Cataloguing the Collector: The life and career of Frederick Charles Pybus

Exhibition now open to the public March – August 2017.
Level 1, Philip Robinson Library, Newcastle University. 

The text and images below are from the exhibition, ‘Cataloguing the Collector: The life and career of Frederick Charles Pybus’. Items within this exhibition are taken from the Frederick Charles Pybus Archive.  

Exhibition talk: ‘The Life of the Collector: Frederick Charles Pybus



Date: 29th March 2017
Time: 5.30-7pm
Location: Room 152, Level 1 of the Philip Robinson Library

A talk on the exhibition will be given by our archivist Alex Healey hosted by the Friends of the University Library.


Frederick Charles Pybus is arguably best known for his collection of historic medical books, held here in the library. However, items from his personal archive reflect his medical career and personal interests, demonstrating that collecting was only one aspect of his personality.

Pybus the Surgeon


Surgery team including Pybus ready for theatre in the Fine Arts department at Armstrong College, 1st Northern General Hospital, c. 1915 (Professor Frederick Pybus Archive, FP/1/3/9)











At the start of the 20th century, medical developments relating to antiseptics and anaesthesia allowed surgeons to perform more elaborate and lengthy procedures on their patients.

Frederick Charles Pybus entered the profession, registering as a medical student in 1901 and graduating in 1906. He was to remain associated with the medical profession for over 50 years, until his retirement in 1961.

Pybus not only witnessed the development of surgery in this period, but himself conceived and undertook experimental processes on his patients, contributing directly to the development and improvement of surgical procedures, including tonsillectomies and the removal of cysts.

With the exception of a brief stint in London after his graduation, Pybus’ career both as a student and a practitioner was spent working in medical institutions here in Newcastle, including the Royal Victoria Infirmary, the Fleming Hospital for Sick Children and the Newcastle General Hospital.

Pybus the Veteran

The Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) were responsible for the wellbeing of all military personnel during the First World War. As well as serving overseas, members of the RAMC worked on the home front. Suitable buildings were requisitioned as hospitals to accommodate the huge number of wounded soldiers returning from the trenches.

Pybus received his papers placing him on reserve duty in 1910. When war arrived four years later, he helped requisition Newcastle University’s Armstrong College for use as the 1st Northern General Hospital.

Over 1000 operations were performed by Pybus at the 1st Northern, at least some of which were performed in what had been the Fine Arts department. Many surgeries were attempts to correct the damage caused by gun-shot wounds and it was during this period that the field of plastic surgery was developed.

Image included in patient notes for removal of a bullet from Private J. Shrubb of the Inneskilling Fusiliers, Sept 1914 (Professor Frederick Pybus Archive, FP/1/3/3)

Image included in patient notes for removal of a bullet from Private J. Shrubb of the Inneskilling Fusiliers, Sept 1914 (Professor Frederick Pybus Archive, FP/1/3/3)















Pybus and Children’s Medicine

After the First World War Pybus was appointed Assistant Surgeon at the Fleming Memorial Hospital for Sick Children, located at what is now Princess Mary Court in Jesmond.

The early 20th century was a period of change for children’s hospitals, in which their status was shifting from being seen as the last resort of impoverished families, to places in which modern medical techniques, tailored to the needs of children, were delivered by skilled practitioners.

During this period, Pybus’ publications and research interests became focussed on the treatment of children. This culminated in the publication of his book The Surgical Diseases of Children: A Handbook for students and practitioners in 1922. The book was published in England and North America, and was received favourably by the medical press.

The Surgical Diseases of Children: a handbook for students and practitioners, 1922 (Pybus J.I.11)

The Surgical Diseases of Children: a handbook for students and practitioners, 1922 (Pybus J.I.11)

Pybus and Cancer Research

At the start of the 20th century improved understandings of the causes of cancer caused this long known illness to become a focus of public debate. The understanding that environmental factors could directly cause cancer made the illness a social issue as well as a medical one.

