Headington history: People

Tour backwards
Tour forwards

Gathorne Robert Girdlestone (1881–1950)

Girdlestone as a baby

Gathorne Robert Girdlestone (GRG) was born at the college of Christ Church in Oxford on 8 October 1881.

His father, Robert Baker Girdlestone, was the seventh son of Charles Girdlestone (a Fellow of Balliol) and Anne Morrell (daughter of Baker Morrell, Solicitor to the University of Oxford), and was Principal of Wycliffe Hall at the time of Gathorne's birth.

GRG's father already had two sons by his first marriage when on 10 June 1875 at Trinity Church, Paddington he married Mary Matilda Wood.

Gathorne was the only son of this second marriage. He was named after his great-uncle Sir Gathorne Hardy (the brother of his maternal grandmother Annis Wood, née Hardy), who defeated Gladstone to become MP for Oxford from 1865 to 1876 and was made first Earl of Chambrook in 1892.


Right: Carte de Visite showing GRG as a toddler in c.1883, reproduced by kind permission of PictureOxon (POX0251034)

GRG went to Charterhouse School in 1896 and then read Medicine at New College, Oxford. He started his clinical training at St Thomas’s Hospital in London in 1905.

On 26 June 1909 at Wimbledon, Gathorne Robert Girdlestone (27), described as a Master of Arts and a Bachelor of Medicine of Oxford who was then living at Warleigh Lodge, Longfield Road, Wimbledon married Ina Mabel Chatterton (27) of 5 Grosvenor Hill, Wimbledon, the daughter of the civil engineer George Chatterton. They had no children.

The 1911 census shows GRG and Ina living with three servants at Mount Road, Oswestry, where he first started practising surgery. 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 War 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.

Girdleston's Red House

Blue plaque to Girdlestone

By 1922, there were fewer war pensioners and more crippled children 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).

The 1939 Register shows GRG, described as a Consulting Orthopaedic Surgeon, living at 72 Old Road with his wife and their chauffeur and possibly another servant. In that year he retired from his chair.

In 1948 GRG moved to Frilford Heath, but continued to be interested in the Wingfield 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 streets named after him: Gathorne and Girdlestone Roads, one opposite the east side and the other opposite the south side of the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre.

Postscript on the Red House

Jolliffe House

When GRG moved out of the Red House in 1948, it was bought by the Wingfield-Morris Orthopaedic Hospital, and in 1950 a School of Nursing which included twelve bedrooms opened in its grounds. 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.

There is a much fuller entry on Gathorne Girdlestone in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
The ODNB online is available free to many public library users, including those in Oxfordshire:
enter L followed immediately by your library ticket number in the “Library Card Login” box

© Stephanie Jenkins

Headington home Shark Oxford History home