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The History of Birmingham Medical School


K.D. Wilkinson (M 1909) written about 1948

Father of Jim Wilkinson (M 1966)

Note on the author

D. Wilkinson graduated MB ChB (Bham) in 1909. He was awarded his MD in 1913, on Heart Block, working with an Ink Polygraph (prior to the availability of the ECG). He was appointed assistant physician at Birmingham Children’s Hospital in 1913 and at Birmingham General Hospital in 1914, in which year he obtained his MRCP. He spent the first world war as a Territorial Army Medical Officer on the battlefields of the Somme, reaching the rank of Major and being awarded an OBE (Military). He was a founder member of the Cardiac Club (later the British Cardiac Society) in 1922 and of the British Paediatric Association (forerunner of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health) in 1928. He was elected FRCP in 1929 – the first Birmingham graduate, with a Bham MB, to be so elected. In the same year he was appointed to the chair of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, being the first Birmingham graduate to hold a chair in the faculty. He edited a History of the Birmingham Medical School published in 1925, from which much of the article to be is derived.


It must be remembered that before the formation of the College of Surgeons and the Apothecaries Act of 1815 the great majority of those who practised medicine or surgery had no diploma of any kind. There were apothecaries who kept a shop, sold various medicaments, made up prescriptions for physicians and did some practice by visiting and even prescribing for sick persons. There were surgeons, of whom a few had enjoyed a year or perhaps even two years education at Edinburgh or London or even abroad; but most practicing surgeons had merely served as pupils to surgeons whose only qualification was a not disinterested belief in their own powers.


The physicians were entirely different for their educational attainments and social position were quite distinct from that of their less fortunate professional brethren. A physician always had a University degree, often several, had usually been abroad to study and was a man of general education and culture. He spoke and wrote Latin and English and usually French or German as well. Those various types of medical practitioners were not usually on very good terms with one another. For a time the College of Physicians had managed to prevent the apothecaries and surgeons prescribing for patients, and a surgeon was not supposed to operate without the express approval of a physician.


Before the opening of the General Hospital near Birmingham in 1779 the Town or workhouse infirmary was the only institution where the poor could obtain any medical aid for illness or accident, and was quite inadequate for the needs of a town with a population of nearly 40,000.


The earliest organised medical education in Birmingham was a course of anatomical lectures given by Mr John Tomlinson, surgeon to the Town Infirmary in 1767. He wrote “I was actuated by a desire for instructing the young gentlemen of the faculty educated here”. When he published his lectures the preface contained this: “Justly considering the lectures given here only as a preparatory school in which pupils might qualify themselves for a better, by having terms of art explained, and proper authors recommended, together with a familiar view and description of different parts of the body, I endeavoured to be as concise as possible. The whole scheme was included in twenty-eight lectures delivered weekly, the particulars of which when enlarged and corrected by the experience of another course, if time will permit, may perhaps be published upon some future occasion. In all large towns wherein a number of young surgeons are educated, a design of this nature will be found useful, and therefore this is mentioned as an example only of what may be done with more advantage and ability by others, especially in the theatres of hospitals.”


Tomlinson was clearly inspired by William Hunter for he refers to him as “rendered famous by those lectures from which thousands have been instructed”. It should also be recalled that Tomlinson was writing and lecturing in a period of great intellectual activity in the town, and was influenced and stimulated by the proposals for the foundation of a local General Hospital.


The growing wealth and population of Birmingham during the 18th century attracted a larger number of physicians, surgeons and apothecaries to practice in the town, and there were young men studying the various branches of the profession. There were pupils attached to the surgeons in practice or at the town infirmary, apprentices bound to the apothecaries, and some improvers who had finished their apprenticeships but were not yet approved for independent practice.


Mr Tomlinson certainly continued to teach for many years, since Richard Pearson who was born in 1765 was a pupil who was awarded a gold medal for a paper written during his studentship, and it is only just that Tomlinson should be remembered as one of the first provincial surgeons to attempt regular teaching of students, although systematic medical education outside London was not recognised as desirable nor established for over forty years. Occasional instructive anatomical discourses were given even before this date, but such lectures were spasmodic and were not especially designed for students. Aris’ Birmingham Gazette advertised lectures in Lichfield as follows, “October 23rd 1762. The body of the malefactor who is ordered to be executed at Lichfield on Monday 25th instant will be afterwards conveyed to the house of Dr Darwin who will begin a course of anatomical lectures at four o’clock on Tuesday evening, and will continue them every day as long as the body can be preserved, and shall be glad to be favoured with the company of any who profess medicine or surgery, or whom the love of science may induce”. This Dr Darwin was Erasmus Darwin M.D. Edinburgh (1731-1802) the grandfather of Charles Darwin.


