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Biographical entry Openshaw, Thomas (1856 - 1929)

CMG 1900; CB 1917; MRCS Jan 17th 1882; FRCS Dec 9th 1886; MB BS Durham 1883; MS 1887; LRCP Lond 1884; LSA 1882.

27 March 1856
Bury, Lancashire
17 November 1929
Orthopaedic surgeon


Born at Bury in Lancashire on March 27th, 1856, the eldest son of John Lomax Openshaw, gentleman, and Mary Horrocks, his wife. He was educated at the Bristol Grammar School and began to train as an engineer, but soon abandoned the course for medicine. He entered the University of Durham, where he graduated MB BS in 1883, proceeding MS in 1887, when he took 1st class honours at the examination. He then entered the London Hospital and was Demonstrator of Anatomy 1890-1893, having been Curator of the Museum from 1888-1890; in 1890 he was elected Assistant Surgeon, becoming full Surgeon in 1902 and Consulting Surgeon in 1923. He lectured on anatomy from 1893-1903, on surgery 1912-1913, and on orthopaedic surgery 1909-1923, in the Medical School attached to the Hospital.

From an early period in his career Openshaw became interested in orthopaedic surgery, and in 1893 was elected Assistant Surgeon to the National Orthopaedic Hospital; he remained upon the staff after the charity had amalgamated with the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital and the City Orthopaedic Hospital in 1905, becoming Surgeon and ultimately Consulting Surgeon. His keen interest in the treatment of deformities led him to take a leading part in promoting an orthopaedic department at the London Hospital, and he remained in charge of it as long as he was on the active staff. He was also Surgeon to the Surgical Aid Society, where in later life he was an influential member of the Committee of Management. In 1915 he acted as the trusted adviser of Mrs Gwynn Holford when she formed the Queen Mary's Convalescent Auxiliary Committee, and opened the hospital at Roehampton to provide artificial appliances for men wounded in the War. In all questions which arose as to the best kinds of artificial limbs to be supplied and the choice of makers, Openshaw's advice was sought and taken, and most of the orthopaedic surgeons who joined him as colleagues were appointed on his recommendation. In 1918 he was instrumental, with Sir Robert Jones and Mr E Muirhead Little, in establishing the British Orthopaedic Association, and in 1922-1923 he was President of the Orthopaedic Subsection of the Section of Surgery at the Royal Society of Medicine. He was also a Vice-President of the Section of Diseases of Children, which included Orthopaedics, at the Annual Meeting of the British Medical Association at Liverpool in 1912, and President of the Section of Orthopaedics at Portsmouth in 1923.

Amongst his minor appointments were those of Consulting Surgeon to the Poplar Hospital for Accidents, to the Cottage Hospitals at Tilbury Dock, Sidcup, and Woolwich, and to King Edward VIIs Hospital. At the Royal College of Surgeons he was a Member of Council from 1916-1924, but took no very active part in the proceedings.

From his undergraduate days Openshaw was a keen volunteer, and was amongst the first to take a commission as Surgeon Lieutenant when the Volunteer Medical Staff Corps was established. In 1900 he went to the South African War as Surgeon to the Imperial Yeomanry Field Hospital, where he was second in command under Charles Stonham (qv). He was taken prisoner when Pretoria was captured, and after his release was appointed Principal Medical Officer of No 2 Model School Hospital, Pretoria, where he had a freer hand and better opportunities than in a subordinate position in the Yeomanry Hospital. For his services he was mentioned in dispatches and was decorated CMG in 1900. On his return to England he became Surgeon Lieutenant-Colonel in the Lincolnshire Yeomanry (T). He was too old to serve abroad during the European War, but was appointed Consulting Surgeon to the Eastern Command with the rank of Colonel AMS, and was made a CB in 1917, being also a Knight of Grace of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

Openshaw had many interests apart from those of his profession. He was Master of the Wheelwrights' Company in 1915-1916; had been Master of several Masonic Lodges, including that of the London Hospital, and held the rank of PGD from 1905 and PAG Soj from 1922. He was an enthusiastic and very skilful fisherman, for he was President of the Red Spinner Angling Society, and had won in 1925 the challenge cup which he had himself presented to the Club.

He married in 1890 Gertrude, daughter of William Pratt, of Bruen Hall, Oxfordshire (d1929), and by her had a son, Major L P Openshaw, RAF, who was killed in a flying accident at Bournemouth in the summer of 1927, and a daughter, Mrs Jenner. He died after a short illness on Nov 17th, 1929, and was buried in Maidenhead Cemetery.

Openshaw was a good operator, for his anatomical knowledge was sure and his decision in emergencies was rapid. His service at the London Hospital bridged over the change from the antiseptic to the aseptic ritual in the operating theatre. Having achieved excellent results with antiseptic methods he was loath to change, and it was some time before he yielded to the innovation of operating in gloves, for his skin was unaffected by frequent immersion in 5 per cent carbolic lotion. Somewhat short in stature, he was of so sturdy a build that he looked shorter than he was in reality. He spoke with a marked Lancashire accent. His honesty of purpose, his enthusiasm for all forms of sport, and his absolute loyalty made him a general favourite, and by his many friends he was always spoken of as 'Tommy'. He made no separate contribution to surgical literature, but was joint-editor of the Catalogue of the Pathological Museum of the London Hospital.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Lancet, 1929, ii, 1117, with portrait, which is not a very good likeness. Brit Med Jour, 1929, 985. Additional information given by Mrs Jenner. Personal knowledge].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England