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Biographical entry Spicer, William Thomas Holmes (1860 - 1935)

MRCS 24 January 1884; FRCS 13 December 1888; BA Cambridge 1881; MA 1885; MB 1886; LRCP 1884.

15 August 1860
Saffron Walden, Essex
8 August 1935
Wimbledon Common
Ophthalmic surgeon


Born 15 August 1860 at Saffron Walden, Essex, the second child and only son of William Spicer and Anne Holmes, his wife. His father owned a considerable amount of land as well as the Rose and Crown Hotel in Saffron Walden; his mother came of a family of brewers in Yorkshire. Holmes Spicer was educated at Saffron Walden School and at Queen Elizabeth's School, Barnet. He went to Cambridge, matriculated and, after living for some time as a non-collegiate student, entered Gonville and Caius College in March 1879. He graduated with third-class honours in the Natural Sciences Tripos 1880, and then went to St Bartholomew's Hospital. Here he won the Bentley prize and the Brackenbury surgical scholarship, and became president of the Abernethian Society. He served a year of office as house surgeon to Alfred Willett, and was for six months ophthalmic house surgeon to Henry Power and to Bowater J Vernon. For a short time he was in general practice, first in Pimlico and later in Bedford Square, but soon determined to devote himself to the study of diseases of the eye and became a clinical assistant at the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital, Moorfields. In 1890 he was elected ophthalmic surgeon to the Victoria Hospital for Children in Tite Street, Chelsea, a post he held until 1899. During this period he did much good work in connexion with the disease then known as "scurvy rickets" or "Barlow's disease", which was common amongst the improperly fed children attending his clinic. In 1896 he was elected dean of the newly organized School at the Moorfields Ophthalmic Hospital. He carried out the duties admirably, and was made surgeon to the hospital in 1898 on the resignation of Edward Nettleship, holding office until 1920. At St Bartholomew's Hospital he became ophthalmic surgeon in 1901 upon the death of Bowater J Vernon, and held the post until 1925, when he retired on reaching the age of sixty-five. He was complimented by being made consulting ophthalmic surgeon and a governor of the Hospital, and was for several years a member of the house and visiting committees.

He was an active member of the Ophthalmic Society of the United Kingdom and of the ophthalmological section of the Royal Society of Medicine, and of this latter he was president for the years 1918-20. In 1923 he was awarded the Gifford prize for his work on parenchymatous keratitis. He married twice: (1) Florence, daughter of the Rev Enoch Mellor; she died during a pleasure trip in Spain; (2) Helen, daughter of James H Dunham of New York, who survived him and died on 27 March 1937. There were no children by either marriage. He died on 8 August 1935 at Elmley House, Wimbledon Common, and his ashes were buried in the old Parish Church at Wimbledon. Spicer was a good organizer, an excellent teacher, and an admirable operator, for he had great delicacy of touch. Tall and heavy in build, he spoke quietly and with some apparent reluctance, so that he shone more in the teaching of small classes than in the lecture room. He had a pretty wit, which was never sarcastic but was given with a quiet smile peculiarly his own. He did not court popularity, not was he eager to cultivate practice. His real interest in life seemed to lie in water-colour sketching, in which he was really proficient and was especially happy in depicting the colouring and moods of the sea and rocks.

Parenchymatous keratitis; interstitial keratitis; uveitis anterior. The Gifford Edmonds prize in ophthalmology. Brit J Ophthal 1924, Monograph supplement No 1. The essay is illustrated with Spicer's own drawings.
Nettleship's Diseases of the eye, 6th edition, revised by W T H Spicer. London, 1897.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 9 August 1935, p 12c, and eulogy on 19 August, p 15d; Lancet, 1935 2, 400, with portrait; Brit med J 1935, 2, 321, with portrait, neither portrait is a good likeness; St Bart's Hosp J 1935, 42, 219, with portrait; St Barts Hosp Rep 1936, 69, 1, with portrait; information given by Mrs Holmes Spicer; personal knowledge].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England