The rapid industrialisation of the country, the growth of the urban population, the dangerous nature of many of the trades, and perhaps a slowly awakening sense of humanity led to the foundation of many medical charities during the eighteenth century. In London the Westminster Hospital began in 1719, Guy’s in 1725, St. George’s in 1733, the London in 1740 and the Middlesex in 1745.


In Edinburgh the Royal Infirmary opened in 1736, and in Stafford the General Infirmary was started in 1766. The first step taken in Birmingham was an advertisement inserted by Dr John Ash in Aris’ Birmingham Gazette on November 4th 1765.

“A General Hospital for the relief of the sick and lame, situated near the town of Birmingham, is presumed would be greatly beneficial to the populous country about it as well as to that place. A Meeting, therefore, of the nobility and gentry of the neighbouring country and of the principal inhabitants of this town is requested on Thursday, the 21st Instant, at the Swan Inn, at eleven in the forenoon, to consider the propersteps to render effectual so useful an undertaking”.


The meeting was held, over one thousand pounds was subscribed, and nearly three hundred pounds was promised as annual subscriptions. Among the subscribers were Dr Ash and Dr Small who each gave twenty guineas. Among the rules proposed by Dr Ash were these, “That each surgeon be allowed to have three pupils to attend the hospital for instruction, but no pupil or apprentice be permitted to perform any operation”. “That the surgeons’ pupils be allowed to dress the patients under the direction of the surgeon, and that the patients be dressed every morning before twelve o’clock”.


It was planned to erect a hospital of 116 beds. Rather more than seven acres in Summer Lane was selected as the site of the hospital, and it was planned to erect a hospital of 116 beds at a cost of £3,000. There were to be four wards of twenty beds each, one of twelve beds, two of seven beds, one of six beds and four single bedded rooms, In addition there were a wash house, brew house, bake house, laboratory; a hot bath, a cold bath, a sweating room, a laundry, an operation room, a physician’s and surgeon’s room, the secretary’s office and bedroom, the matron’s room, an apothecary’s room and bedroom, and a dead room, but there is no mention of any accommodation for nurses.


Snow Hill was then built upon and the last house was the Salutation Inn which stood at the corner of Summer Lane, The building of the new hospital went on until November 1766. Then funds being nearly exhausted with a half built hospital and a site that was still unpaid for, the interest of the town had disappeared and some twelve years passed before any serious attempt was made to complete the hospital. It was September 1779 the hospital was opened for patients.

Four physicians were appointed:

Dr Ash, Dr Withering, Dr Smith, Dr Edward Johnstone

Three consulting surgeons

Mr Hector, Mr Mynors, Mr Francis Parrott

Four surgeons

Mr Robert Ward, Mr George Kennedy Mr John Freer Junr.,

Mr Jeremiah Vaux.


Four nurses were appointed at four guineas per annum with the promise of an additional guinea “if they behaved well”. A barber was to shave the patients twice weekly for 1O/6d a quarter. The physicians to the hospital were allowed twelve apprentices, and the surgeons a like number. Among those who were apprenticed to the staff of the General Hospital were some men who became world famous, and some who joined the staff of the hospital later in life:


John Darwell and Joseph Hodgson, E. Townsend Cox and his son William Sands Cox, and William Bowman who became Professor of Physiology, at Kings College Hospital and world famous as an oculist.

The hospital was particularly happy in its first appointments. Mr Hector was an old schoolfellow of Dr Samuel Johnson, Mr Mynors was an authority on amputation and the originator of the many-tail bandage. Dr John Ash, virtually the founder of the hospital, was a great practitioner and one of the town’s outstanding citizens, he was a Commissioner of the Lamp Act. In 1787 he moved to London and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. He became Censor in 1789 and Harveian Orator in 1790.


Dr Withering came to Birmingham in 1775 with a reputation as a botanist. He introduced Digitalis into practice as a diuretic, achieved distinction as an analytical chemist and was an outstanding physician. He was a regular member of the famous Lunar Society, and after some years of ill health he died of pulmonary disease in 1799.