As a result of this, research into the identification of carcinogens became increasingly popular as the 20th century progressed. Having spent some time at cancer specialist hospitals early in his career, Pybus established a Cancer Research Institute in Newcastle in 1925.

The Institute used animal testing to research bone tumours and was one of the first to suggest that atmospheric pollution could be a major contributing cause.

Pybus the Collector

Arguably, Pybus’ most well-known legacy is the Pybus Collection of historic and rare medical texts. He became interested in such books after an encounter with a ‘really handsome book’ at the first meeting of the Association of Surgeons in the early 1920s. He later recalled that this encounter with the ‘magnificent’ plates of a Vesalius folio ‘wetted his appetite with a vengeance’.

Frontispiece from 'De humani corporis fabric' (Fabric of the Human Body) by Andreas Vesalius (Pyb.N.v.10)

Frontispiece from ‘De humani corporis fabric‘ (Fabric of the Human Body) by Andreas Vesalius (Professor Frederick Pybus Collection, Pyb.N.v.10)

Despite offers from book dealers and American universities to purchase parts of the collection, Pybus donated it in its entirety to Newcastle University Library in 1965, where a dedicated reading room was established in the old library. The collection is now held by Special Collections here in the Philip Robinson Library, and is included on the library catalogue.

Pybus the Person

Photograph of Professor Pybus, c. 1913

Photograph of Professor Pybus, c. 1913 (Frederick Charles Pybus Archive)

Much of Pybus’ life was taken up with his medical career and hobby of collecting medical texts. His archive demonstrates that these were the dominating aspects of his life. Nevertheless, there is evidence of other interests.

Other items in the archive hint at Pybus’ other interests. These include involvement with lecture societies, membership of Masonic organisations and an attempt to resurrect the historic Company of Barber Surgeons and Tallow Chandlers of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Other Resources

Interested in Pybus’ book collection. Find out more about the Professor Frederick Pybus Collection.

More about Pybus our blog:

Shakespeare at the old Theatre Royal – May 2016

Shakespeare performed by Children

May 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Newcastle has played host to the bard’s plays ever since – in more recent times, the Royal Shakespeare Company performed almost annually at the Theatre Royal by the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1977. Unfortunately, they will not be returning in 2016.

Our Theatre Royal Playbills (RB 792 (4282) – NEW) feature many notices for performances of Shakespeare at the old Theatre Royal on Mosley Street between 1770 and 1820, including this one by a Georgian/Victorian theatre sensation and her two sisters.

King Richard The Third playbilll (RB 792 (4282)–NEW).

King Richard The Third playbilll (RB 792 (4282)–NEW).

Clara Fisher (b.14 July 1811, London, died 12 November 1898, Jersey, U.S.) was an Anglo-American actress who inspired an enormous following in the United States. She made her stage debut in 1817, at the age of six, in a children’s adaptation of David Garrick’s Lilliput at the Drury Lane Theatre in London. Her performance in that and in excerpts from Richard III captivated the audience. She then began a 10-year period of touring up and down Great Britain, winning popular acclaim in a variety of child’s and adult’s roles.

By the time she and her sisters Amelia and Caroline started their three-night engagement at the Newcastle Theatre Royal on 17 May 1819, Clara would have been only seven years old. On the opening night, she played the leading role in  ‘Shakespeare’s Historical Tragedy, called KING RICHARD THE THIRD; Or, The Battle of Bosworth Field. Clara was known for her ‘breeches parts’ (men’s roles), including Hamlet on at least one occasion. At the Theatre Royal, her sister Amelia was Henry VI, and Henry, Earl of Richmond, was played by Caroline Fisher.

On the second night, she played Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, and then, on a lighter note, performed ‘A COMIC SONG. (IN CHARACTER)’.

The third, and supposedly final, night was Shakespeare-free.

Such was the success of the Fisher girls’ engagement that they were held over for an extra performance on Friday 21 May, 1819, performing ‘some of the best scenes from the most popular Plays . . .’. This included acts four and five of King Richard the Third, with the sisters reprising their ‘breeches parts’ of the previous Monday.

