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Biographical entry Webb-Johnson, Sir Alfred Edward, Lord Webb-Johnson of Stoke-on-Trent (1880 - 1958)

Baron 1948; Baronet 1945; G.C.V.O. 1954; K.C.V.O. 1942; Knight 1936; C.B.E. 1919; D.S.O. 1916; M.R.C.S. 4 August 1903; F.R.C.S. 13 December 1906; L.R.C.P. 1903; M.B., Ch.B. Victoria, Manchester 1903, T.D.

  • Image of Webb-Johnson, Sir Alfred Edward, Lord Webb-Johnson of Stoke-on-Trent
4 September 1880
28 May 1958
General surgeon


Born on 4 September 1880 eldest of the two sons and two daughters of Samuel Johnson (1846-99), Medical Officer of Health for Stoke-on-Trent and Julia his wife, daughter of James Webb. Mrs Johnson died only in 1931; her children had all adopted her maiden surname, Webb, before their father's name. Dr Johnson came of North Irish Presbyterian stock and had graduated M.D., M.Ch at Queen's College in the old Royal University, Belfast. (There is an obituary notice in Transactions of the Obstetrical Society, London, 1900, 42, 71.)

Alfred Webb-Johnson was educated at the Victoria University of Manchester, winning prizes and scholarships in surgery, and graduated in 1903; he then became surgical registrar at the Royal Infirmary. Coming to London he was appointed resident medical officer to the Middlesex Hospital in 1907, and rapidly made his mark as a brilliant operator. He also won the life-long friendship of Sir John Bland-Sutton, then one of the leading personalities on the Hospital's staff. He became Assistant Surgeon in 1911 and ultimately consulting surgeon, but played a larger part in the Hospital's administration than in its purely clinical work. He was Dean of the Medical School 1919-25, and chairman of the rebuilding committee 1925-35, when he successfully raised very large sums of money and attracted influential support with the help of the slogan "Middlesex Hospital is falling down". He was later a Governor and finally Vice-President of the Hospital. A ward was named after him in his life-time, and his widow gave a stained-glass window to the Chapel in his memory in 1964. He was also consulting surgeon to Chesham, Southend, and Woolwich Hospitals.

Webb-Johnson was a keen territorial officer; he served at Wimereux on the French coast during the first world war and was awarded the D.S.O. and the C.B.E. for his distinguished work "in connection with military operations in the field". He rose to the rank of Colonel, Army Medical Service, and later served on the Army Medical Board, becoming its chairman in 1946. During the second world war he was, among other public services, President of the Anglo-Soviet Medical Committee from September 1941. He was a personal friend of Queen Mary, and Her Majesty's surgeon in the years of her widowhood, 1936-53. He was an honorary Freeman of the Barbers Company (1949), and President of Epsom College from 1951. He was also for many years President of the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund. In the Order of St John of Jerusalem he was a Knight of Justice, Hospitaller from 1946, and one of the three Bailiffs Grand Cross from 1955. He was an honorary Fellow of many British and foreign surgical colleges and societies, and a member of several clubs, particularly favouring the Garrick, where a dinner was given in his honour in 1955. He was a Deputy Lieutenant for the County of London, and Lord High Steward of Newcastle-under-Lyme.

At the College he was a Hunterian Professor in 1917 and enlarged his lectures on Surgical Complications of Typhoid and Paratyphoid Fevers to form a book of 190 pages (Oxford University Press 1919). Although a good public speaker and amusing in conversation, he was not a frequent writer but took infinite pains to prepare interesting lectures such as his Syme Oration (1938) at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons on the history of British surgery, and his Bradshaw Lecture (1940) "Pride and prejudice in the treatment of cancer". He served on the Court of Examiners 1926-36 becoming its chairman, and also examined for Cambridge. He was a Member of Council 1932-50, was elected President in 1941 just after the bombing of the College and was re-elected annually seven times, resigning in 1949. He was awarded the Honorary Medal in 1950, elected a Hunterian Trustee also in 1950, and chosen for the first Court of Patrons in 1956.

As President, Webb-Johnson threw his energies into gathering support to rebuild the College and extend its activity; his efforts were as successful here as they had been at the Middlesex Hospital. The enlarged and beautified College house, improved ceremonial, monthly dinners to increase and maintain interest among Fellows and Members, a regular programme of teaching and research, formation of special Faculties and endowment of professorships were achieved through his masterful management, though he sometimes took credit for improvements devised by others. He was a difficult man to serve since he was jealous of rivalry from his colleagues and overbearing to his officials. Several of the College Professors resigned rather than work under him, and at the Royal Society of Medicine, where he was President 1950-52, he discharged the Secretary who had served the Society with success for twenty-five years.

Webb-Johnson married in 1911 Cecilia Flora, daughter of Douglas Gordon McRae. She supported all her husband's interests and many charitable causes of her own, both personally and with her wealth. She endowed the Hunterian Museum with the McRae/Webb-Johnson Fund in 1952 in memory of her parents and to record her husband's work. After his death she made many generous gifts of furniture, books, portraits etc. to the College and took an active share in the work of the Committee for Artistic and Historical Possessions. She was elected to the Court of Patrons (1956), awarded the Honorary Medal (1956), and was the first woman to be a Hunterian Trustee (1966).

Lord Webb-Johnson died on 28 May 1958 and Lady Webb-Johnson on 15 March 1968.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 29 May 1958 page 14 c-d with portraits, 2 June p. 14 c; tribute by Sir Gordon Gordon-Taylor, 6 June, p. 15 d: Sir Stewart Duke-Elder on his work for the Order of St John and the Ophthalmic Hospital at Jerusalem, 27 June p. 12 d: the memorial service at St Margaret's, Westminster, and 8 August p. 10 b: his will; Middlesex Hospital Journal 1958, 58, 95 by Sir Eric Riches with portrait; Ann. Roy Coll. Surg. Engl. 1958, 23, 64-66 by Sir Gordon Gordon-Taylor with portrait; Brit. med. J. 1958, 1, 1357 with portrait and eulogy by Sir Gordon Gordon-Taylor, and p. 1485 by D. H. Patey and R. W. Raven; Lancet 1958, 1, 1231 by Sir Harry Platt and Sir Gordon Gordon-Taylor and vol. 2, p.325 by F. R. P. of Bombay "a friend of forty years and more".
Lady Webb-Johnson: The Times 18 March 1968, 26 March: funeral service, and 27 June: her will; Ann. Roy. Coll. Surg. Engl. 1968, 42, 337 by Jessie Dobson, with portrait.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England