Edward Johnstone, the youngest of the first four physicians was destined to outlive by more than a generation all his colleagues at the hospital. He became the first President of the Royal School of Medicine and Surgery and in this capacity presided at the laying of the foundation stone of the Queen’s Hospital in 1840. He became a consulting physician to this institution and so in his person united the three essential constituents of the Birmingham Medical School, the Queen’s College, and General Hospital and the Queen’s Hospital. He died in 1851 at the age of 94, having joined the hospital staff seventy-two years earlier.

It was William Sands Cox, who was born in May 1801, who actually started the School of Medicine in Birmingham. He was educated locally and when nineteen he was articled to his father and began to study at the General Hospital under the staff. Later he studied at Guy’s and St. Thomas hospitals under Astley Cooper, Travers, Lawrence, J.H. Green, Grainger and Armstrong. He obtained the diploma MRCS in 1824, worked with his old school friend Edward Grainger, who founded the Webb Street School of Anatomy. Then he went to Paris and met Jones Quain who was preparing himself to teach anatomy. These associations suggested to him the foundation of a School of Medicine in Birmingham, so he returned in 1825 and became an honorary surgeon to the General Dispensary The General Dispensary began in 1792 for the treatment of the sick poor in their own homes. It had a rather small central department in Temple Row but being most generously supported by Matthew Boulton rapidly increased in usefulness and popularity.

On November 7th 1825 Aris’s Birmingham Gazette contained the following advertisement: “A course of Anatomical Lectures with Physiological and Surgical Observations, will be commenced on Wednesday, 1st of December, 1825, at 12.o’clock. The course will be continued during the ensuing winter on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays at 24, Temple Row. The plan is made with the approbation of Dr Johnstone, Dr Pearson, the physicians and surgeons of the General Hospital, the Dispensary and the Town Infirmary, and other distinguished practitioners”.


The credit of founding the Birmingham Medical School is due to this young man of twenty-four, who began a systematic course of instruction for students on December 1st 1825 at No. 24, Temple Row. Although it was but a narrow street giving access from Bull Street to St. Philip’s Church, this was the fashionable medical quarter where all the best known physicians lived or had their consulting rooms. The next step was taken on the 15th day of April, 1828, at a meeting of the senior members of the profession. Dr Booth was in the chair, and documents were submitted to the meeting of Mr Sands Cox. It was resolved unanimously: “That it appears expedient to endeavour to form a School of Medicine and Surgery in Birmingham on the plan of similar institutions for some time past established at Manchester, Leeds and other large towns”. “That to carry into effect the preceding suggestion it is expedient that a number of gentlemen of standing and eminence in their profession be applied to in order of seniority for their co-operation”.


 “That students attending courses of lectures on the plan proposed to be established be prepared to present themselves at once for examination before the Court of Examiners of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons of London and of Edinburgh, and the Apothecaries’ Hall, London; and hence students engaged in the duties of general practice in this town and neighbourhood will have an opportunity – with the permission of the surgeons with whom they are articled – of saving a session in London during their studentship, and preparing themselves for the practice of their profession at a diminished expense, but, it is presumed, with no diminution of the information and acquirements essential to its honourable and beneficial exercise.” “The distractions and allurements of the metropolis will not be thus prematurely presented to the young student. His mind will be better prepared for the enlarged sphere of observation to which he will be subsequently introduced, and his ultimate improvement in his profession effectually promoted and secured.

Mr Sands Cox applied to the physicians and surgeons of the General Hospital for lectures on the practice of Physic and Surgery. Already the senior members of the profession looked upon Mr Sands Cox with a certain coolness and suspicion, and practically all of them declined to undertake the rather onerous job of delivering set courses of lectures at stated hours. So Mr Sands Cox was forced to apply to the physicians and surgeons of the Dispensary and the workhouse Infirmary, and even here only managed to obtain a few lecturers, for neither Mr Sands Cox nor his father was really popular, and there was a very general doubt about the wisdom of founding a School of Medicine in the town.



There were various grounds for dissention, and the personalities of the Coxes, father and son, seemed to favour disunion rather than to assist a combination of various interests. Rather before the Medical School began a Medical society had been formed to enable medical men to meet for consultation and to provide a medical reference library. The Society was not a success so it was decided to terminate its existence by calling in and ballot for all the books that had been lent to members: Mr Townsend Cox refused to surrender the books in his possession, and to Dr De Lys was deputed the thankless job of seeing Mr Cox and getting the books in question, but Mr Cox was so insufferably rude that Dr De Lys informed him that there could be but one honourable termination to such a situation, namely a duel.



