People of Achievement

William Pickles (1885 - 1969)

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MBBS, MD London, Hon. DSc. Leeds
General Practitioner and Epidemiologist

Will Pickles became famous suddenly in 1939 with the publication of ‘Epidemiology in a Country Practice’. He was the son of a general practitioner, attended Leeds Grammar School and then Leeds Medical School. He qualified LSA in 1909 and then MBBS London in 1910. From 1913 he was a General Practitioner in Aysgarth in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire.

In 1930 he published an account in the BMJ of a epidemic of catarrhal jaundice in Wensleydale the previous year, which affected 250 people. He was able to trace the whole epidemic to one child and established the long incubation of the disease of between 26 and 35 days. He later published accounts of outbreaks in the Dales of Sonne Dysentery and Bornholm Disease.

He described his work in 1935 to the Royal Society of Medicine and was encouraged him to write a book on his observations by Sir James Mackenzie, an outstanding epidemiologist of the day. ‘Epidemiology in a Country Practice’, published in 1939, became a medical classic and established his reputation. Denis Pereira Gray, in his preface to Pemberton’s biography of Pickles, considered that ‘His careful and precise recording of aspects of infectious diseases in his practice provided a model for practice-based research.’

Following the success of his book, he achieved worldwide fame and also lectured at almost every UK medical school. Will Pickles received many honours, including an honorary degree of Doctor of Science from Leeds in 1950, and in 1957 was appointed CBE. Despite this, he remained a country doctor and continued to practice at Aysgarth until 1964.

He was the natural choice to become the first President of the College of General Practitioners in 1953 and he held the post for three years.

Thanks are due to the Royal College of General Practitioners for permission to use this edited version of their own brief account of Dr Pickles, and for permission to reproduce the picture of Dr Pickles wearing the gown of his Honorary DSc from Leeds University. See also the biography, Will Pickles of Wensleydale by John Pemberton first published by the RCGP in 1970.

Pages in this document

  1. People of Achievement
  2. Charles Turner Thackrah (1795 - 1833)
  3. Sir Clifford Allbutt (1836 - 1925)
  4. Friederich Wilhelm Eurich (1867 - 1945)
  5. John Deakin Heaton (1817 - 1880)
  6. Arthur Fergusson McGill, LSA, FRCS (1846 - 1890)
  7. Rt Hon Lord Berkeley Moynihan (1865 - 1936)
  8. Frank Maudsley Parsons (1918-1989)
  9. William Pickles (1885 - 1969)
  10. Arthur Mayo Robson (1853 - 1933)
  11. Richard W Smithells (1924 - 2002)