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Biographical entry Hastings, Somerville (1878 - 1967)

MRCS 1902; FRCS 1904; MB BS 1902; MS London 1908; LRCP 1902.

4 March 1878
Warminster, Wiltshire
7 July 1967
ENT surgeon and Politician


Somerville Hastings was born on 4 March 1878 at Warminster, Wiltshire, the son of the Rev H G Hastings. He was educated at Wycliffe College, Stonehouse, Wiltshire and at University College, London, where he won gold and silver medals for botany. He won an entrance scholarship to the Middlesex Hospital and was Governor's Prizeman. After qualifying in 1902 he held a variety of house appointments at the Middlesex and was assistant surgeon at the East London Hospital for Children and the London Throat Hospital. Later he became surgeon to the ear, nose and throat department at the Middlesex and was eventually consultant aural surgeon and lecturer in his specialty. During the first world war he served as a Captain in the RAMC and in the second world war in the Emergency Medical Service.

Hastings was a member of the Association of Throat and Ear Surgeons of Great Britain and, with his fellow members, visited a number of clinics of note in Europe, including Paris, Strasbourg, Stockholm, Berne and Zurich. On these occasions there was much to be learned, not only from the formal demonstrations and operations, but from the extended discussions between members while travelling on the boat train from Victoria. He was vice-president of the Section of Laryngology at the British Medical Association annual meeting at Portsmouth in 1923 and was President of the Section of Laryngology of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1928-29.

Hastings political career began in 1923 when he was returned as the first Labour Member of Parliament for Reading. Almost immediately he was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Board of Education. However, he lost his seat in 1924, but regained it in the general election of 1929, only to be defeated in 1931 and again in 1935. At this time he was also active in local government and in 1932 he was elected as a Labour member of the London County Council, representing Mile End, which he continued to serve until 1946. From 1932 to 1934 he was chairman of the LCC Hospitals and Welfare Committee and chairman of the LCC itself 1944-5. Problems of welfare and housing were always of interest to him, and as early as 1929 he had promoted the idea of a national health service. This was one of the aims of the Socialist Medical Association, of which he was a founder member and its first president until 1951. Hastings also served on the public health advisory committee of the Labour Party.

At the general election of 1945 he stood as Labour candidate for the Barking constituency, which he won and retained at the subsequent general elections of 1950, 1951 and 1950. He decided not to stand again in the election of 1959, but in the following year he was made a Freeman of Barking in recognition of his services to the constituency.

Hastings was a shy man with a boyish enthusiasm for all that he did and an unshakeable conviction that medical advice should be freely available to all. He had strong Christian principles and was a teetotaller, although when acting as a host he never saw fit to impose his views on alcohol upon his guests. He was a keen amateur botanist and was the author of several books on botany, including Summer flowers of the High Alps, Wild flowers at home, Toadstools at home and Alpine plants at home. Hastings married Bessie Tuke, fourth daughter of W C Tuke of Manchester. They had one son and one daughter. Mrs Hastings died in 1958.

Somerville Hastings died at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, on 7 July 1967, aged 89.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 8 July 1967; Brit med J 1967, 3, 182 with an appreciation by Lady Summerskill; Lancet 1967, 2, 374; and information from Sir Victor Negus, FRCS. A portrait by Rodrigo Moynihan was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1946].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England