A meeting was arranged, on the morning of the appointed day Dr De Lys kissed his wife and children goodbye without telling them about the affair. He provided himself with his case of duelling pistols and left his house in New Street in his carriage with his second, Dr Russell (the grandfather of the late Professor J.W. Russell). Mr Townsend Cox had not found his preparations so easy, for when he applied to Dr Male to act as his second, not only did Dr Male refuse but at once informed the authorities. Mr Cox had no pistols and so had to borrow a pair from a gunsmith.


When the combatants reached the ground they found Redfern the Runner waiting with authority to stop the meeting, and so the parties concerned were obliged to take themselves off to their ordinary business – safe but inglorious. Mr Cox returned the pistols to the gunsmith, who, after a disdainful glance at the unsullied barrels, exhibited them in his shop window labelled “Birmingham duelling pistols, out twelve times but still unfired”. It was this Dr De Lys who was instrumental in starting the institution for the instruction of deaf and dumb children.


In March 1825 the London Medical Gazette attacked the Birmingham Medical School as having been started prematurely by a young gentleman who had been unsuccessful as a private teacher, and Mr Sands Cox responded in terms even less polite than the original letter. In this year additional lecture-courses were added and the medical School opened with the following list of lecturers:


William Sands Cox General and Surgical Anatomy

John Woolrich Chemistry

Richard Pearson M.D. Materia Medica

John Eccles M.D. Medical Botany

Alfred Jukes Surgery

John Ingleby M.D. Midwifery

John Kaye Booth M.D. Principles & Practice of Physic


In 1829 Alfred Jukes, the only representative in this list of the surgical staff of the General Hospital, resigned and Sands Cox took over the teaching of Surgery while retaining the position of lecturer in Anatomy. In the same year John Birt Davies M.D. began to lecture in Forensic Medicine and John Eccles M.D. took over the Practice of Physic lectures leaving Botany to G.B. Knowles.


Failure to gain the co-operation of the surgeons at the General Hospital soon brought the School into difficulties over clinical teaching, although in the earliest days limited facilities were available and the physicians threw open their practice to the students. Doubtless the position usurped by Sands Cox as a teacher caused much chagrin to those who were regarded, because of their appointments, as the leading surgeons of the town. Sands Cox himself failed to obtain election to the staff of the hospital although he soon obtained an appointment at the Dispensary.



The hospital surgeons indeed went so far as to support the College of Surgeons in its efforts to prevent the expansion of provincial medical teaching by enforcing six months attendance on the recognised London hospitals. Richard Woods Bowyer Vaux, Joseph Hodgson end Alfred Jukes in 1834 opposed a petition circulated by a group of Bristol surgeons against the College.

‘They consider Provincial Medical Schools of great value to the students of the medical profession, as elementary ones, and as laying the ground work of sound anatomical knowledge in the early career of the student, and they think the Course of Examiners of the Royal College of Surgeons in London have with sufficient liberality met the views of such preparatory schools in remitting attendance at the Metropolitan hospitals to the above named period.’


They added: “We consider the privileges already granted to the Provincial Schools, as far as the Apothecaries Company is concerned, very injurious and likely to be still more so to the Profession in general, owing to the number of students who merely pass their examinations at Apothecaries’ Hall, which they can do without residence in London, or attending any Surgical Practice in the Provincial Hospitals, and who immediately begin as General Practitioners in Medicine and Surgery, in violation of the interests of the Members of the Royal College of Surgeons.”



In reply to this attack upon the Provincial Schools the physicians to the General Hospital drew up a statement in support of the Bristol petition.


The physicians of the Birmingham General Hospital believing that opportunities afforded for medical and surgical education by that institution are equal to those of the London Hospitals, submit the following reasons in support of their opinion:


1. The Birmingham Hospital, containing 180 beds, is as large as most of the London Hospitals.

2. The manufacturers of the town and the mining operations of its neighbourhood afford a large number of accidents, almost all of which are brought to the Birmingham


3. This hospital, being open to patients from any distance and not appropriated exclusively to the use of inhabitants of the town, contains cases of all the diseases prevailing in the mid-counties, of which Birmingham may be considered the centre.

4. Clinical lectures and instructions are given by the physicians, who, regularly attend 3 times a week, and oftener when the cases are urgent.

5. In order to enforce the attendance of pupils, they are required to enter their names in a book provided for that purpose; and certificates are not granted to them unless this regulation shall have been strictly complied with.

6. Medical cases are accurately recorded for the use of the students, and the bodies of all patients, medical or surgical who may die in hospital are examined (if permitted) in the presence of at least one of the medical officers.

