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Biographical entry Wrigley, Arthur Joseph (1902 - 1983)

CBE 1965; MRCS 1924; FRCS 1927; MB BS London 1925; MD 1928; FRCOG 1938; Hon FCOG (SA) 1957; LRCP 1924.

5 May 1902
Clitheroe, Lancashire
18 December 1983
Obstetrician and gynaecologist


Arthur Joseph Wrigley (Joe) was born at Clitheroe, Lancashire, on 5 May 1902, the son of Canon Joseph Wrigley and after attending the Royal Grammar School, Clitheroe, and later Rossall School, he entered St Thomas's Hospital Medical School, qualifying in 1924. He gained a distinction in pathology in the London MB in the following year and passed the FRCS within three years of qualification. He then decided to pursue a career in obstetrics and gynaecology and in 1928 was awarded the London MD with the gold medal in midwifery. In 1930 he served as registrar to the departments of obstetrics and gynaecology at StThomas's and the General Lying-In Hospital when these hospitals were responsible for over 10,000 deliveries annually and in the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at St Thomas's Hospital, becoming a full physician in 1936.

His renown for the obstetric forceps which bear his name dates from the time in the mid-thirties when a storeman in the basement of St Thomas's, while tidying up, found a pair of obstetric forceps with straight blades, similar to those used by Smellie in the eighteenth century. Joe immediately appreciated their value and took them to an instrument-maker with instructions to modify the forceps by making a shorter handle and putting on a pelvic curve. At the time obstetrics was practised by many general practitioners who would not be able to apply the blades to a high head and could not squeeze the head too tightly when using these forceps. The shortness of the handles necessitated exerting traction at the correct place where the shanks crossed over. At the time they must have averted much maternal and foetal damage. He was a superb clinician and a great teacher whose enthusiasm encouraged many juniors to embark on a career in obstetrics and gynaecology. He was an examiner for many universities at St Thomas's Hospital, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, where he served on the Council for two terms of three years, and at the Ministry of Health. He was also a liveryman of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries. While he was adviser to the Department of Health between 1953 and 1965 he was largely responsible for four Confidential Reports on Maternal Mortality, which contributed greatly to the improvement of maternity services and lowered maternal and perinatal mortality.

His services to the profession were recognised by the award of CBE in 1965 and two years later he retired, leaving London to live in the north of England, initially at Clitheroe and later at Alderley Edge, Cheshire. In 1930 he married Ann Slater and there was one son and one daughter of the marriage. Sadly his wife pre-deceased him in 1976 and he died in hospital after a short illness on 18 December 1983, aged 81.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1984, 288, 156-7; Lancet 1984, 1, 235].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England