Fisher went to the United States in 1827 and made her debut in New York City that same year. She was a sensation – her name was given to babies, racehorses, stagecoaches, and steamboats – and she was regarded as America’s leading stage actress. Her last performance was in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1889.

This performance, and about 240 others, is promoted by notices in one volume of our Theatre Royal Playbills collection, a bound collection of ‘posters’ for the ‘old’ Newcastle Theatre Royal in Mosley Street. The bills were printed in 1819 and 1820, and are typical of the early nineteenth century –  i.e. very small compared to the modern-day concept of ‘posters’ –  and utilising revolutionary display typefaces which had begun to be manufactured in about 1810 for advertising.

Fittingly, the bill was printed by Edward Humble, at the Shakespeare Press. Humble was a respected local printer, and a proprietor of the County Durham Advertiser.

If you are interested in coming into the reading room to see playbill and others from the collection…

# This item is held within a volume of our Theatre Royal Playbills (Ref Code RB792(4282) NEW.

# You can place your order by linking to our request form. The reference code and title will be RB 792 (4282) – NEW – Theatre Royal Playbills.’

Newcastle Illuminated, 1814 – May 2014

Two hundred years ago this month, on the evening of 10th May 1814, the town of Newcastle was flooded with light in celebration of the defeat and abdication of Napoleon and his exile to Elba, perceived to signal the end of the Napoleonic Wars which had seen the country at war for more than ten years.

This broadside advertised the illumination event. It was seemingly well-organised by town officials who were anxious to preserve the peace and ensure safety, forbidding the letting-off of guns and fireworks and appointing Peace Officers to patrol the streets. Participants were also warned not to harass any Quakers who might abstain from the celebrations on religious grounds, being pacifists.

The event was universally held to be a great success. Local newspapers printed lengthy and effusively-worded accounts. The Newcastle Advertiser said, “At half-past eight o’clock in the evening the signal was given from the castle for lighting up, and, as if by magic, the whole town appeared in a few minutes one blaze of light”. People from all classes of society took part by lighting up their home or premises, “every one striving to excel his neighbour in testifying his joy at the return of peace, after a sanguinary war of unusual duration”.

All of the light displays were patriotic and many incorporated transparencies, pictures made from translucent paints on materials like calico, linen or oiled paper and lit from behind with candles.

Highlights included Messrs Farrington of the Bigg-market who filled the arched gateway in front of their warehouse with a large transparency of the Duke of Wellington attired as Mars, presenting Peace to Britannia; and Messrs Brumwell and Dobson, chemists, Sandhill who exhibited a large painting representing the inside of a laboratory and the Devil pounding Bonaparte to powder in a mortar. Mr Waters’ Floor-cloth manufactory was singled out as being especially brilliant, incorporating a giant lit image of an anchor, nearly 40 feet high. The doorway of the Theatre Royal was lavishly lit and occupied by the Newcastle arms with a Latin inscription which in translation means, “May Newcastle flourish into eternity, nourished by abundance and peace”. Also mentioned is a certain Mr Dobson, architect, of Mosley Street who displayed a transparency of Britannia seated, with the British Lion defiantly pacing the shore. Displays such as that at the Dun Cow public house on the Quayside, “a neat, though small transparency, exhibiting the Sailor paid off, and the Soldier returned to this wife and family” hint at the social and economic disruption that the Wars had brought.

It would seem the town officials’ precautionary measures paid off, as the Advertiser reported, “We did not hear of a single disturbance or accident”. According to the Chronicle, the only negative element to the proceedings was “the carelessness and indifference of the coachmen, who were driving the carriages of those who chose to view the exhibition of the evening in that manner; as, by their negligence, were often endangered the lives and limbs of the pedestrians.”

Of course, these celebrations would prove to be a year premature, as ten months later Napoleon escaped from Elba and reassumed power over France until his eventual defeat at Waterloo in June 1815.