7. All accidents and urgent medical cases are admitted at any hour of the day or night without a ticket of recommendation being demanded.

8. The physicians of the Birmingham General Hospital are of the opinion that Provincial Medical and Surgical Schools, together with the opportunities for instruction afforded by such institutions as the Birmingham General Hospital, give to the student a complete knowledge of the principals and practice of his profession,


Of the four physicians who signed this memorandum, Dr Male had given active help to the school in opening his library to students, and Dr Booth, Dr James Johnstone and Dr Eccles had all given courses of lectures. It is noticeable that clause 4 refers to clinical lectures and instructions by the physicians but that no mention is made of clinical instruction in surgery.


Thus in Birmingham the somewhat anomalous situation was created whereby a medical school designed to train surgeons end apothecaries drew its main support from the physicians.


The reasons may have been partly personal – the Coxes were never very popular with their colleagues, – and partly fear on the part of the surgeons that if such education developed they would lose some of the advantages of the apprenticeship system. The physicians imbued with the University tradition favoured the planned lecture course and had no vested interests to protect, other than raising the general level of the profession end possibly establishing their consultant status. The liberal outlook of the Birmingham physicians may be further explained by the fact that the first President of the School, Dr Edward Johnstone, and four of the lecturers appointed in the first 2 years, Dr Richard Pearson, Dr John Eccles, Dr Kaye Booth, and Dr Birt Davies were graduates of the Edinburgh faculty. The only Oxford graduate associated with the school was Dr John Johnstone who had succeeded his brother Edward Johnstone as physician to the General Hospital in 1801, end who became Vice president of the school in 1829.


For the first three years the school contained twenty students and had only one room for all its purposes. Then Mr Sands Cox offered to build a suite of rooms provided the lecturers would guarantee a rental, and in order to obtain ideas about the arrangement of an anatomical museum he visited various medical schools in France, Germany and Italy.


When he returned the prospects appeared poor, but an appeal to the local patrons of science resulted in donations of £900 which was expended in the fitting up of a museum and library, the purchase of specimens, books and plates for the better teaching of the students. This larger accommodation was in Snow Hill and constituted the second home of the Birmingham Medical School.


One of the greatest difficulties was obtaining bodies for dissection for it was most disgraceful to the subject and his family that a body should be dissected. The bodies of at least two murderers were purchased after execution and dissected at Snow Hill, and it is said that many of the inhabitants and quite small boys went to see the sight.


In 1833 the school was obliged to move to a building in Paradise Street In spite of difficulties and some opposition the venture proved popular, for in the session 1834-35 there were ninety students attending the school, and two years later His Majesty King William IV graciously accepted the position of patron of the school and granted it the title of The Birmingham Royal School of Medicine and Surgery.


Now Mr William Sands Cox was possessed of a very forceful personality and of an ecclesiastical turn of mind, which helped him to enlist the support of the Revd Dr Warnford, Rector of Bourton-on-the-Water, a man of great wealth. During the next fourteen years he contributed no less than £27,000 to the various schemes which Mr Sands Cox initiated, and it was Dr Warnford’s support which, equipped the college with faculties: Divinity, Medicine, Law and Engineering.


Dr Warnford’s admirable intentions were a source of serious difficulty and weakness in operation, for he wished the whole college to be conducted strictly on rigid Church of England principles. He wrote: “I must observe that the inculcation of sound religious principles has been and is the basis of all my donations to your hospital and your college. I own I feel much anxiety to prevent the spirit of my intentions being perverted by posterity if so inclined, and great deliberation is surely required to guard against future satanic subtlety”.


And again: “During the valuable lives of yourself, Mr Chancellor Law and Dr Vaughan Thomas all will be correct; to guard against the subtle designs of Jesuits and the insidious intrusion of malignant dissenters imperatively requires deliberation”.


 In order to secure the money necessary for his cherished schemes Mr Sands Cox acquiesced in Dr Warnford’s wishes. As a result of the opposition to the school on the part of the General Hospital and of the necessity for adequate facilities for clinical instruction if the School was to continue, Sands Cox determined towards the end of the thirties to found a Hospital for clinical instruction.


The opening of University College Hospital in 1834 and King’s College Hospital in 1839 established precedents for such action. In February 1840 the Council of the Royal School of Medicine and Surgery decided that “a Hospital is essentially necessary in connection with the Medical School”.


