Gathorne Robert GIRDLESTONE (1881–1950)
Pioneering orthopaedic surgeon
Sturges House, 72–74 Old Road, Headington, Oxford
Gathorne Robert Girdlestone, the son of Canon Robert Baker Girdlestone, first Principal of Wycliffe Hall, was educated at Charterhouse and New College. After clinical training at St Thomas’s, he entered general practice at Oswestry. Here he encountered the work of Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt and transferred to Baschurch Orthopaedic Hospital.
In 1914 he joined the RAMC and in 1916 was put in charge of a unit of 400 beds at the former Wingfield Convalescent Home which had been offered to the War Office as an auxiliary hospital. In 1919 the hospital admitted its first crippled children and ‘GRG’ with his wife Ina took up residence in the Red House just across the road.
Girdlestone was an outstanding surgeon whose technical innovations were many. He contributed influential papers to medical journals; his best known book is Tuberculosis of Bone and Joint. He was an excellent administrator and as part of his vision created the Oxford Orthopaedic Region with local clinics and departments in major hospitals in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.
The close association with Lord Nuffield began in 1930 when he appeared on the doorstep of the Red House, cheque in hand. He soon undertook major rebuilding of the hospital which was opened in 1933 and named the Wingfield-Morris Hospital. When Lord Nuffield endowed Clinical Chairs at Oxford University, Girdlestone became the first Nuffield Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery. He continued to influence Lord Nuffield to give enormous sums to help the crippled and infirm, especially children, not only in Britain but in other parts of the world, notably in South Africa. Together they were a formidable force for good.
He stood down from the Chair in 1940 but continued to work in an advisory capacity and became President of the British Orthopaedic Association. When the time came for full retirement in 1948, he and Ina withdrew to Frilford. He was sad to leave his dear Red House and persuaded Lord Nuffield to purchase it and give it to the hospital as a guest house for visitors and medical gatherings. In the event it housed senior nurses and was used for training. It was demolished in 2003 as part of the development of the site for new nursing accommodation.
Girdlestone died in 1950. He was a man of exceptional warmth and modesty, motivated by profound Christian faith, one whose vision and pertinacity created the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre and pioneered the model for orthopaedic care.
- Sources: J. Trueta, Gathorne Robert Girdlestone (O.U.P 1971); obituary notice in The Lancet, 15 January 1951
- Pictures: Jolliffe House and Unveiling ceremony
The plaque was unveiled at Jolliffe House (on the site of the former Red House), Old Road, Headington, Oxford on 9 May 2006 by Hugo Brunner, Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire. The eulogy was delivered by Mr Michael K. D. Benson FRCS, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at the Nuffield.
Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board
PROFESSOR /GATHORNE ROBERT / GIRDLESTONE
Pioneering surgeon and founder of
the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre
lived in the Red House / on this site / 1919–1948
Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre NHS Trust