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Biographical entry Hadfield, Gordon (1924 - 2008)

MRCS LRCP 1947; FRCS 1955.

31 August 1924
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire
22 August 2008
Orthopaedic surgeon and Trauma surgeon


Gordon Hadfield was a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Rowley Bristow Hospital, Pyrford, Surrey. He was born in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire on 31 August 1924, the youngest of three brothers. Both his parents, James Arthur Hadfield and Grace Sherwood Hadfield née Calver, were consultant psychiatrists, and one of his brothers also became a psychiatrist. Gordon was educated at the Hall School, Hampstead and Westminster School, though he left Westminster at 16 because many of the teachers were called up for service in the Second World War. He studied medicine at King's College Hospital and qualified at the age of 22.

From a young age, he was interested in mechanical engineering, particularly related to motorbikes and cars. It therefore seemed natural that, after his general medical education and preliminary surgical training, he would specialise in orthopaedic and trauma surgery. He became a senior orthopaedic registrar to Ronnie Furlong at St Thomas' Hospital, where one of his duties was to attend a Saturday morning operating list at the Rowley Bristow Hospital in Pyrford.

In 1963 Gordon was appointed as a consultant orthopaedic surgeon to St Peter's Hospital, Chertsey and the Rowley Bristow Hospital. He was considered by many to be a master surgeon. He led and taught by example. His instruction to trainees was 'if you want to learn you need to turn up and watch'. His senior colleagues at the Rowley Bristow Hospital were Alan Apley and Franklin Adin ('Sam') Simmonds. At Pyrford it was said that Alan Apley would make a diagnosis, Sam Simmonds would recommend which operation and Gordon Hadfield would do the operation. Obviously, this was said tongue in cheek, but the implications were clear.

Gordon had a major interest in trauma and was a very strong advocate of early weight-bearing for patients with stable lower limb fractures, whether internally fixed or treated conservatively, on the basis that it promoted healing. He applied his sound self-taught practical knowledge of mechanical engineering to designing and making or modifying orthopaedic splints and instruments, which would be carried out in the hospital workshop. He designed the lightweight 'Hadfield bed', which enabled patients with femoral or tibial fractures who were being treated on lower limb skeletal traction to exercise and flex their knees while traction was fully maintained. He also designed and used a halo pelvic traction device for the treatment of scoliosis.

With Alan Apley, Gordon significantly contributed to the design of the first purpose-built accident and emergency department in the country, completed at St Peter's, Chertsey in mid 1960.

Gordon helped run the internationally-known Apley Pyrford fellowship course for many years. He was particularly responsible for running the so-called 'fracture weekend' (one out of the three course weekends). As well as lecturing and demonstrating, he photographed and made slides of the X-rays taken of the patients' fractures shown on the course. Many surgeons throughout the world in all specialties have fond memories of attending this course.

In addition to his hospital work as an orthopaedic surgeon, he was chairman of the medical executive committee and he sat on the advisory committee of the local health authority. He was president of the Rowley Bristow Hospital League of Friends for a number of years. Gordon retired in 1988 after suffering a heart attack.

Outside of orthopaedic surgery, Gordon had a passion for motorbikes: he rode, repaired and modified them. He started riding motorcycles at the age of eight and later competed in trials, scrambling, road racing and speedway. Several world champions and other high profile motorcyclists came to him for advice on, and treatment of, various injuries. His son-in-law was a three-times world champion professional motorcyclist specialising in trials.

During the Second World War, while a medical student, Gordon joined the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) as a motorcycle messenger. He was chief medical officer of the Auto-Cycle Union and president of the international medical panel of the International Motorcycling Federation. He also became chief medical officer and later president of the British Motorcycle Racing Club. He organised medical officers at major motorcycle track events, and after his retirement was responsible for overseeing the safety aspects of various motorcycle circuits throughout the world. He was a highly-respected member of the Vintage Motorcycle Club and proudly rode his 1914 Royal Enfield Motorcycle with wicker sidecar in the yearly London to Brighton vintage motorcycle event.

To complete his very fulfilled life outside orthopaedic surgery, Gordon was a very loyal and prominent member of the Rotary Club of Weybridge and Byfleet.

In 1947, he married to Eileen (née Dexter), who very sadly died in a tragic accident in 1998. Gordon died on 22 August 2008, aged 83. He was survived by his two daughters, his son (Christopher) and six grandchildren.

Robin Hollingsworth

Sources used to compile this entry: [Personal Knowledge; Christopher Hadfield].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England