On June 18th 1840 the foundation stone was laid by the Earl Howe, Lord Chamberlain to Queen Adelaide the Queen Dowager of England; the hospital was to be called the Queen’s Hospital, and the popularity of the scheme was greatly increased by the approval of the young Queen Victoria and by Prince Albert who became the first President. A great deal was made of the date on which the foundation stone was laid, Waterloo Day, which was then almost a public holiday, and such expedition was made with the building that the Hospital was opened in October 1341.


Almost two years later Queen Victoria granted the school a Charter a “The Queen’s College at Birmingham”, gave the College a Constitution and the right to hold land to an annual value of £2,000. The officers were elected annually by the Council of eighteen who filled up any vacancies amongst themselves and enjoyed wide powers, indeed, at the end of a long letter to Dr Warnford in 1847 Mr Sands Cox wrote “In one word, may we not with the powers we now enjoy lay the foundation of a great central university, based upon sound Church of England principles”


At first all went well, the number of students increased rapidly, additional buildings were put up, houses in the Crescent were rented for the departments of Theology and Arts. Then came financial difficulties, all the various faculties returned to Queen’s College which became overcrowded. Mr Sands Cox, who was more enthusiastic than diplomatic, and Mr Chancellor Law fell out and college quarrels became bitter end frequent. Our predecessors were even more quarrelsome than we are, and much more prone to make their differences public in an effort to enlist public support or sympathy.


Appointments to the staff of either Hospital were always eagerly sought (in former times such an appointment was a guarantee of a considerable professional income), and from time to time disappointed applicants have stirred up a considerable amount of trouble by allegations of unfairness against the Hospital Board, or suggestions of incompetence in the Hospital staff. In 1843 Mr Vaux resigned, and Mr Jukes died, and a large number of surgeons became candidates for the vacant posts at the General Hospital. Mr D.W. Crompton and Mr S. H. Amphlett were elected, and among the defeated were Mr A. Baker (who was elected to the next vacancy in 1848) and Mr Thomas Gutteridge.

The story of the sequel is really amusing, as showing the degree of vindictiveness which disappointment can engender. After Mr Juke’s death the vacancy was advertised and applications were to be in by the 13th April. Mr Gutteridge’s application was late, and he was thereby disqualified, Mr Crompton being elected on April 21st. But as the legality of this election was called in question, Mr Crompton resigned on June 16th, and at this date Mr Vaux also resigned.


The candidates for the two vacancies were Messrs Crompton, Amphlett, Gutteridge, A. Baker and J. Russel, jnr., and on September 21st Messrs Crompton and Amphlett were elected.



In January of that year a letter to the press was published, in which Mr Ledsam, a well-known general practitioner, with a leaning to surgery, accused Mr Richard Wood, the Senior Surgeon to the General Hospital, of incompetence. (He wrote: A gentleman of between seventy and eighty years of age, who had been thirty-four years on the staff, whose hand shook, etc.,etc.’). It is a long letter.


In September, after the election, Mr Thomas Gutteridge published an even longer letter, attacking the various members of the staff, but in particular Mr Hodgson and Dr Peyton Blakiston. He said that the former had carelessly performed an operation for subclavian aneurysm, and that the latter had killed a lad of eighteen, suffering from chorea, by ordering excessive doses of prussic acid.


The whole matter was threshed out by the Governors and Subscribers’ Annual General Meeting on the 20th September, 1844. The head master of King Edward’s School, the Reverend Prince Lee (who afterwards became Bishop of Manchester), a Governor of the Hospital, made a plain statement of facts, and convinced everyone except the accusers that their statements were incorrect, their facts inaccurate, and their accusations unwarrantable.


So Mr Gutteridge wrote to the press accusing the Reverend J. Prince Lee of drunkenness and of misappropriating (or permitting the misappropriation) of certain school funds, and when this did not stir up enough excitement he wrote to the Bishop of Worcester demanding the inhibition of the Reverend. J.P. Lee, and the unfrocking of Dr Peyton Blakiston, a priest who was practising physic for gain (it was for Dr Blakiston that Sir William Bowman (as he afterwards became) made a large number of measurements of cardiac orifices, and it was for this work that Dr Blakiston gave Bowman a microscope, the first that he posessed.)


The whole matter ended in a famous libel action at Warwick, which the Bishop of Worcester won, and then Mr Gutteridge applied for the vacancy created by Mr Hodgson’s resignation from the staff of the General Hospital in 1848. Mr Baker was appointed, and this again aroused Mr Gutteridge’s enmity, so in 1851 he accused Mr Baker of malpractice with regard to a case of ovarian disease, as to an operation for aneurysm, and also an amputation at the hip joint. Needless to say the attack failed, but it had a very serious effect upon Mr Baker’s practice for some years.


