeon to Queen Mary's Auxiliary Hospital at Roehampton during the war of 1914-18 and went on to be a member of the Ministry of Pensions Advisory Council on the fitting of artificial limbs. He published 'Artificial limbs and amputation stumps: a practical handbook' in 1922 – we lack a copy of this in the archive, and if anyone knows of one, we would be keen to have it. The involvement of the BOA has continued ever since, and a Committee was established in the early 1970s which published a report on Prosthetic & Orthotic Services in England, Wales & Northern Ireland in 1973. This is in the Archive.

It is almost 70 years since the first honorary Archivist was appointed at the BOA and, since then the contents have accumulated to form a considerable collection. The important questions of the purpose of the Archive and what should it contain must now be addressed with some urgency, because of the impending move of the BOA offices. The long-term aim remains to establish the archive catalogue online with virtual access to the contents and we hope to achieve this with the assistance of the National Conservation Service and the Borthwick Institute.

The Transient Journal