Tips on researching

Radcliffe Infirmary Dispensary c.1922This section is for those searching for material not obviously covered by our collections. For information about our holdings see What is in our Archives?

For contact details for the collections mentioned below, see Sources elsewhere.


Regional NHS administration

Held at Oxfordshire History Centre:

  • Oxford Regional Hospital Board 1947-31st March 1974 [reference H4]
  • Oxford Regional Health Authority 1st April 1974-31st March 1994 [reference H5]


Emergencies and epidemics

Consider the places affected by an emergency or the authorities needing to take action, and look for their records (contact details for repositories mentioned in this section can be found here):

  • Charity records may be in Oxfordshire History Centre or the Department of Special Collections and Western Manuscripts at the Bodleian Library.
  • Notices and pamphlets might be at Oxfordshire History Centre or the Bodleian Library.
  • Oxfordshire History Centre will have records of the reactions of parish and county authorities.
  • Oxfordshire Health Archives has one collection relating to one cholera epidemic (1831-1832) because one of the Radcliffe Infirmary doctors was involved.
  • Local newspapers (Oxfordshire History Centre).


War hospitals

For help in researching World War I see Looking for records of the First World War on The National Archives' website.

  • Some administrative records may survive among our hospital records if it was a wartime use of an existing institution.
  • The only case files we hold of service patients are from the Oxford Eye Hospital 1915-1918 and Cotshill Hospital in Chipping Norton 1940-1942. We also have admission registers of the Ashhurst Hospital at Littlemore in Oxford 1918-1922 and Horton Hospital in Banbury (including Farnborough Hall) 1939-1945.St Hugh's College, Oxford holds the case files of the head injuries hospital based there 1940-1945. Records from World War II are not usually open for general research as yet.
  • The Government organized emergency medical cover in both world wars and records will survive in The National Archives. Records of Wartime Services in the Second World War are under reference MH 76. The National Archives also holds records of British Army Nurses, including nursing service records for World War I.
  • Military hospitals were run by the military authorities and generally they retained any records. Service museums and archives may be useful in this regard.


Non NHS hospitals

  • Private hospitals have no legal obligations to keep archives, apart from the requirements of any general record keeping legislation.
  • Survival of records of hospitals which closed before 1948 or did not join the NHS is very poor.
  • Before the late 19th century hospitals and other medical services were often limited to specific groups of people. For example, the Radcliffe Infirmary was a charity just for the poor, and was also bound by rules excluding such cases as pregnancy, infectious diseases or inoperable cancers. Gaps were often filled by charities like dispensaries or lying in hospitals, the records of which seldom survive. The poor depended heavily on nursing at home, and evidence of this will only survive in oral or anecdotal sources.


Researching other topics

For contact details for the collections mentioned below, see Sources elsewhere

Try to find out who was responsible for the type of care or function in question at the time and in the place with which the research is concerned. For example:

  • Public Health was a County Council responsibility until 1974 (Oxfordshire History Centre), and then passed to the NHS.
  • Littlemore Hospital was run by the County Council until 1948 (administrative records split between Oxfordshire History Centre and Oxfordshire Health Archives), but patient records were always retained in the hospital (Oxfordshire Health Archives).
  • Bourton on the Water is in Gloucestershire, but was run by the NHS for part of its history. The hospital records are in Gloucestershire Archives, but some administrative records may be at Oxfordshire Health Archives.