The Queen’s Hospital, too, had troubles, the greatest was some years later when in 1857 Mr G. B. Knowles resigned his appointment as surgeon, there were six applicants:


Mr Joseph Sampson Gamgee, Mr Hunt, Mr Furneaux Jordan, Mr Henry Lakin, Mr J.W. Moore and Mr J.F. West, the last being at the time Resident Medical Officer at Queen’s. The appointment was in the hands of the Council of Queen’s College, and at the time Mr Sands Cox was not on very good terms with the majority of the Council, so, in spite of the recommendation of the professors who had to report on the qualification, eligibility, and relative merits of candidates, Mr West was elected.


As Mr West was only twenty four years of age, and had had but little experience, his appointment created some stir, and at a subsequent meeting of the Council he was declared improperly elected on the grounds that he had been guilty of canvassing. For some time there was a considerable controversy about this election, and finally a compromise was reached by the election of both Mr Gamgee and Mr West without any statement as to seniority.


Among the large amount of chaff in these accusations there was one grain of truth; elections to the staff of the hospitals were costly, and often secured by most undesirable means. The opinion of the staff carried little weight, for the election was made by a number of governors – a governor being one who subscribed a certain sum to the funds of the hospital.


Candidates were obliged to make a most extensive canvass of the governors and subscribers to the funds of the hospital whose staff they wished to join, and it sometimes happened that having found a subscriber who was willing to support him, the candidate paid the subscription necessary to make the subscriber a governor, and so secured a vote. Candidates, of course, arranged for the conveyance of voters to the poll; in fact, the election was a miniature parliamentary election. As a result, no poor man could afford the expense of becoming a candidate, and so many good men were lost to the hospitals.


In 1851, just when the Queen’s College was most successful, with nearly 100 students, the staff of the General Hospital decided that a school in connection with their own hospital was essential. It must be recalled that the Queen’s Hospital was started because Mr Sands Cox could not secure an appointment on the staff of the General Hospital, and could not gather enough teachers for his medical school from the staff of the General Hospital.


After the foundation of Queen’s College the students at the General Hospital found themselves in a very disadvantageous position, so Sydenham College was founded and occupied three houses knocked into one, but although the buildings were poor the governing body was selected from local practitioners and so many doctors’ sons preferred this to Queen’s College and the theological domination.

In 1860 there was a great influx of students anxious to take the last chance before the Medical Act of 1858 came into force. So Sydenham College prospered, to some extent at the expense of Queen’s College, for the town was not large enough to support two medical schools in competition. The affairs of Queen’s College went from bad to worse, and in 1867 the Charity Commissioners held an enquiry and devised a scheme of administration.


Thereafter the amalgamation of the two colleges was proposed. The union was not easy for each school had its diehards, each wished to retain its identity and control. In the end, by an act of wise abnegation Sydenham College dissolved itself, its students museum and specimens were transferred to Queen’s College, and each of the chairs were filled by appointments of dual professors. “It is a subject of deep regret, however, that one or two of our best teachers have been unable to act with their colleagues in assisting the amalgamation of their influence, counsel and experience” was the wording of a resolution passed at the first meeting of the combined school. Indeed it is only fair to record that the successful union was largely due to the tact and kindliness of Dr James Russell.


After the amalgamation it became necessary to coordinate teaching and the work of students at the two hospitals, so that clerks and dressers should be appointed equally to all of the staff and that the classes should be arranged for the mutual convenience and advantage of all. So the Clinical Board came into being.


On the eightieth birthday of its generous founder the foundation stone of Mason College was laid. Josiah Mason was born in Kidderminster and earned his living as a boy by selling cakes in the streets; he came to Birmingham at twenty and by enterprise and administrative skill made a great fortune, his chief success being the production of split steel rings for keys, steel pens and the process of electroplating.


Mason College was a science college far better equipped with skilled teachers and laboratories than any educational establishment in the Midlands, and it was soon obvious that the students at Queen’s College would be greatly advantaged if they could use the resources of Mason College for the early part of their scientific training.

It had always been difficult for students of Queen’s College to obtain adequate instruction in the subjects required by the University of London for its preliminary scientific examinations, and because of this many students were deterred from entering Queen’s College as undergraduates of London University.


