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Biographical entry Griffith, Walter Spencer Anderson (1854 - 1946)

CBE 1920; MRCS 16 April 1878; FRCS 8 December 1881; MB Cambridge 1885; MD 1889; MRCP 1883; FRCP 1893.

1 December 1854
26 February 1946
Obstetric and gynaecological surgeon


Born 1 December 1854 the elder son of the Rev John Griffith, LLD, head master of Brighton College, and his wife Sarah Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Foster of Brooklands, Cambridge. His younger brother Francis Llewellyn Griffith, DLitt, became professor of Egyptology at Oxford and died in 1934. He was educated at Brighton College and began to study medicine at the Royal East Sussex Hospital, later entering St Bartholomew's Hospital and qualifying MRCS 1878. He determined to take a university degree, and while beginning to practise in London kept the statutory terms at Cambridge by staying for weekends at Downing College; he graduated MB 1885 and proceeded MD 1889. He had taken the FRCS in 1881, and having decided to devote himself to obstetric medicine he took the MRCP in 1883, and was elected FRCP in 1893.

Griffith was appointed physician accoucheur to the Great Northern Hospital; physician to out-patients at the Samaritan Hospital; and physician to Queen Charlotte's Hospital, where he worked in close collaboration with Chapman Grigg, MD. At St Bartholomew's Griffith came under the inspiration of James Matthews Duncan, MD, FRCP, and succeeded him as tutor in midwifery. When Duncan died unexpectedly in 1890, Francis Champneys, FRCP was recalled from St George's to the post of physician accoucheur. Griffith was appointed to assist him, with charge of out-patients. Hitherto the department's surgical operations had been referred to the hospital surgeons, latterly to Harrison Cripps, but Griffith was fully competent and ready to perform the necessary surgery, for he was an operator of natural ability. In due course he succeeded Champneys, and when he in turn resigned 1919 on reaching the age-limit, he was appointed consulting physician accoucheur, and a governor and member of the house-committee of the Hospital. During the war of 1914-19 he was consultant at the Queen Alexandra Military Hospital, Millbank, and was awarded the CBE for his services. Griffith represented the Royal College of Surgeons on the Central Midwives Board, and at one time lectured on midwifery at Cambridge. He was president of the section of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Royal Society of Medicine, and president of the Medical Defence Union 1932. At the Royal College of Physicians he was an examiner 1893-97 and a councillor 1914-16. In the British Medical Association he served as secretary of the section of obstetric medicine at the London meeting 1895, and president of the section of Obstetrics and gynaecology at Ipswich 1900. He wrote no book, though he contributed several papers to the professional press.

Griffith married twice: (1) in 1885 Mary Anne, youngest daughter of T Kinder, JP of Sandridge Bury, St Albans, and had a son; (2) in 18 Ella F Kennedy, daughter of William Jackson Kennedy, MD of Lisaghmore, Kirkcaldy, Fife, who survived him. He lived at 19 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea and, after retirement, at Brae Cottage, Grayswood, Haslemere, Surrey. He died on 26 February 1946 aged 91; a memorial service was held in St Bartholomew's-the-Less on 5 March. His pupil O D Barris, FRCS, who was physician-accoucheur at St Bartholomew's 1925-39, died three days before him. Griffith bequeathed one-third of the residue of his fortune to St Bartholomew's Hospital, for the development of the obstetrical and gynaecological department and to perpetuate the name of Matthews Duncan, and another third to the Hospital's medical college. Walter Griffith was a tall, strong man of serious outlook, conscientious, painstaking, and determined in his own views. He was a lucid and practical teacher, and when instructing his class used to perch on a high stool and usually wore a black velvet skull-cap. Like his chief Sir Francis Champneys he was a skilled musician; Champneys played the organ and Griffith the cello.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 28 February 1946, p 7e, and 6 March, p 6b, memorial service; Lancet, 1946, 1, 366, with eulogy by TGS; Brit med J 1946, 1, 415, and 1947, 1, 34, bequests; information from Mrs Walter Griffith].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England