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Biographical entry Walls, Eldred Wright (1912 - 2008)

FRCS 1976; BSc Glasgow 1931; MB ChB 1934; MD 1947; FRCS 1976, FRCS Edin 1981.

17 August 1912
Glasgow, UK
24 March 2008
Edinburgh, UK


Eldred Walls was professor of anatomy at Middlesex Hospital Medical School, University of London, and a highly distinguished anatomist. He was born in Glasgow, the second son of J T Walls, but was orphaned at the age of 13. Financial pressures meant he had to leave Hillhead High School at 15 and matriculate in Glasgow University aged just 16. He qualified MB ChB in 1934 with first class honours and the Struthers gold medal, after first completing a BSc in botany. During his undergraduate years he was a noted sportsman, especially in rugby, where he was a Scottish trialist.

After a short spell as a general practitioner, he decided upon a career in anatomy rather than clinical medicine, and was appointed as a demonstrator and lecturer in anatomy at Glasgow University, a position he held for five years. In 1941 he moved to Cardiff as a senior lecturer in anatomy at University College of South Wales, where he had command of the University Naval Reserve. He also studied hypnotism, on one occasion putting members of the London Symphony Orchestra into a trance and having them behave bizarrely on stage. However, he felt uncomfortable with the subject and never again put on any form of public display.

In 1947 he moved to London to assume the readership in anatomy at Middlesex Hospital Medical School. His MD with honours, awarded in the same year, was on the conducting tissues of the heart. Two years later he was promoted to the S A Courtauld chair of anatomy at that medical school, where he remained until his necessary retirement in 1974.

His love of anatomical teaching being undiminished, he returned to Scotland, where he was appointed as a lecturer in anatomy at Edinburgh University, teaching both undergraduates and postgraduate trainees in surgery. On reaching 70 he was again required by the university to retire, but unofficially he continued to tutor trainee surgeons on a regular basis for another 20 years, well into his nineties.

An inspirational and charismatic teacher, deft with blackboard and chalk, he inspired great affection among his thousands of students, many of whom continued with a love of anatomy throughout their careers. Many would claim that in his later years Eldred had become the acknowledged doyen of the world of anatomy. He was made an FRCS by election in 1976 in recognition of his lifelong contribution to the teaching of anatomy to surgical trainees.

In 1963 he became president of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland, having previously served as treasurer for eight years. He contributed many papers to the Journal of Anatomy, as well as chapters in Cunningham's textbook of anatomy (Oxford University Press), and delivered many eponymous lectures, including the Gordon-Taylor lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons in 1976 ('Sir Gordon Gordon-Taylor, surgeon-anatomist and humanist,' Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 1977 Jan;59[1]:4-10). Generally, he committed these lectures to memory and delivered them immaculately without a single note.

His research on the structure and function of the anal sphincter led to his appointment as honorary anatomist to St Mark's Hospital, an association he enjoyed until his death. During his time at the Middlesex he took a keen interest in medical education and was dean of the medical school from 1967 to 1974, during which time he raised millions of pounds which led to the establishment of the Jules Thorn Institute.

Apart from an interest in medical history, his outside interests were few. In his entry in Who's Who he listed but one - an annual visit to Lords!

In 1939 he married (Jessie) Vivien Robb, a fellow medical student whom he met in the dissecting room, who died shortly after their diamond wedding anniversary in 1999. They had two children, Andrew and Gwyneth, both of whom qualified in medicine at St Thomas's Hospital Medical School. Eldred Walls died on 24 March 2008, aged 95.

Sir Barry Jackson

Sources used to compile this entry: [J Anat. 2008 September; 213(3): 230-231; The Scotsman 15 July 2008; BMJ 2008 337 2867].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England