The professors of physiology, botany and chemistry at Queen’s College voluntarily resigned their chairs and the teaching of these subjects was transferred to Mason College, but anatomy was still taught at Queen’s College by a surgeon in private practice with the help of two assistants also in practice. It was not until 1884 that a really important change was made. A whole time professor, Dr B.C.A. Windle was appointed and the accommodation and equipment of the department were considerably improved.


When Sydenham College and Queen’s College had amalgamated in 1868 the students numbered 60, by 1886 the numbers had increased to 139, and by the year 1890 there were 250 students on the books. After the passage of the Dental Act of 1881 steps were taken to equip a Dental Faculty, and although at first this was small it grew steadily and became well known and popular. The transfer of some of the preliminary scientific training to the Mason College foreshadowed a still greater change, for in 1892, mainly owing to the labours of Dr Windle, a scheme was finally approved and, after legal sanction had been obtained, the Medical Faculty of Queen’s College became the Medical Faculty of Mason College, and its professors Queen’s professors in Mason College.


It must not be thought that this change was brought about without difficulty, for there was a natural reluctance to dissociate the Medical School from a building and institution which had been its alma mater for so many years, and the scene of its early struggles and ultimate success.


The final consummation of this transfer was brought about largely by the influence of Mr Lawson Tait and Dr Carter, the objections of the Principal of Queen’s College being finally overcome as the result of the mellowing influence of a dinner given by Mr Lawson Tait.


At first the change affected the school adversely in the matter of numbers, but this did not continue long. When the Medical Faculty left Queen’s College that Institution was occupied solely by Theological students, but this Faculty declined, and from twenty one students at the cleavage in 1892 the numbers fell until the demolition of the old Queen’s College front in 1903, when hardly any students remained.


The accommodation provided in the Mason College was in every way superior to that available in the older building in Paradise Street. Considerable structural improvements were undertaken, and the Medical Theatre and Anatomical Department were built, the provision for the teaching of both anatomy and physiology being especially generous.


But the growth of the school and the growing demands for increased facilities for scientific teaching brought about a reconstruction of the Pathological Laboratory, which was built and equipped in 1899 with funds supplied by Dr Rickards.


At the same time a Professor of Pathology was appointed who should devote himself entirely to the teaching of pathology and research.The transfer of the Medical Faculty from the Queen’s College to Mason’ s College put into the minds of the governing bodies concerned the idea of obtaining University powers, so that professors should not only teach, but also take part in the examination of their students.


The first important step to this end was taken in 1897, when an Act of Parliament was obtained incorporating the College under the title of the “Mason University College”, this step being the necessary preliminary to an application to the Privy Council for a University charter.


This charter was granted in 1900, Mr Joseph Chamberlain being largely responsible for the steps taken to obtain degree giving powers, and for the raising of the munificent endowment of nearly half a million pounds. Mr Chamberlain’s connection with the Mason College had began in 1881, when he was appointed one of the five trustees by the City Council. In 1897, under the provision of the Mason University College Act, Mr Chamberlain was elected President of the College Court of Governors, and a member of the Council, and on the formation of the University he became its first Chancellor

After the foundation of the University the size of the Medical Faculty increased irregularly until the first World War, the number of annual entrants varying about twenty five. Then the numbers doubled and in 1918 reached one hundred. The new buildings of the University at Edgbaston were opened by King Edward VII in the summer of 1909, but the Medical Faculty remained at the old University in Edmund Street until 1938 when the new Medical School was opened at Edgbaston on a site adjacent to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Since this the rate of growth has been rapid, for there has been a general expansion of the Medical Faculty and of the Dental School; new departments have been opened and new chairs have been created so that the accommodation which once appeared so the needs of a still growing school.


Today there are twenty five professorial chairs in the Faculty and more than two hundred graduates on the teaching staff, while the number of students in the Faculty has reached a figure of over six hundred. Until the beginning of World War No. 2 the clinical teachers were all part time, earning their living in practice and paid an honorarium for their University work.


Since that date a great change has taken place in the appointmentof whole time professors in Medicine, Paediatrics, Surgery and Gynaecology. Each of these has a whole time assistant, many have several assistants engaged in various  special lines of research, in teaching of both undergraduates and of graduates, and few of them have any experience of practice.


It is too early as yet to give a reasoned judgement on the results of this change of policy, but it is a great change which will produce a marked modification in the education, outlook and training of students. Time will show whether palatial has become quite inadequate for the alteration is of advantage or not.

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