Archive on show to mark 40th birthday of first test tube baby

A remarkable archive kept by the mother of the world's first test tube baby has been revealed to mark the 40th anniversary of her birth.

Lesley Brown, with husband John and their daughter, amassed boxes of letters, newspaper cuttings and other items marking the birth of Louise. Picture: PA

Lesley Brown’s collection of letters, photographs, films, newspapers, magazines and mementos from trips abroad can now be viewed in Bristol.

There are also appointment cards and correspondence from scientists and doctors, gifts given to mark the birth of daughter Louise, and media contracts in the archive.

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One letter from Dr Robert Edwards in December 1977 reads: “Just a short note to let you know that the early results on your blood and urine samples are very encouraging, and indicate that you might be in early pregnancy.

“So please take things quietly – no skiing, climbing, or anything too strenuous, including Xmas shopping!”

Mrs Brown and husband John, from the city, were the first people to successfully undergo in vitro fertilisation (IVF). Their daughter Louise, who turns 40 today, was born at Oldham General Hospital on 25 July, 1978.

The couple were sent hundreds of congratulations cards, as well as receiving heartbreaking letters from women who were themselves struggling to conceive.

Mrs Brown also kept correspondence from those criticising IVF, many on religious grounds, as well as newspaper and magazine articles relating to her family.

Following her death in 2012, her daughter discovered boxes of material, and a scrapbook of memories including a copy of her birth certificate, tucked in a wardrobe at the family home. Louise donated the collection to Bristol Archives, which received a grant from the Wellcome Trust to catalogue and conserve it, in 2016.

Parts of the Lesley Brown Collection will now go on display at the Science Museum in London, with items also on show at Bristol’s M Shed museum from December.

Louise Brown, now a mother-of-two who lives in Bristol, said: “My mum Lesley Brown kept everything concerned with my birth from the appointment cards when she was trying for a baby right through to all the correspondence from journalists and people all over the world following my birth.

“Now that IVF is an established worldwide technique, I thought it was important that people get a true view of how it all started from our family point of view.”

She said her mother would be “amazed” at how IVF had grown worldwide.