Gathorne Robert Girdlestone (1881–1950)
Gathorne Robert Girdlestone was born at Christ Church in Oxford on 8 October 1881. His father, Robert Baker Girdlestone – the seventh son of Charles Girdlestone (a Fellow of Balliol) and Anne (daughter of Baker Morrell, Solicitor to the University of Oxford) – was Principal of Wycliffe Hall at the time. Girdlestone’s father had had two sons by his first marriage, but GRG was the only son of his second marriage to Annis, who named him after her brother, Sir Gathorne Hardy (who defeated Gladstone to become MP for Oxford from 1865 to 1876 and was made first Earl of Chambrook in 1892).
GRG went to Charterhouse School in 1896, read Medicine at New College, Oxford, and started his clinical training at St Thomas’s Hospital in London in 1905. On 26 June 1909 he married Ina Mabel Chatterton: they had no children. The 1911 census shows him living with Ina and three servants at Mount Road, Oswestry, where he first started practising surgery, and it was in nearby Baschurch that he first developed an interest in orthopaedics under Robert Jones, becoming a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons on 1 December 1911.
It was the First World that brought GRG back to Oxford, when he was appointed Captain of the 3rd Southern General Hospital, which was housed in various university and college buildings in Oxford, as well as in part of the workhouse on the Cowley Road. Miss Katherine Feilden provided her home in Headington (High Wall in Pullen’s Lane) for the officer casualties, but more beds were needed for orthopaedic injuries, and in 1916 the committee of the Wingfield Convalescent Home offered its grounds. Miss Feilden paid for wooden huts containing forty beds to be erected there, and these became known as the Oxford Orthopaedic Centre. In 1917, the Wingfield Convalescent Home itself was taken over, and by 1919 there were 200 beds. After the war the hospital came under the supervision of the Ministry of Pensions, and Girdlestone remained in charge of it.
In 1920 GRG moved from his home in Boars Hill to Headington, to the Red House at 72 Old Road, where he was to live for 28 years. The picture below shows the house in 2003, just prior to its demolition.
By 1922, there were fewer war pensioners and crippled children were being admitted, and in that year it became the Wingfield Orthopaedic Hospital.
Mrs Ina Girdlestone opened the door of the Red House one evening in the summer of 1930 to find an unknown gentleman who introduced himself as “Morris of the car factory” and gave her a cheque for £1,000 to help keep the Wingfield Hospital in good repair. In 1933 it was rebuilt and renamed the Wingfield-Morris Orthopaedic Hospital.
Right: The Red House was demolished in 2005, but there is a blue plaque to Girdlestone on Jolliffe House, which was built on its site
In 1937 GRG was appointed Nuffield Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery (thus becoming the first professor of orthopaedics in Britain). He retired from the chair in 1939 and moved to Frilford Heath in 1948, but continued to be interested in the hospital, helping to launch the scheme for the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre in 1949.
GRG was still living at Fir Corner, Frilford Heath when he died at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London at the age of 69 on 30 December 1950. His effects came to £57,633 2s. 9d.
He has two Headington Roads named after him: Gathorne and Girdlestone Roads, one opposite each side of the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre.
Postscript on the Red House
When GRG moved out of the Red House in 1948, it was bought by the Wingfield-Morris Orthopaedic Hospital, and a School of Nursing opened in its grounds in 1950, along with twelve bedrooms. In 1952 the school was named the Ruth Jolliffe* School of Nursing, and It continued to be used as nurses’ accommodation until December 2000.
Both buildings were demolished in 2005, and new key worker accommodation for 100 health workers (shown above) was opened on the site of in May 2006: on the left is Burrows House, with Mary Powell House and Sturges House behind, and on the right is Jolliffe House.
* Ruth Jolliffe was Matron of the Wingfield-Morris Hospital from 1930 to 1952.