Dr Bach and Cambridge

When the Bach Practitioner Conference visited Cambridge in 2019, with the theme ‘Making Connections’, I thought it would be an ideal time to investigate the connection Dr Bach had to Cambridge.  All I knew was that he had ‘a Diploma in Public Health from Cambridge’ but no idea what this was or what it involved.  I started by contacting the current Institute of Public Health at Cambridge University and they were able to provide some background about public health and how a post-graduate course came about.

Dr Edward Bach

The young Dr Bach

Before the National Health Service in the UK, doctors’ income came from payments from individual patients but in the mid-nineteenth century, discussion of the need for medically trained people to look at the ‘bigger picture’ began.  Leading this was Henry Wyldbore Rumsay, a physician and writer.   He envisaged a new type of medical professional – a state doctor.

The range of things they might be called on to do included the investigation of epidemics, providing medical care for the poor, looking after the welfare of factory workers, registering vital events and carrying out sanitary investigations.  Providing forensic evidence to court and monitoring the quality of food, drinks and medicines and inspecting hospitals and asylums could also form part of their role.  They would need a wide range of expertise and also be paid by the state, so a programme of education, ending with a certificate of competency, would be required.  State medicine, as the field became known, began to be offered as a subject to Cambridge medical graduates in the 1860s and from 1875 the examinations in public health became available to graduates of other universities.

The masters-level course offered had changed little by the time Dr Bach was studying.  Cambridge University Library were able to provide the course details from the 1914 University ordinances.  Topics covered included:

Physics and chemistry (including analysis of air and water, pneumatics, hydraulics and hydrostatics with reference to drainage, ventilation, water supply and construction etc.)

Laws related to public health

Sanitary statistics

Epidemics and infectious diseases

Effects of over-crowding, vitiated air [air which is not fresh and has reduced oxygen content], impure water, bad or insufficient food and unhealthy occupations and associated diseases.

Water supply and disposal of sewage and refuse

Nuisances injurious to health

Distribution of diseases in UK and the effects of soil, season and climate

The examination consisted of two papers and candidates passing both were awarded a Diploma in Public Health, qualifying them for the post of Medical Officer of Health.

Dr Bach was awarded his Diploma in October 1914.   Unfortunately, the University don’t have any more details specifically relating to Dr Bach.  Stefan Ball at the Bach Centre suggested Dr Bach did the course by correspondence while working.  I think I read something written by Nora Weeks saying Dr Bach suffered a bout of ill-health during 1913.  Perhaps it was down to all the extra work he was doing for his Diploma!

Old Addenbrookes Cambridge

Judge Business School, Cambridge

Up until the 1950s, the Cambridge Medical School was housed in Old Addenbrookes Hospital on Trumpington Street.  When the Hospital relocated to a bigger site, some of the old site was converted and now houses the Judge Business School.

While it would have been great to have been able to find out more, I think the details of the subject matter covered by the course indicate an interest in medicine for all – which fits very nicely with Dr Bach’s gift of the knowledge of the remedies for use by everyone over 20 years later.


R.M. Acheson (1986); Three regius professors, sanitary science, and state medicine: the birth of an academic discipline; B.M.J., 293, 1602–6

Ordinances of the University of Cambridge, 1914 , 471–4

Thanks to:

Jacqueline Cox, Keeper of the University Archives, Cambridge University Library; Professor Carol Brayne, Director, Cambridge Institute of Public Health and Stefan Ball at the Bach Centre.

A version of this blog was published in the Winter 2019 edition of the Bach Practitioner Bulletin (no. 102).