Vestiges of old Newcastle and Gateshead – June 2011

Illustration of The Weavers or Carliol Tower and The Mechanics Institute
Illustration of The Weavers or Carliol Tower and The Mechanics Institute, 1878 from from Boyle, J.R. Vestiges of old Newcastle and Gateshead. 2 vols.
(Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Andrew Reid; London: Elliot Stock, 1890)
(Rare Books Collection, RB 942.82 BOY Quarto

In 1769 James Granger’s Biographical History of England was published with deliberately blank pages for the purchaser to customise. Thus grangerised entered rare books terminology. Extra-illustrated is a more user-friendly term which has come to be commonly used today. Typically, book owners have customised copies by adding engraved portraits and topographical prints but sometimes autograph letters, drawings, watercolours and other documents have been pasted in and this is exactly what W.B. Bond has done with his copy of J.R. Boyle’s Vestiges of old Newcastle and Gateshead (1890).

The publication is not as scarce as some other titles held in the Philip Robinson Library’s Special Collections: twelve other institutions are listed on COPAC as holding copies, from the National Library of Scotland, to the British Library and Trinity College Dublin. What make our copy unique are the two hundred and thirty engravings, watercolours and autographs which have been added. These include: autograph letters from historians and antiquaries John Hodgson, John Collingwood Bruce, W.H. Longstaffe, and Richard Welford; engraved portraits of King Charles II and Oliver Cromwell; a bookplate taken from a copy of Il Decamerone (1727), the title page of which had borne the inscription of musician Charles Avison; engravings of local views and landmarks, such as Alnwick Castle, Sunderland harbour, and Jesmond cemetery; and original watercolours depicting the Holy Jesus Hospital, an old house in Low Friar Street, almshouses in Westgate Street, Thomas Bewick’s workshop at St. Nicholas’ church yard, and more.

Two local watercolours have been chosen to illustrate this ‘treasure’: The Weavers or Carliol Tower and The Mechanics Institute, 1878 and The Temporary Bridge over the Tyne – August 17th 1875, both signed by W.B. Bond.

The Weavers or Carliol Tower and The Mechanics Institute, 1878 (above):
Newcastle was fortified in the Thirteenth Century and Carliol Tower, named after the De Carleiol family, was one of the seventeen towers which were features of the town wall. The discovery, by workmen in 1824, of a cannonball is evidence that it came under fire when the Scots stormed Newcastle in 1644. Less than twenty years after the violence of the English Revolution, or Civil War, the Weaver’s Company appropriated the tower as a meeting house. The tower was repaired and enlarged in 1821 but, like many of the town’s defensive towers, was demolished in the late Nineteenth Century. The foundation stone for The Mechanic’s Institute which adjoined Carliol Tower, on New Bridge Street, had been laid on 19th April, 1865. From 1866, it housed a library and was a venue for lectures on industrial developments and for delivering engineering classes. In 1880, The Mechanics’ Institute became part of the new City Library.

The Temporary Bridge over the Tyne – August 17th 1875 (below):
Bond has not specified the location of this temporary bridge over the Tyne. However, a temporary bridge existed whilst the Swing Bridge was being constructed and it is possible that this is what Bond painted, looking across the river towards Gateshead and St. Mary’s Church. The Roman Pons Aelius had first spanned the Tyne but it had been replaced by a mediaeval stone bridge. When this was destroyed by the flood of 1771, a new stone bridge was built in its place. Increased shipping resulted in that bridge being removed in 1866 and it wasn’t until 1876 that the Swing Bridge was opened. Thus, it is possible that the watercolour depicts the temporary wooden bridge at time when it had almost run the course of its usefulness and with the construction of the Swing Bridge glimpsed immediately behind it.

According to a manuscript annotation on a front endpaper, Bond inserted the additional engravings, watercolours and autographs whilst in San Sebastiano, Venice, 1913 and two items which had been addressed to him there are tipped in at the end of the second volume.

Illustration of The Temporary Bridge over the Tyne
Illustration of The Temporary Bridge over the Tyne – August 17th 1875 from Boyle, J.R. Vestiges of old Newcastle and Gateshead. 2 vols.
(Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Andrew Reid; London: Elliot Stock, 1890)
(Rare Books Collection, RB 942.82 BOY Quarto