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Biographical entry Oldham, James Bagot (1899 - 1977)

CBE 1964; VRD 1942, bar 1949; MRCS and FRCS 1925; MB ChB Liverpool 1921; LRCP 1925.

7 November 1899
1 March 1977
General surgeon and Military surgeon


James Bagot Oldham was born in Belfast on 7 November 1899, the first child of Samuel Charles Oldham, a ship repair director and of his wife Kathleen, née O'Flaherty. Most of his father's family were in the medical profession. He was cousin to Sir Hugh Rigby FRCS, Sergeant-Surgeon to HM George V.

He was educated at Birkenhead School and Liverpool University, where he graduated MB, ChB in 1921. After his hospital residence he returned to the university as Gee Fellow in anatomy 1922-23. In 1925 he took his Conjoint Diploma immediately followed by the FRCS, and took a post as resident and registrar at the David Lewis Northern Hospital. While working there he was awarded the Lady Jones Fellowship in orthopaedic surgery, which he held from 1926 to 1928 and went on to be appointed honorary assistant surgeon to that hospital, and also honorary surgeon to the Birkenhead General Hospital and consulting surgeon to the Liverpool Teaching Hospital, positions which he held until retirement in 1964. He worked with G C E Simpson FRCS and Professor T P McMurray, whose teaching and example he found a great influence. In 1939 he became senior honorary surgeon with charge of a teaching unit at the Northern Hospital, a member of the faculty of medicine and, in 1941, lecturer in clinical surgery to Liverpool University.

He joined the RNVR in 1924, and was a Surgeon-Commander when war broke out. He served throughout the war in naval hospitals in England and at Scapa Flow. In 1942 he was awarded the VRD and promoted to Surgeon-Captain. In 1944 he was appointed consultant surgeon to the Royal Navy, a position which he held for twenty years. In spite of his naval commitments he still found time for teaching and research. He was a member of the Court of Examiners from 1943 to 1949 and Hunterian Professor in 1944.

On return to civil life in 1945 he resumed his hospital appointments. After the introduction of the NHS he served as a member of the board of governors of the United Liverpool Hospitals and on the advisory committee of the Regional Hospital Board. He was a member of Council of the College from 1947 to 1955 during which time he was again Hunterian Professor in 1950. He was awarded a bar to the VRD in 1949 and was made Honorary Surgeon to HM the Queen in 1952.

He became a member of the Liverpool Medical Institution in 1925, and devoted himself to its service for over 40 years, holding almost every office in succession up to the presidency in 1953. In 1963 he was President of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland on the occasion of their meeting in Liverpool. In 1964 he was awarded the CBE.

J B Oldham was a perfectionist who could be outspoken. Those who did not know him could be put off by his manner, but his surgical and nursing staff were loyally devoted. He was an excellent clinical teacher, particularly interested in helping ex-service men to obtain their higher examinations. Administratively he was deeply involved in the planning of the new Royal Liverpool Hospital. He had little time for leisure during his professional career, though in retirement he devoted himself to his love of gardening and in spite of progressive arthritis almost single-handed landscaped and transformed an open field at his home in North Wales into an impressive garden, much admired by his many visiting friends. As a young man he had been a notable rugby player, representing Cheshire on no fewer than 35 occasions. In retirement, when not gardening, his interests were literary, musical and in the history of medicine. He had published various papers on vascular surgery and the surgery of the autonomic system.

In 1931, he married Kathleen Longton Hicks, FFARCS, consultant anaesthetist to Liverpool Teaching and Regional Hospitals. They had no children. He died suddenly on 1 March 1977, aged 77.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1977, 1, 913].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England