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Royal College of General Practitioners

Pickles, William (1886-1969) papers


Reference code(s): GB 2134 B/PIC

Held at: Royal College of General Practitioners

Title: Pickles, William (1886-1969) papers

Date(s): 1912-1972

Level of description: Collection

Extent: 5 boxes

Name of creator(s): William Pickles (1885-1969)


Administrative/Biographical history:

William Norman Pickles, general practitioner and epidemiologost, was born on the 6 March 1885 in Leeds where his father, John Jagger Pickles was in general practice. Pickles went to Leeds Grammar School and afterwards studied medicine at the medical school of the then Yorkshire College and at the Leeds General Infirmary, where he qualified as a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries in 1909. After serving as resident obstetric officer at the Infirmary, he began a series of temporary jobs in general practice. In 1910 he graduated MB BS London and became MD in 1918.

His first visit to Aysgarth was as a locum for Dr Hime in 1912. After serving as a ship's doctor on a voyage to Calcutta, he returned to Aysgarth later that year as second assistant to Dr Hime. In 1913 he and the other assistant Dean Dunbar were able to purchase the practice. Pickles was to remain in Aysgarth until he retired in 1964, interrupted only by the first world war during which he served in the Royal Naval Volunteers.

In 1926 Pickles read The Principles of Diagnosis and Treatment in Heart Affections by Sir James Mackenzie who had made many important contributions to medical knowledge from his general practice in Burnley. Pickles was inspired by Mackenzies work. An epidemic of catarrhal jaundice broke out in Wensleydale in 1929 affecting two hundred and fifty people out of a population of five thousand seven hundred. Pickles was able to trace the whole epidemic to a girl who he had seen in bed on the morning of a village fete and who he never thought would get up that day. In this enclosed community Pickles was able to trace time and again the short and only possible contact and to establish the long incubation for this disease of twenty six to thirty five days. He published an account of the epidemic in the British Medical Journal 24 May 1930. Two years later he also published record of an outbreak of Sonne dysentry and in 1933 he recorded in the British Medical Journal the first out break of Bornholm disease.

In 1935 Pickles described some of his work to the Royal Society of Medicine . After this meeting a leading article in the British Medical Journal stated "It may mark the beginning of a new era in epidemiology". Major Greenwood, an outstanding epidmeiologist of the time, suggested that he shold write a book on his observations, which was published in 1939 as Epidemiology in Country Practice . This became a medical classic [and is still in print today], and established Pickles's reputation. It showed how a country practice could be a field laboratory with unique opportunities for epidemiologists.

Pickles had by now become famous and was showered with honours. He was Milroy lecturer at the Royal College of Physicians of London (1942) and Cutter lecturer at Harvard (1948). In 1946 he shared the Stewart prize of the BMA with Major Greenwood and in 1955 he was elected an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and was awarded the first James Mackenzie medal. He became the first president of the College of General Practitioners in 1953.

In 1917 he married Gertrude Adelaide, daughter of Harry Tunstill, a wealthy mill owner from Burnley. Pickles died 2 March 1969, his wife died later the same year.


Scope and content/abstract:

Certificates; paptients lists; correspondence; photographs; medals; annotated copies of own works; epidemiological charts, research notes, manuscripts of articles and speeches. 1912-1972


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

By document type and date

Conditions governing access:

Access is at the discretion of the Royal College of General Practitioners. Requests for access should be made in writing to The Archivist, Royal College of General Practitioners, 14 Princes Gate, Hyde Park, London SW7 1PU.

Conditions governing reproduction:

For further information on reproduction contact The Archivist, Royal College of General Practitioners, 14 Princes Gate, Hyde Park, London SW7 1PU.

Physical characteristics:

Finding aids:


Detailed catalogue


Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information:


None expected

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Donated by Pickles' daughter Mrs Patience Clayton 1970


Existence and location of originals:

Existence and location of copies:

Related material:

James Mackenzie papers (1853-1925) GB 2134 B/MAC; John Hunt papers GB 2134 B/HUN;RCGP Fellowship and Award papers GB 2134 ACE E.

Epidemiological charts at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Publication note:

Will Pickles of Wensleydale by John Pemberton. RCGP 1984 Epidemiology In Country Practice. RCGP 1984 (reprint)



Since 1968 The Royal College of General Practitioners has had an annual eponymous lecture named after Pickles on an educational theme. It is given at the Spring meeting and is published in The British Journal of General Practice. The Royal College of General Practitioners owns a portrait of Pickles by Christopher Sanders.

Archivist's note: Compiled by Claire Jackson, College Archivist, Royal College of General Practitioners.

Rules or conventions: Rules or conventions: National Council on Archives, Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997; ISAD(G), Second Edition, 2000.

Date(s) of descriptions: June 2002

Disease control | Health policy | Health
Diseases | Pathology
Epidemics | Disasters
Epidemiology | Health policy | Health
Health statistics | Health
Physicians | Medical personnel | Medical profession | Medical sciences
Surgery | Medical sciences
Disasters (by type)
Medical research

Personal names
Greenwood | Major | 1880-1949 | medical statistician
Mackenzie | Sir | James | 1853-1925 | Knight | physician
Pickles | William | 1885-1969 | general practitioner

Corporate names
College of General Practitioners
Leeds University
Royal College of General Practitioners
Royal College of Physicians of London
Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
Royal Society of Medicine
Royal Society of Musicians

London | England | UK | Western Europe | Europe
West Riding | Yorkshire | England | UK | Western Europe | Europe