cane hill | grand tour

We found another ECT unit. A much smaller piece of kit, this was the handy, portable, battery driven "Transindolor B225", with attachments for two sets of electrodes.

Click on the image for the full sized picture and check out the logo. These days, the image of a person being electrocuted by the potential difference between the S and C, would simply not be allowed. Even if the apparatus in question was for... erm... effectively electrocuting people.

However, all is not what it seems. "...However I have come to notice that you are mistaken in thinking that the two electric machines (Progressive Treatment Unit and Transidolar B225) were not as uou assumed ECT machines. They are infact muscle stimulators intended to build up strength in wasted muscles of invalid or non ambulatory patients (not unlike the Slendertone or Ab Exercise Machines available today). Obviously much larger in size due to them not having the benefit of the minuture components and intergrated circuits we take for granted these days."

David Marshall

"I have been looking into ECT machines and I can assure you that the machines you mention on your site are ECT machines and not muscle stimulant machines."


However, a Transindolor is described as a muscle stimulate machine here.

R Roose

In the mid 1940s, Stanley Cox, of Stanley Cox Ltd. (a medical engineering firm in London), submitted a patent application for "Improvements in or relating to electrical nerve stimulating apparatus and the like". He was granted this patent, as number GB605994, in 1948 [1]. The patent described improvements which could be made upon the 'Bristow Coil', a device for pain-free electrical nerve stimulation described by Walter Rowley Bristow in his 1917 book "The Treatment of Joint and Muscle Injuries" (via [2]).

Cox's company had already been operating for a number of years - they had been granted a patent related to X-ray equipment in 1941 and another related to photographic development in 1942 [3,4]. By 1947 they were listed exhibitors at the presitigious British Industries Fair in Birmingham, and their equipment included a range of diagnostic apparatus, electrical nerve stimulators and heat lamps [5].

Meanwhile in 1952, the British Association of Physical Medicine began publishing their journal, "Annals of Physical Medicine", a publication know known as Rheumatology [6]. By the time the editions of its second volume were printed in 1954, Stanley Cox's company had not only expanded to include branches in Bath, Manchester and Edinburgh, but they were also ready to start advertising their 'Universette' medical treatment unit.

The Universette was a portable electrical signal generator which could produce both Faradic (intermittent) and Galvanic (steady) currents for use in medical diagnostics and treatment [7] (see also attached image below). The reason that the device was designed for both types of electrical output was that both were required for a diagnostic technique outlined in W. Erb's 1883 book "Handbook of Electro-therapeutics" (via [8]). At the time, this 'faradic-galvanic' nerve test was widely used as an accepted method of diagnosing nerve and muscle damage. By passing an electrical current through an area of damaged tissue, and observing how strongly it had to be stimulated to see a response, medical practitioners would assess the extent to which problems were caused by underlying nerve damage. The faradic-galvanic method would later fall out of favour following a series of papers calling for a more refined technique (culminating in a BMJ report, [8]), but at the time this was a widely accepted practice.

Also common (and still in use today) was the use of faradic stimulation for treatment. As well as the kind of TENS machines that are available over the counter today, it has seen application in various muscle-related medical procedures, including - amongst other things - treatment for loss of sphincter control (!). From 1954 onwards, the Stanley Cox company frequently advertised their stimulator products in the Annals of Physical Medicine journal, upgrading the Universette to the Universette Mk II in 1955, and with the Orthotron Mk II (another low-current stimulator) appearing in 1959. Over the next few years the company continued to expand and began advertising its electrical devices as a product of its "Physiotherapy Department" and "Physiotherapy Division".

At this point we may pause to note that none of this relates in any way to passing currents through the brain, and in line with Cox's patent application, the device was being advertised to those interested in physical medicine and not psychiatry.

In the November of 1961, an advert appeared for the new flagship unit, which was designed to run entirely from batteries so that it could be easily operated on the ward without requiring a special treatment area. This battery powered device could produce the voltages necessary for muscle stimulation, but with such a low current that the device could run for 15 hours continuously, with both outputs switched on, on a single set of batteries [9] (see also attached image below). This device was known as the Transindolor - a name we might reasonably assume is derived from a portmanteau of 'transcutaneous' (through the skin, as in TENS) and 'indolor', the name Stanley Cox gave to their faradic stimulation technique, meaning "without pain".

All of which leads us to our conclusion: this Transindolor is the device we see in the Cane Hill pictures.

Perhaps not as shock-chic as an ECT machine, and maybe even disappointingly tame, this unit is in fact nothing more than a neuromuscular stimulator that ran off a set of batteries.


The successful Stanley Cox company, who by late 1964 were advertising themselves as "Britain's largest suppliers of Physiotherapy Equipment" [10] were bought by the Rank Organisation. By 1965 their adverts were showing a wide range of stimulators: the Transindolor, the Surging Indolor Mk II, the Selective Treatment Unit Mk II and the Super Universette all under the banner of the Rank Medical Equipment company [11]. Later advertising as Rank Precision Industries incorporating Stanley Cox, the company continued to promote an updated version of their Orthotron diagnostic stimulator in the Annals of Physical Medicine up until 1969. Throughout the lifecycle of these various products, they were always advertised to physiotherapists, even before ECT got its (well deserved) bad name and while other companies were proudly advertising their shock therapy units.

Mind you, all of this only goes to show that the Transindolor wasn't so scary by itself. I'm not suggesting that ECT wasn't part of Cane Hill's creepy history - that's a whole different matter...


[1] GB Patent 605994, "Improvements in or relating to electrical nerve stimulating apparatus and the like",
[2] Freiberg A. H., The Bristow Coil and the treatment by graduated muscle contraction, Journal of Bone and Join Surgery, 1919, 1:148-151, retrieved from
[3] GB Patent 538981, "Improvements in or relating to x-ray apparatus",
[4] GB Patent 545675, "Improvements in or relating to means for use in developing, fixing and washing flexible photographic films and like strips",
[5] Grace's Guide (British Engineering), Stanley Cox,
[6] Rheumatology,
[7] Advert from Annals of Physical Medicine 2(2), 1954 Apr. (back matter),
[8] Subcommittee of the Medical Research Council's Nerve Injuries Committee, Electrodiagnostic stimulators, British Medical Journal, 1958;2:714-718
[9] Advert from Annals of Physical Medicine 6(4), 1961 Nov. (back matter),
[10] Advert from Annals of Physical Medicine 7(7), 1964 Aug. (back matter),
[11] Advert from Annals of Physical Medicine 8(1), 1965 Jan. (back matter),

All web references available as of 2009/03/23 - many may require journal subscription or need to be accessed from a library or academic site, so I've included images of the Universette and Transindolor adverts for completeness.