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Biographical entry Clifton, Nathaniel Henry (1818 - 1881)

MRCS May 14th 1841; FRCS Dec 11th 1856; LSA 1841; JP for Middlesex.

29 November 1818
London, UK
21 January 1881
London, UK
General surgeon


Born on Nov 29th, 1818, in the house in Cross Street, Islington, where his father and his grandfather had practised before him. He was educated at the Islington Proprietary School and at Charterhouse. He entered St Bartholomew's Hospital in 1837, and was made a Governor of the institution on Nov 26th, 1846, acted as Steward in 1852, as Auditor in 1853, and was put on the House Committee, in 1857. After qualifying in 1841 he took a week's holiday, and then joined his father in practice. Thereafter he went for thirty-seven years without twenty-four hours' holiday. His holiday, which consisted chiefly of a few hours' fishing, was always preceded by a day's work. Within these sharply defined limits he found time to dine with a friend or take part in public affairs. He made a point, in the late hours of the night, of making up his books and his list of patients for the morrow. If he were disturbed at night, as he was very often, he never went back to his bed, but took such rest as he could get in an easily extemporized position in his study. His practice was indeed very large and very arduous, and included many obstetric cases.

At the time of his death Clifton was a Justice of the Peace for Middlesex, Consulting Surgeon to the Islington Dispensary, and a cordial supporter of the Medical Benevolent College and kindred institutions. He founded the Islington Medical Society. His father was the founder of the Islington Savings Bank, and he was for many years its Treasurer. In politics a Conservative, and an active member of the party, he yet conducted his contests, political and even ecclesiastical, with a characteristic absence of acerbity. He was genial, kindly, and quietly benevolent, with an underlying strength of character that compelled the respect of men of all parties, and especially of members of his own profession, by whom he was looked up to as a guide and friend. He himself was a model of professional behaviour.

A man of large and powerful frame, he showed signs of failing health for several years before the end. He was for long ill of diabetes and albuminuria, being affectionately nursed by his sisters, and died unmarried at the old family house, 20 Cross Street, Islington, on Friday, Jan 21st, 1881.

For many years he was in partnership with his father, Nathaniel Clifton, and latterly with Frank Godfrey. His portrait is in the Fellows' Album.

The following interesting note on the association of an old family practice is from the Lancet, 1881, i, 195:
"Some practices are the creation of one man. A larger number represent a principle of continuity, not to say heredity. The name of Mr Clifton carries the people of Islington back more than a hundred years. And yet over all this time a large section of the people of Islington have enjoyed the privilege of being attended by Mr Clifton or his immediate ancestors. It is not the least credit of the family that for this more than century of work only three successive members of the family have been necessary. The subject of our present notice was wont to tell how his grandfather took up his abode, lodging with a worthy baker, in Cross Street, Islington, over a hundred years since. Mr Clifton's grandfather was born in 1751, and was in practice before 1778. He died in 1822 in Cross Street, and was succeeded by his son, Nathaniel Clifton, who was born in 1786 and died in 1861 - all in Cross Street. Here too Mr Nathaniel Henry Clifton was born.

"There is an element of permanence, a faithfulness to groove and place, in most good families, which is not to be unnoted. Cross Street, as it exists now, may not seem to passers through a romantic spot to which to fix one's existence, but to a man of Mr Clifton's character, with its historical baker's shop - which, by the way, still, we believe, survives - it had a claim and a charm to which the new-built villa has no pretensions."

The Royal College of Surgeons of England