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Cyril Clarke

Sir Cyril Astley Clarke, 1907-2000.

Department of Special Collections and Archives, Sydney Jones Library, University of Liverpool.
Reference code: GB 0141 D.36

Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Sir Cyril Astley Clarke, by T.E. Powell and P. Harper.

Outline of career

Cyril Clarke was educated at Gonville and Caius College Cambridge and Guy's Hospital Medical School (M.D. 1937). During the Second World War he served in the Royal Navy as a medical specialist. At the end of the war Clarke worked as a registrar at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham before appointment as Consultant Physician at the United Liverpool Hospitals. In 1963 he was appointed Director of the Nuffield Unit of Medical Genetics at the University of Liverpool and two years later he was made Professor of Medicine. He held these posts until retirement in 1972. Following retirement Clarke served as President of the Royal College of Physicians 1972-1977, Director of the College's Medical Services Study Group 1977-1983 and Director of its Research Unit 1983-1988. In addition to the Royal College of Physicians, Clarke served many medical organisations in various capacities. He was President of the Liverpool Medical Institution 1970-1971, Chairman of the British Heart Foundation Council 1982-1987 and Chairman of the British Society for Research on Ageing from 1987. In 1991 he was elected President of the Royal Entomological Society of London for two years.

Clarke's most important research achievement was his discovery of a method of preventing rhesus babies. Rhesus haemolytic disease in new-born children resulted from incompatibilities between maternal and foetal blood. Giving rhesus-negative mothers an injection of antiserum following the birth of a rhesus-positive baby prevented the mother's immune system from producing antibodies against subsequent rhesus-positive babies. This development, which had a dramatic effect in reducing infant mortality from rhesus disease, had been facilitated by the knowledge of genetics Clarke had gained through his work with butterflies. Philip Sheppard, who came to Liverpool as lecturer in genetics in 1956, encouraged Clarke to use this knowledge of genetics in the medical field of blood groups. Clarke noted the similarity between inheritance of rhesus blood groups and butterfly mimetic patterns and this led to the breakthrough in treatment of rhesus babies. Clarke continued active research at Liverpool into haemolytic disease in infants and developed an interest in other genetically related medical issues including longevity, asthma and cancer of the oesophagus.

Description of the archive

Dates of creation of material: 1926-1999. Extent: 16 boxes, ca 470 items

Biographical material includes autobiographical and biographical accounts, and significant material relating to the honours and awards Clarke received. There are diaries including one from student days in 1926, but mostly dating from the late 1940s to the mid 1950s and from 1983 to 1996. Documentation of Clarke's career at Liverpool is slight but includes his account of the Department of Medicine 1958-1972 and his annual research reports to the University 1991-1998./p>

Medical research records are not extensive. They include documentation of Clarke's post-war research on nutritional deficiencies in British Prisoners of War but the bulk of the material dates from the 1980s and 1990s and relates to Clarke's post-retirement studies of longevity and pregnancy in diabetes. There is a fuller record of his Lepidoptera research documenting some of Clarke's work on butterflies and moths 1950-1998. Topics included are work on Papilio dardanus and moth pheromones. Publications and lectures material covers both medical and lepidoptera work. The bulk of the publications material relates to work done in the 1990s but far from fully documents Clarke's prolific output even in that decade. The publications include autobiographical reminiscences, a few papers on lepidoptera and medical subjects and obituaries and memoirs of a number of colleagues. There is documentation of a number of public and invitation lectures delivered 1977-1998, some on the occasion of an award. There is some record of Clarke's association with seventeen national and regional societies, the best documented being the Association of Physicians of Great Britain and Ireland, the Royal College of Physicians (chiefly Clarke's Directorship of the Medical Services Study Group and then its Research Unit) and an informal visiting group known as the Medical Pilgrims. The bulk of the material is from the 1980s and 1990s.

There is correspondence with named individuals, including H.B.D. Kettlewell and U. Mittwoch. Of particular note are the sequences of correspondence with J.B.S. Haldane and J.S. Huxley in which the principal correspondent is not Clarke (although he features in the correspondence with Haldane) but his Liverpool colleague and friend P.M. Sheppard. There is also correspondence on specific subjects, chiefly lepidoptera.

Non-textual material includes an extensive collection of glass and negative photographic film slides, chiefly of lepidoptera, a small number of photographs, and cine and video documentaries on the rhesus work of Clarke and P.M. Sheppard.

The University of Liverpool Special Collections and Archives holds certificates relating to some of Clarke's honours and awards (Reference: D.36/3/1-31), and photographs of Clarke taken on the opening in 1983 of an exhibition of butterflies etc. relating to his research (Reference: D.301/6-10).

The University of Liverpool Art Collections holds medals, a salver and a trophy deposited by Sir Cyril Clarke.

The Department of Entomology, British Museum (Natural History), London holds the Clarke/Sheppard/Gill Genetic Collection of Butterflies, comprising specimens of butterflies collected, together with brood books, photographs and related offprints.

The Department of Zoology and Entomology, Liverpool Museum, National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, holds correspondence and off-prints relating to the Panaxia dominula colony on the Wirral Way, West Kirby.

The Bodleian Library, Oxford holds Clarke's correspondence with E.B. Ford 1955-1987. Reference: E.B. Ford papers. Finding aid: NCUACS 14/7/89 F.13-F.37.

The Library of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, holds the correspondence and papers of P.M. Sheppard, Clarke's long-time friend and research colleague.