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Ashton, Norman (1913-2000)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0120 PP/ASH
Held at: Wellcome Library
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Full title: Ashton, Norman (1913-2000)
Date(s): 1924-1998
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 17 boxes
Name of creator(s): Ashton | Norman Henry | 1913-2000 | ophthalmologist
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

Norman Henry Ashton was born in London on the 11th of September 1913. He became a junior laboratory assistant at a private laboratory in Brook Street, London in 1928 where he remained until 1931. He then moved to the Princess Beatrice Hospital, West Kensington, London where he was pathological laboratory assistant. While in this post he studied for the examinations of the College of Preceptors, which could be taken part-time, first at the Chelsea Polytechnic, then at Kings College, and later at Westminster Hospital Medical School. In 1939 he qualified in Medicine and Surgery and Registered as a Medical Practitioner (MRCS, LRCP). After 2 years at Westminster Hospital he moved to the Kent and Canterbury Hospital in 1941 where he was pathologist until 1945.

In 1946, Ashton enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was posted in West Africa , before being transferred to Egypt in 1947. He was discharged from the Army in the same year and became Director of Pathology at the Institute of Ophthalmology in 1948. Here he established a laboratory of international repute, which contributed to research and provided a clinical service to Moorfields Eye Hospital and other hospitals around the world. He was responsible for the training of the first generation of ophthalmic pathologists in Britain. He remained at the Institute until his retirement in 1978. He was also Professor of Pathology at the University of London from 1957 to 1978.

In 1953, Ashton's investigations into Retrolental Fibroplasia (RLF), now known as Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), revealed that the exposure of premature babies to high levels of oxygen in order to relieve breathing difficulties, could cause an obliteration of growing retinal blood vessels followed by disorganised regrowth and scarring which led to blindness. As a consequence, oxygen delivery to babies was strictly controlled and the sight of many infants was saved. In 1960, he was the first in Europe to identify Toxocara Canis (the dog roundworm) as a cause of retinal disease in children, leading to a national campaign to rid the streets of dog faeces. In 1965, he founded Fight for Sight (one of the foremost charities supporting eye research in the UK) and was chairman of the charity from 1980 to 1991, when he became a patron. He had a key role in establishing the European Pathology Society, of which he was made life president. Ashton's other major research was in the areas of diabetic retinopathy (retinal disease caused by diabetes) and hypertensive retinopathy (retinal disease caused by high blood pressure).

Professor Ashton received countless honours and awards for his academic achievements, including the Doyne Medal in 1960. In 1971 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society and was appointed CBE in 1976. Two years later, he was awarded the Gonin Gold Medal (the highest award for ophthalmology). In honour of his work for Fight for Sight and his research achievements, the new Institute of Ophthalmology building which opened in Bath Street, London in 1992 was named after him. In 1981 Ashton received the first Jules Stein Award with A Patz, he also received the International Pisart Vision Award in 1991, the Royal Society's Buchanan Medal in 1996, and the Helen Keller Prize in 1998. At various stages of his career and his retirement he was president of five societies of pathology and ophthalmology and was elected Master of the Society of Apothecaries in 1984. In all, he contributed to 274 scientific publications during his lifetime. In addition to his professional accomplishments, Ashton was a highly acclaimed and witty public speaker as well as a keen performer of amateur dramatics and a gifted artist. He died in London on the 4th of January 2000.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Norman Ashton, 1924-1998, including correspondence relating to Ashton's research activities, his acceptance of numerous honours and awards, his duties whilst member of many socieities and institutes, and his activities whilst in various professional posts. Some correspondence from his childhood and teenage years is also included. Also relating to Ashton's research activities are details of experiments, photographs, reports on findings, and copies of lectures and articles. Many unpublished speeches given at the events of various societies and institutes can also be found. The collection includes Ashton's practical notebooks from his time as a student at Kings College London, and ephemera relating to his social pursuits in his early years, such as programmes for performances he was involved in, photographs, and illustrations. Also amongst the papers are Ashton's unpublished memoirs, which cover his life from 1913 to 1995.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The papers have been kept in their original order and divided into eight sections which reflect Ashton's major activities:
A Correspondence
B Research Projects
C Colleges, Societies, Institutes and Associations
D Honours, Awards and Lectures
E References for Academics and Medical Staff
F Practical Notebooks
G Personalia and Ephemera
H The Life of Norman Ashton - A Chronicle With Comments

As well as a run of correspondence on varying subjects arranged alphabetically, correspondence relating to specific work, institutions or events can be found in the other sections. The research projects section is divided into two series which contain the papers for two of Ashton's major research areas. Section G contains files of correspondence and papers arranged by name of the institution for which Ashton was working when he collected them. However, as these files were found with personal papers from Ashton's early life and are largely related to his social, rather than professional life, they have been kept with personalia rather than being moved to section C. Section H includes Ashton's unpublished autobiography which he deposited with his other papers. The files in each section are arranged alphabetically, except for section G where they are arranged chronologically according to the post Ashton was in when the papers were collected, and section H where they are arranged by volume number.

Conditions governing access:

Files PPASH/A/8 part 2, PPASH/A/21, PPASH/B/A/7 part 4, PPASH/B/B/1 part 2, PPASH/B/B/2 part 2, PPASH/B/B/3, PPASH/E/3 part 3 and PPASH/E/4 part 2 are closed for 84 years from their latest date due to personal information relating to named individuals. Other material is available subject to the usual conditions of access to Archives and Manuscripts material, after the completion of a Reader's Undertaking.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Photocopies/photographs/microfilm are supplied for private research only at the Archivist's discretion. Please note that material may be unsuitable for copying on conservation grounds, and that photographs cannot be photocopied in any circumstances. Readers are restricted to 100 photocopies in twelve months. Researchers who wish to publish material must seek copyright permission from the copyright owner.

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

These papers came to the Wellcome Library in 3 accessions, the first of which was deposited by Professor Ashton in 1992 following a preliminary records survey by Lesley Hall in 1991, and the second of which was deposited by him in 1999. The final accession was deposited by Professor Ashton's executors following his death in 2000.

Allied Materials

Related material:

At other repositories: reprints of Ashton publications at the Institute of Ophthalmology, Bath Street, London.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Copied from the Wellcome Library catalogue by Sarah Drewery.

Rules or conventions:
In compliance with ISAD (G): General International Standard Archival Description - 2nd Edition (1999); UNESCO Thesaurus, December 2001; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Jan 2009

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