Update by Laura Mainwaring on her research work with us for our #Influenza100 #Spanishflu exhibition and workshops in 2019. Funded by the British Society for the History of Science.

One hundred years ago, the 1918-19 influenza pandemic, known as the Spanish ‘flu, wreaked havoc across the globe, affecting the health of about one-fifth of the world’s population. It caused the deaths of approximately 50–100 million people worldwide; more than the estimated 16 million lives claimed by the First World War. To commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of history’s deadliest pandemic the Florence Nightingale Museum are holding the exhibition “Spanish Flu” between 21 September 2018 to 16 June 2019. The George Marshall Medical Museum (GMMM) are hosting a touring exhibition from the Florence Nightingale Museum in early 2019.

I am grateful to have received support from the British Society for the History of Science (BSHS), which has allowed me to carry out research about the 1918-19 influenza pandemic and bring local content to the upcoming touring exhibition at the GMMM. I uncovered the local response to the pandemic by delving into the collections held at the GMMM and the public archives held at the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service at The Hive. I spent most of my research time at The Hive, looking through health committee minutes, school log books, hospital reports, and local newspaper reports.

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The local government response was in-line with the many localities across the country, with the restriction of cinema opening times and the closure of schools. Looking through the school log books highlighted the scale of the outbreak, but reading the local newspapers bought home the extent of suffering for the local population, with the publishing of high-mortality figures and obituaries. The pages were also littered with stories of soldiers surviving the War but who sadly succumbed to the outbreak. The Kidderminster Shuttle reported in November 1918 that Gunner S. Powell spent the last two weeks of the War on leave from France, visiting his parents in Kidderminster. Whilst he was home he contracted influenza, which was followed by pneumonia, and this proved fatal. Powell died on the 24th November 1918, just thirteen days after the War ended.


Gunner S. Powell survived the War but contracted influenza whilst home on leave, which proved fatal. Source: Kidderminster Shuttle, November 1918

The medical nature of the project and the fact that the records were just inside a 100-year closure period, albeit by a few months, meant that I was faced with data protection obstacles. In order to gain access to the hospital records held at The Hive I had to receive permission from the Caldicott Guardian at the Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust. As a result of this project, I now have more of an understanding of data protection and how to gain access to archives that contain personal sensitive data. I have also gained experience in turning archival research into engagement outputs. I created a research booklet on the impact of the Spanish ‘flu on the Worcestershire area, bringing together newspaper reports, advertisements, archival material, and collections from the George Marshall Medical Museum. This booklet will be available for visitors to the exhibition, as well as future researchers. I also had the opportunity to create a school workshop, using my research to inform the themes and activities.

I have enjoyed collaborating with the curator at the GMMM, Louise Price, who has given me support and guidance throughout the project. I look forward to speaking about my research at a seminar, held in conjunction with the University of Worcestershire, to be held at the GMMM on 5th April 2019.


The Marconi M.M.E.5 Audiometer & TF444A & TF895 Acuity Meter

by Nigel Adams

In our first blog we covered the background history of Marconi Instruments and how the company came into being. This time we begin our journey through the various pieces of instrumentation aimed at the field of medical science. 

Some of the initial work into the medical electronics sector was undertaken before WW2, when the company was still known as Marconi – Ekco Instruments. It was known as the ‘Audiometer’ and produced for use in hospitals or larger doctors’ practices/institutions (probably prior to the establishment of the modern ‘clinic’ as we know it now). 

Initially this unit was marketed as the M.M.E 5 (Marconi Medical Equipment), it was a cream painted rectangular metal casing approximately the size of a large shoebox, with a top mounted carry handle and suited for AC and DC Mains operation. Remembering this was before the national grid was established and a number of locations away from towns had DC mains supplies – possibly generated locally or even on-site, using a stationary engine as a power plant to drive a generator. 

The unit contained a headset to be worn by the patient, a patient signalling switch and a handheld microphone used by the Otologist conducting the test.   A ’normal’ range of audible hearing is regarded as being from below 20Hz (Hertz, formerly cycles per second) up to around 20KHz (20,000 Hertz) for a typical person – of course it is known that most peoples’ hearing capability decreases as we age. So this unit would cover the range suitable for children as well as adults. 

In operation, the Audiologist (Otologist) would set up the equipment such that the patient placed the headset over one ear and the sound level adjusted so that the user could hear a tone. The frequency and levels were then adjusted over the range of the test and the patient could indicate when they were no longer able to hear the tone by pressing the signalling switch. The Otologist would then record the results and form a diagnosis. The process would then be repeated for the patient’s other ear. For patients with profoundly hard of hearing there was a bone conduction unit, and a Masking unit (for additional tuning) was offered as optional accessories. 

It was clear that this type of examination became much more important during and after WW2 due to the debilitating effects of loud explosions and gunfire etc. that the armed services and general public would experience during those years. Hearing loss/damage and acute deafness became a major issue in these post war years. 

The first recorded use of this equipment is shown in a company advertisement for a demonstration stand in 1937 at the Physical Society Exhibition (Stand 16).

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During the war years Marconi Instruments name succeeded the Ekco branding and the later model of Acuity Meter replaced the MME5 , becoming the TF444 and TF444A. An advertisement for this appeared in the December 1943 issue of ‘Nature’ magazine – costing the princely sum of £12-0-0d  (for placement of the advert!).

Interestingly, mention is made of ‘subject to approval of the appropriate authority’ in the text. Such items being restricted in their use to certain facilities (wartime restrictions still being in force). 

The later TF444 /TF444A and subsequent TF895 models were similar in operational principle to their earlier counterparts, although there were new features and a restyled casing. This equipment marked one of the first aids to modern diagnosis and treatment of debilitating hearing conditions that benefitted the wider public. 

For further reading about Marconi’s early life and his business developments, please see other reference material in the archive at George Marshall Medical Museum.

Work Experience with the team at GMMM...

Hi my name is Richie Durie and I am a student at Prince Henry's High School and I have been working here on a week’s long work experience. I have been working at Charles Hastings Education Centre and Worcestershire Royal Hospital in the library, Medico-Legal team, Learning and Development and the Museum. Firstly I would like to thank everybody I worked with for such a great and helpful experience with my time here. 

On my first day I spent the day in the library expecting to be as bored as anything, however thanks to David I enjoyed my time thoroughly and the work he set me was enjoyable. The next day I went to the Alexandra hospital to work with the medic-legal team, with which I was unsure of what they did and I was intrigued to find out and learn from them. Jane was fantastic, with not only explaining what she does and explaining the role of her team she tried her best to help me understand it and I would like to thank her and her team for that! After a successful first two days, on the Wednesday I went back to the library to work with Dianne and David again and yet did some different work and I was still entertained and eager! I would like to thank again Dianne and David for my time in the library. On the Thursday I worked with the Museum in the morning which was truly fascinating in itself and Louise asked if I could help her with the talk and tour she gave to the school which visited. I learned a lot about all the different treasures and old medical equipment and the working life around it. All the jobs are fascinating and are all spikes in my interest. And in the afternoon I spent my time with Jane on the front desk handling the stressful, busy ad useful jobs that are needed to keep this place running smoothly!

The amount of work and effort needed to do that is immense and I respect Jane for working so hard and still stay positive and enjoy herself! Friday morning I was back in the museum designing the worksheet shown in this picture- used for the children in the backpacks for the children to walk round. And after doing that I am currently writing this! I would like the thank Louise a lot for what she has taught me and the opportunity she has given me!

Overall I have had a fabulous time here and would like to thank everybody involved who have helped me, and allowed me to work here!

Richard Work Experience Student