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Biographical entry Spanton, William Dunnett (1840 - 1922)

MRCS July 29th 1862; FRCS (by election) April 14th 1898; LSA 1862; FRCS Edin 1881; JP for Staffordshire 1892.

27 September 1840
13 May 1922
General surgeon and Gynaecologist


Born on Sept 27th 1840, at Castle Street, Holborn. He was educated at Loughborough Grammar School, where his father was master of the modern side. He entered the school early in 1854, and left in 1855 to be apprenticed to Josiah Pritchard, a surgeon in Loughborough. He then served as an unqualified assistant at Saffron Walden, and became a student at the Middlesex Hospital in October, 1859. Here he was an out-patient dresser to W H Flower (qv) and a clinical clerk to Dr Charles Coote, living first with his parents at Hampstead, and afterwards with Henry John Brown, of Wilmington Square, Clerkenwell, under whom he had the care of the casual or tramp ward at the Workhouse. He returned to the Middlesex Hospital in the autumn of 1861, and acted as dresser under Campbell de Morgan (qv) and clerk to Dr Goodfellow and Sir William Priestley. He was also a Prosector at the Royal College of Surgeons, and acted as assistant to Dr William Squire at a time when the best-class general practitioners still had their surgeries and dispensed their own drugs. He was appointed to the newly formed post of Resident Obstetric Assistant at the Middlesex Hospital in 1862.

Spanton served as House Surgeon at the Buckinghamshire Infirmary at Aylesbury until he was appointed to a similar post at Sheffield in 1863. In March, 1864, he was elected House Surgeon at the North Staffordshire Infirmary, and thus began his life-long connection with the Potteries. He was elected Medical Officer to the Infirmary in June, 1867, and Surgeon in 1868 after a severely contested election on the resignation of Joseph Walker. He held office until 1903, when he became Consulting Surgeon. During this period he did much to improve both the buildings and the organization of the Infirmary, which was made a model among modern provincial hospitals. In addition to his work as a surgeon he conducted a large general practice, and undertook an unremunerative enterĀ¬prise in the Isle of Man for obtaining iodine from seaweed.

At the British Medical Association he was a member of the Parliamentary Bills Committee in 1900, and a Member of the Council from 1901-1908. For some years he was a Member of the Executive Committee of the North Staffordshire Division, of which he was President in 1912. He was Vice-President of the Section of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Sheffield Meeting in 1908, and of the Section of Surgery at the Birmingham Meeting in 1911.

He was the last President of the British Gynaecological Society before it was absorbed as a section of the Royal Society of Medicine, and as a gynecologist he presented many obstetrical instruments to the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons. He was President of the Staffordshire Nurses' Institution, and the Founder and President of the North Staffordshire Field Club, as well as Consulting Surgeon to the Longton Hospital.

He married in 1867 Ellen Victoria Bates (d 1916), and by her had issue three sons and three daughters. The daughters survived him; the three sons died before him; one, John Spanton, an officer in the Rifle Brigade, was killed during the European War.

He retired in 1909 and lived at Ripon Lodge, Hastings, where he died on May 13th, 1922. Spanton was an eminently practical surgeon, who is remembered by his strenuous advocacy of his subcutaneous operation for the cure of hernia. He read a paper at the Cork Meeting of the British Medical Association in 1879, on "The Immediate Cure of Hernia by a New Instrument" (Brit Med Jour, 1879, ii, 323), namely, torsion of the sac by means of a corkscrew. It was used for a short period, but was replaced by the open incision and removal of the sac. He was a man of genial character, gregarious, and a regular attendant at the various medical congresses of his day.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Eric E Young's The Story of my Life by W D Spanton, FRCS, 8vo, London, 1920, illustrated with portraits of Spanton at different ages. There is a good bibliography of his writings at pp.252-5. Prov Med Jour, Leicester, 1890, ix, 129, with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England