My name is Nigel Adams and would like to welcome you to an occasional series of blogs covering historical medical electronics , specifically from the Marconi Company.
My background is that I joined Marconi Instruments as an apprenticed engineer in 1975 and remained with the company in various roles until its sale when the breakup of GEC (the Marconi holding company) occurred in 1998.
The business went through a number of ups and downs as do many similar industries and is now American-owned and no longer directly in the same sphere of business. But the history of the company as Marconi Instruments is a fascinating and varied journey through electronics development and how it impacted the way we lived and its effect on the environment through the years following the Second World War.
By way of introduction and to ‘set the scene’ so to speak, this first blog will look at the history of the company and its involvement on all forms of electronics that have been developed up to the time when the company ceased to exist as an operating identity.
Guglielmo Marconi was an Italian engineer with a flair for physics and scientific development, his early experiments with radio transmission gained him recognition in many scientific fields. Unfortunately he was unable to obtain sufficient support from the Italian government of the time and then relocated to Great Britain where he went on to establish the ‘Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company’ (MWT) around 1920 and headquartered in Chelmsford, Essex.
As the MWT business expanded, it required specialist test and measurement equipment to assist in production of its radio systems, additionally Marconi established a marine division that went on to specialise in Radar and other navigational electronic aids.
One of Marconi’s early claims to fame was the installation of his radio system onboard the RMS Titanic, which proved valuable in helping save some of the many lives from the stricken liner when it struck the iceberg in 1912.
Marconi himself continued research into shorter and shorter radio waves and ventured into further development of radar and X-ray technology until his death in 1937. As a mark of respect for his genius, all radio stations around the world closed down for a short period and the ether was as quiet as it had been before.
From this expansion was born Marconi Instruments in 1936, which previously, had collaborated with E.K. Cole of Southend on Sea who manufactured domestic radios amongst other items.
With the onset of WW2, the business was considered at risk of bombing, being so close to the east coast.
In a single weekend the business relocated initially to High Wycombe and then settling permanently in St.Albans around 1940, where it became the largest single employer.
Marconi Instruments remained in St.Albans until 1990, at one point occupying three separate sites at the same time. It was here that one of the product ranges ventured into the realm of medical equipment, and so the story begins…
For further reading about Marconi’s early life and his business developments, please see reference material at the George Marshall Medical Museum.
My name is Jack Morris and I have been working at The Infirmary Museum for my Year 10 Work Experience, It has been very exciting to have worked in such a great museum; I have been very interested in learning the museum's great history and hope to learn more in the future.
A topic that I would like to discuss about today is that of Laparoscopy, also known as Keyhole surgery, as the first keyhole surgery in Worcester took place on the 21st September 1990 at Worcester Royal Infirmary, 12 years before I was born! It's very interesting learning of this type of surgery as it shows yet more on the evolution of surgery, such as shorter recovery times due to the smaller incision needed to be cut into the body, meaning the patient doesn’t need to grow back as much tissue as in an open surgery that has a larger incision.
Also, recently, due to a generous donation, a laparoscopy machine has come into the possession of the George Marshall Medical Museum, which is a slightly newer model than the one possessed by The Infirmary Museum but can still be used to show the evolution of medicine through time and how it has progressed to make such operations more effective and safe. These Laparoscopy machines are usually used for procedures such as gynaecology (treatment of the female reproductive system), gastroenterology (treating conditions in the digestive system), and urology (treating conditions in the urinary system). Surgeons use these machines along with general anaesthetic, they cut small holes usually near the belly button and use a laparoscope to view the inside of the body to either treat an illness or to identify one such as cancer in the liver, pancreas, ovaries etc., along side a pair of forceps to treat said illnesses, more information about Laparoscopy can be found at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/laparoscopy/.
Another useful part about Laparoscopy is that due to the small incisions that will be blocked up with the forcep and laparoscope they can pump the abdomen full of gas so that it can increase visibility within the abdomen and decrease the chance of then hitting or scraping any other organs within the abdomen, however it does give the patient a bloated belly as a side effect for the couple of hours after the surgery as well as cramps and shoulder pains as it can irritate the diaphragm with will then lead to this irritating the nerve endings in the shoulders.
Also, after the procedure has been completed the recovery time is far shorter than standard surgery but it depends on the type of surgery. As a minor surgery such as appendix removal has a recovery time of roughly 2 weeks where as more major surgeries such as the removal of ovaries or kidneys due to cancer has a recovery time of up to 12 weeks. And a more recent development in the evolution of the surgery is the use of Robotic-assisted Laparoscopy, A doctor will use a pair of robotic limbs to have an increased amount of precision and manoeuvrability as well as producing a larger higher quality 3D image for the surgeons to use.
And if laparoscopy interests you then you can use the laparoscopy machine inside of The Infirmary Museum and experience what it is like to carry out a laparoscopic procedure, or you could come to the Surgeon’s Circus on the 30th July to the 2nd August - 10am to 2pm - and try to do other things with a pair of forceps. Like guiding a small rubber ring around a wire or placing small balls onto little poles, to practise your surgery skills. Fun for all the family, book your free place at www.bit.ly/TheInfirmaryTickets
It has been a great place to be working and the history behind this building is fascinating, and the fun and exciting events that are put on here express all the history of this building that many people were born and/or treated in. It is a great museum with an abundance of history, that I feel everyone should experience.
Year 10 student, Droitwich Spa High School
On 11th November 1918, the day that church bells were rung across the nation in celebration of the end of War, countless families were nursing their relatives or mourning the loss of those close to them, having caught the dreaded Spanish ‘flu. No-one was safe from the Influenza Pandemic. It reared its head in the Spring of 1918, with outbreaks coming in waves. It swept the globe claiming around 25 million lives in under 12 months - more people than were killed fighting in the War.
In the closing months of War, Private John Sydney Cull of Badsey, near Evesham, was serving in the Worcester Yeomanry in Mesopotamia. He had written a letter to his family on 9th October informing them of fatal incidences of the ‘flu in his battalion – fortunately, he told them, he was in the best of health. On 11th November his family should have been celebrating news of his homecoming, but instead they received a letter notifying them of his death – from Spanish ‘Flu. He died aged 27.
While media attention and history books have focused on the victorious end to the War, the tragedy of the Spanish ‘Flu has been wiped from our collective memory. The George Marshall Medical Museum is hosting a touring exhibition of the Florence Nightingale Museum's Influenza Pandemic Exhibition during 2019. Laura Mainwaring, our British Society for the History of Science Engagement Fellow, is working to add local content to the exhibition to inform and engage the local community on one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.
Have any stories been passed down to you about relatives that were affected by the ‘flu pandemic of 1918/1919? We are looking for diaries, letters, recipe books, or anecdotes from relatives, focusing on the Worcestershire area.
It would be great to hear your story. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or tel. 01905 760738.