New accession: Professor Dilling’s archive

Our University Archives were recently enhanced by the welcome addition of a collection of papers previously belonging to Professor Walter Dilling (1886-1950), pharmacology professor at the University of Liverpool.

Dilling was born in Aberdeen and went on to attend the city’s university, graduating in 1907. As Carnegie research scholar he studied and worked in Germany at the University of Rostock, before returning to Scotland to take up a lectureship at the University of Aberdeen; here he delivered a course on experimental pharmacology for medical students, the first of its kind in Britain. He moved to the University of Glasgow in 1914 and in 1920 became a lecturer in pharmacology at Liverpool, rising to Associate Professor before his appointment to the newly created Chair of Pharmacology in 1930.

Professor Dilling, 1936

Dilling’s archive reflects his varied professional and personal interests. There are research papers and lecture notes on everything from the origin and development of girdles, to modern drugs in dental surgery, to the treatment of various diseases throughout history.

A keen music lover, Dilling served as Chairman of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society and was an ardent admirer of opera, particularly Wagner. The text of many of the lectures he delivered to the Young People’s Opera Circle (of which he was chairman) can be found in the archive.

Score for Wagner’s ‘Die Feen’ (‘The Fairies’)

The collection also contains a large amount of correspondence, mostly comprising letters between Dilling, his parents, his beloved wife Vida, and their two children, Nancy and Eva. There is also a small section of items belonging to Vida, including a diary covering her time in the Auxiliary Territorial Service during the Second World War.

Both Walter and Vida undertook vital work during the wars. During the First World War Vida served for a time as registrar at the Scottish National Red Cross Hospital in Bellahouston, Glasgow, while Walter utilised his medical knowledge in the Royal Army Medical Corps. During the Second World War he commanded the medical company of the University Senior Training Corps, working alongside student stretcher bearers to receive casualties at the railway terminus.

Dilling initially volunteered in the Royal Army Medical Corps between 1903-1905 and returned during the First World War, becoming an officer in 1916

We also hold around 70 books formerly belonging to Dilling, most of which were transferred to SC&A from the old Pharmacology Library in 2010. A previous blog post highlighted these items, which can be located on the library catalogue.

Cataloguing of the archive is currently underway; it will be accessible later this year.

Farewell to February

As February finishes, we can hope to say Goodbye to the worst of the winter weather, and winter illnesses. But if February viruses linger, our new collection of former Pharmacology Library books might provide some remedies. The collection is being catalogued at present and is the first to make use of new search features for provenance in the Library catalogue, allowing users to follow the story of individual books as they passed from owner to owner.

Two notable figures have appeared in the story of the Pharmacological Library to date, both eminent figures in their field: Sir Thomas Lauder Brunton, 1st Baronet, FRS (1844-1916) and Walter James Dilling (1886-1950).

The evidence for Brunton’s ownership takes the form of an ink name stamp:

Y88.3.324 Lauder Brunton's name stampBrunton was knighted in 1900 for his work in pharmacology, following more than three decades as a physician and teacher in Edinburgh and London. A pioneer in the field of experimental pharmacology, he became the acknowledged leader of the emerging pharmacological profession, particularly associated with the use of amyl nitrate to treat angina pectoris.  A Fellow of the Royal Society, it was said of him that,

his aim was to leave therapeutics, if possible, as a science instead of merely an art, as he found it.

(Source: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).


A few books with Brunton’s name stamp also have the name stamp and initials (WJD) of Walter James Dilling:

Y87.3.263 Walter J. Dilling Name StampDilling, a fellow Scot,  worked and taught at Aberdeen, Glasgow and London and, like Brunton, also spent time studying in Germany. In 1920, four years after Brunton’s death, Dilling became a lecturer in Pharmacology at the University of Liverpool, where he remained until retirement, having been appointed to the newly created Chair of Pharmacology in 1930, and nominated to the General Medical Council in 1938, becoming Chairman of its Pharmocopoeia Committee.

Unlike Brunton’s books, which were all published in his lifetime, Dilling clearly had an interest in the history of his subject, which he may have wished to foster by donating his books to the Pharmacology Library, including John Lindley’s Flora Medica (1838).

As the cataloguing progresses, more stories may emerge, for example the connection between the Pharmacology Library at Liverpool and books from the Sheffield Royal Infirmary and the Sheffield Medico-Chirugical [i.e. Surgical] Society Library:

Y88.3.326 Sheffield Medico-Chirurgical Society Library Bookplate