Sound and vision blog

16 October 2023

Recording of the week: South Asian history and medical practices in Britain

Black and white illustration of Mahomed's Baths from 1826. The building is on the waterfront, with writing on the side advertising 'Original medicated shampooing' and 'hot cold douch & shower'. There are people and carriages in the street, and ships on the water in the distance.
Mahomed's Baths from 1826. Alamy.


The NHS as we know it today has been built – and continues to be sustained – by migrant contributions. South Asians have played a major role in this. But did you know that we can place South Asians in the medical profession in Britain long before the NHS was formed? In fact, in this oral history clip from the Millennium Memory Bank (BBC) you can hear Bari Chohan describe how his family arrived in England in the 1870s, having practiced homeopathy and ophthalmology on the subcontinent. They then opened a series of medical clinics in various cities throughout the UK, including in Brighton, Harrogate, Sheffield, Bradford and Manchester. It was Bari’s great uncle Dr Chirag Din who practiced in Harrogate in the early 1920s. He later married his colleague and practice nurse, Florence, moving to her hometown of Middlesbrough, where he settled.

Listen to Bari Chohan interviewed by Neil Gander © BBC

Download Bari Chohan extract transcript

South Asians have not only been in Britain for a long period of time – longer than common perception – but they have been circulating within professional and community networks, actively shaping the island nation we know today. Remaking Britain: South Asian Connections and Networks, 1830s to the present is a new research project that sheds light on this British history.

The project will reveal stories like Bari’s in a new digital resource, exploring the significance of South Asian people and communities as agents of change to Britain's cultural, economic, political and social life from the period of empire in the 1830s to the present. The project team will conduct their own oral history interviews, in collaboration with The British Library, as well as showcase testimonies collected during other projects. This will be in conjunction with archival research. Remaking Britain is an AHRC-funded research project led by the University of Bristol and Queen Mary University of London in partnership with the British Library.

We’d love to hear from anyone who has oral history collections on South Asians in Britain, expressions of interest in oral history participation, or any information relating to the rich history of South Asians in Britain from the 1830s to the present. You can find more information on our website or contact us on email: [email protected] 

Bari's interview (reference C900/01572) was recorded in 1999 by Neil Gander for BBC Radio as part of the ground-breaking BBC and British Library Millennium Memory Bank project which explored British life at the end of the 20th century. The Millennium Memory Bank holds over 5,000 oral histories recorded by local and national BBC radio stations, from which each participating station broadcast a series of programmes on 16 common themes. All of the full unedited recordings and the subsequent programmes are archived and made available at the British Library. The collection is copyright of the BBC.

This week's recording of the week was written by Dr. Maya Parmar, Research Fellow for Remaking Britain, Queen Mary University of London. 

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