With more than two million people killed by tuberculosis (TB) every year, and perhaps a third of the world's population infected, the World Health Organisation has declared the epidemic of the disease a global emergency.

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection of the lungs and sometimes other parts of the body, and is spread by droplets in the coughs or sneezes of a person with the disease. Tuberculosis was known as 'consumption' in the 19th century and was a major cause of death in Britain at that time. The disease is still common where there is overcrowding, malnourishment and poor health care.

Diagnosis may include an X-ray of the chest to detect damage to the lungs, and in the 1950s a Mass Radiography Centre was created in Glasgow in a drive against the disease. Treatment nowadays involves a prolonged course of medication - but in the past treatment entailed many months away from others in a 'sanatorium' or special hospital.

This month we highlight descriptions for the records of hospitals and sanatoriums, and the papers of medical professionals, campaigners and organisations, and victims of the disease. There are also links to selected websites and some suggested reading.

Please note: the Archives Hub provides details of historical resources for researchers. If you are worried about tuberculosis, you should speak to an adviser at NHS Direct on 0845 4647.

Enamel sign Cell for consumptives E.N.T. Nurse Mearnskirk playground Map of Scotland table of contents 'For action by G.P.'
Photographs left-to-right: sign, People's History Museum's Department Of Employment Collection, copyright © the People's History Museum, and reproduced by permission; cell copyright © The Illustrated News Ltd at Mary Evans Picture Library, and courtesy of The Women's Library; ward and playground courtesy the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow; map, campaign, and action courtesy of Lothian Health Services Archive, Edinburgh University Library.

Collection descriptions

  • Broomhill and Lanfine Hospitals built by the Association for the Relief of Incurables in Glasgow and the West of Scotland and opened in 1876. It catered for patients suffering from tuberculosis and other incurable conditions. In 1904 the Lanfine Home for tuberculosis sufferers was added
  • Royal Victoria Dispensary, Hospital and Tuberculosis Trust: founded as the Victoria Dispensary for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest in 1887.. The Royal Victoria Hospital was founded in 1894, and Polton Farm Colony in 1910. Together with the Dispensary these formed the nucleus of the 'Edinburgh Scheme' for combating tuberculosis.
  • Ruchill Hospital: opened in 1900 as a Glasgow Corporation infectious diseases hospital; by 1915 a further 272 beds had been added for tuberculosis patients.
  • Gartloch Hospital operated a 50 bed tuberculosis sanatorium from 1902
  • Sidlaw Hospital: sanatorium near Dundee opened in 1902.
  • Edinburgh Royal Victoria and Associated Hospitals Board of Management: collection includes print material relating to tuberculosis, 1906-1982.
  • Holloway Prison: the 'suffragette' Victoria Lidiard (1889-1992) threw a stone at the War Office building, and was jailed for two years hard labour; this collection includes a photo of the prison's cell for consumptives.
  • Robroyston Hospital: tuberculosis and maternity hospital, opened in Glasgow in 1918.
  • East Fortune Hospital: opened as a tuberculosis sanatorium for the south east of Scotland in 1922
  • Mearnskirk Hospital: children's tuberculosis hospital founded in Renfrewshire in 1930 by Glasgow Corporation's Public Health Department.
  • Bellshill Tuberculosis Dispensary, tuberculosis clinic maintained by Lanark County Council.
  • Royal Alexandra Hospital: established in Paisley 1788; the collection includes tuberculosis registers, 1940s-1980s.
  • Mass Radiography Centre: created by Glasgow Corporation in around 1950 as part of the drive to diagnose and treat tuberculosis.
  • The Manchester Medical Collection: the collection's series MMC/15 deals with outbreaks and treatments of diseases in the Manchester area, including tuberculosis; Sections 3-16 include material on the B.C.G. vaccine for tuberculosis; and the Publications Series H-Q incudes material on mycobacteria, of which the tuberculosis bacterium is one variety.
  • George Buchanan (1841-1869): notes taken from Sir William Tennant Gairdner's lectures on tuberculous diseases
  • Arthur Newsholme (1857-1943): conducted research in epidemiology, particularly relating to tuberculosis
  • Constance Cousins (1884-1914): unpaid medical assistant Almora Sanatorium for Tuberculosis in North India
  • Charles Wilcocks (1896-1977): Tuberculosis Research Officer in Tanganyika
  • Hilda Squire (1898-1991): Tuberculosis Visitor and Secretary to the Tuberculosis Committee of the Chelsea Tuberculosis Dispensary
  • John Erskine Geddes 1900-1978): Chief Supervising Tuberculosis Physician for the Western Regional Hospital Board during the Mass Radiography Campaign of March and April 1957; the collection includes publications of the National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis.
  • Rex Leslie Cheverton (born 1901): Vice-Chairman of the Conference on Health and Tuberculosis
  • Alexander Dale (1901-1964) Assistant Lecturer in Clinical Tuberculosis at the University of Glasgow, and Superintendant at Mearnskirk Hospital, 1946-1961; this collection includes papers of Dale's wife Elizabeth, a doctor who worked with charitable organisations connected with the hospital, and also includes photographs of staff and patients at Mearnskirk.
  • Duncan J.B. Fletcher (1922-1995), public health physician for Glasgow Corporation and was involved in the tuberculosis campaign.
  • Irvine J. Selikoff (1925-1992), doctor and medical researcher - instrumental in demonstrating the effectiveness of isoniazid as a treatment for tuberculosis.
  • George Steedman Riddell (fl 1939): Medical Officer of Health for Fife County Council; collection includes annual reports of the Glenlomond Sanatorium.
  • David Gregory (1661-1708): astronomer and mathematician; died shortly afte taking the 'cure' for consumption at Bath.
  • D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930): the British author died of tuberculosis in 1930.
  • William Ironside (fl. 1953): this collection is of letters to Ironside while he was in hospital with tuberculosis, from his friend the MP Frederick Pethick-Lawrence (1871-1961).
  • Norman Burns: admitted to Mearnskirk Hospital twice in the 1940s and 1950s.

Suggested reading

Links are provided to records on Copac for these items. The Copac library catalogue gives free access to the merged online catalogues of major University, Specialist, and National Libraries in the UK and Ireland, including the British Library. For more information about accessing items see the FAQs on the Copac website.

  • The White Plague in Ulster: a short history of tuberculosis in Northern Ireland H.G. Calwell, D.H. Craig (1984) Records on Copac
  • Tuberculosis - the illustrated history of a disease Jacques Chrétien; translated by Clare Pierard (1998) Records on Copac
  • The White Death: a history of tuberculosis Thomas Dormandy (1999) Records on Copac
  • Healing Tuberculosis in the Woods: medicine and science at the end of the nineteenth century David L. Ellison (1994) Records on Copac
  • The Life of Llewelyn Powys Malcolm Elwin (1953) Records on Copac
  • "Tuberculosis in Scotland, 1870-1960" Neil Munro McFarlane (Ph.D. thesis, University of Glasgow, 1990) Records on Copac
  • Timebomb: the Global Epidemic of Multi-drug Resistant Tuberculosis Lee B. Reichman with Janice Tanne (2000) Records on Copac
  • Tuberculosis: the Greatest Story Never Told Frank Ryan (1992) Records on Copac

Related links

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