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Biographical entry Edwards, William Thomas (1821 - 1915)

MRCS Dec 16th 1842; FRCS July 10th 1879; LSA 1843; MB Lond (Gold Medal in anatomy and physiology, materia medica, and midwifery) 1844; MD 1850; JP.

6 December 1821
Caerphilly, Wales, UK
22 April 1915
Educationalist and Physician


Born at Caerphilly on Dec 6th, 1821, the son of a medical man who had an extensive country practice, which he conducted on horseback; he was proud of his stable, and his son had the advantage of an active outdoor life in his boyhood and after his apprenticeship to his father. William Edwards (1719-1789), his great-grandfather, was the bridge-builder of European reputation, who in the middle of the eighteenth century spanned the Taff at Pontypridd with the largest one-span stone bridge then known.

After serving his apprenticeship at Caerphilly, William Thomas Edwards completed his professional education at University College Hospital and graduated brilliantly at the University of London. In 1844, after a brief period of practice at Llanfabon, he settled at Cardiff, then a town of little more than 10,000 inhabitants, and possessed of neither docks nor railways. In 1849 he was appointed Out-patient Medical Officer to the Infirmary, which was a small institution admitting in a year 113 in-patients and 2360 out-patients. From 1851-1860 he was Hon Surgeon, then Consulting Surgeon, but in 1862 was appointed Physician to the Infirmary, becoming eventually Consulting Physician.

From an early period of his residence in Cardiff Edwards showed a keen interest in education. Beginning in a small way and assisted by a few friends, in 1847 he built a substantial single-story building known for many years as the British School. It provided elementary education for children of the working classes, the only other school in the town being one maintained by the Church of England. What his objection to the excellent old National School can have been is not stated, but we find him an early member of the Cardiff School Board and its Vice-Chairman in 1890. He was Governor of the Craddock Wells Charity till its absorption under the provisions of the Technical Education Act, and he laboured in the cause of higher education.

In 1872, when the question of founding a university college in South Wales was under consideration, he strongly supported the scheme and urged that the college should be established at Cardiff. When this was decided upon he made a donation of £500, and as a Life Governor and in other capacities he ever afterwards laboured loyally and unostentatiously for the college, of which he was eventually elected Vice-President.

He was elected President of the British Medical Association at its Cardiff Meeting in 1885, and then advocated his long-felt desire for the establishment of a medical school in Cardiff. He offered £1000 to found a school in connection with the University College, and his pupil and friend, Dr William Price, also of Cardiff, made a gift of the same amount. Other contributions followed, and it was one of Edwards's proudest memories that he had been instrumental in bringing the school into being, as he foresaw its utility in the future as part of the University of Wales.

He was for many years a member of the Cardiff Town Council and was a Justice of the Peace for the County of Glamorgan and the County Borough of Cardiff. He was made a Life Governor of University College, London, in 1871. He was also Vice-President of the Liberal Association, and took a considerable part in the establishment of the English Congregational Union of Wales, which has built chapels where English services are held. He joined in the jubilee of the Union the year before his death. At the time of his death he was, in addition to his other distinctions, Hon Physician to the Hamadryad Seamen's Hospital.

He died on April 11th, 1915, and was buried at Caerphilly. His address latterly was at Springfield House. He left estate valued at over £80,000. On the cessation of certain trusts, the testator bequeathed £7000 for the University College of South Wales and £5000 for Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire Infirmary. His donations to University College, Cardiff, amounted during his lifetime to £8000. In 1902 the jubilee of his services at the infirmary was celebrated at a banquet given by his local confreres.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit. Med. Jour., 1915, I, 746, with a characteristic portrait. There is an interesting account of William Edwards, bridge-builder, farmer, and preacher, in the Dict. Nat. Biog].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England