Family History Mystery

Christine Rooke, who lives in Norfolk, was keen to learn more about her father, Leopold Abram. He was born on December 8th 1913 and grew up in Plumstead, South London. Chrisitne was born in 1947, and her father sadly died of cancer at the age of 46.  As 2013 was the centenary of his birth, this significant date spurred Christine to contact the archives, as she knew her father had been employed as a lab assistant at the School in the department of Bacteriology and Immunology from 1929-1934.

Christine holds two testimonials for her father: one written by Professor G.S Wilson, for whom he had worked as personal lab assistant, and the other from Professor W. Topley.  Christine had not realised the full significance of the referees (authors of ‘The Principles of Bacteriology and Immunity’ first published in 1929)

Leo Abram

Leo Abram (on left of picture) with unidentified colleague. They are on Keppel Street roof, with the animal houses in the background, before extensions to the building were made.(The ‘target’ shaped mark on Mr Abram’s apron is a mark on the print)


Wilson’s reference mentions that Mr Abram was …quick in learning a new technique and showed some ingenuity in devising fresh aparatus…his manners pleasant and his bench work was neat…  

Topley called him a hard and conscientious worker…honest, sober and truthful.

From the archives we have been able to discover more about the life of a lab assistant, including their salaries: ‘Boys’ earned 15 shillings a week (equivalent to about £40 today) rising to £156 per year as a Junior (equivalent to about £8,000 today). They also had to answer the departmental phone, due to a shortage of administrative cover!

Christine very much enjoyed her visit to the archives, and was able to learn more about her father’s life. In turn, we now have copies of Mr Abram’s photo and testimonials in the collection. As we already hold the archives of both Topley and Wilson, it is intriguing to gain an insight into the working lives of other departmental staff.

To visit the archives, just email



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