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1983: Sir Wilfrid Sheldon doctor to the Royals

Updated: Aug 30, 2021

Sir Wilfrid Sheldon KCVO, MD, FRCP, FRCOG

Sir Wilfrid Sheldon, formerly physician paediatrician to the Queen’s Household, head of the children's department at King's College Hospital, consultant physician to the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, and adviser in child health to the Ministry of Health, died on 9 September (1983], he was 81.

Wilfrid Percy Henry Sheldon was born on 23 November 1901 and was educated at King’s College and King’s College Hospital, London, qualifying with the conjoint diploma in 1923 and graduating MR, BS a year later, with honours in anatomy and medicine. After early resident appointments he became house physician to George Frederic Still (later Sir Frederic Still), the first doctor in Britain to confine his practice to children, which doubtless influenced Wilfrid Sheldon in deciding on his future career. He proceeded MD in 1923 and took the MRCP the same year.

After holding the post of medical registrar at the Royal Free Hospital and at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, he was appointed assistant physician in the children's department at King's College Hospital and teacher in the medical school in 1928. On the retirement of Sir Frederic Still in 1933 he became physician in charge of the department, and in the same year he was elected FRCP.

Cuckfield children’s hospital for evacuees

During the second world war Wilfrid Sheldon, together with his colleague Dr Philip Evans, organised a children's hospital at Cuckfield for children evacuated from London, and when in 1943 this was taken over by the Canadians he organised another children's hospital at Haywards Heath. In 1947 he became director of studies in child health in King’s College Hospital Medical School.

In 1952 he was appointed physician paediatrician to the Queen’s Household. He was appointed CVO in 1954 and KCVO five years later. After nearly 40 years on the consultant staff at King’s he retired in 1967.

Wilfrid Sheldon was a member of the Health Services (Council from 1952 to 1961 and of its standing advisory committee from 1955 to 1961. Vice president of the section of child health at the annual meeting of the BMA in 1950, he was president of the section in 1956. He was president of the British Paediatric Association in 1963-4. He contributed many palters to professional journals and was the author in 1936 of the well known Text Book of Diseases of Infancy and Childhood, which by 1962 had reached its 8th edition. His Dietary Starch and Fat Absorption was published in 1949.

In 1927 he married Mabel Winifred Netherway, and they had three daughters, one of whom is a member of the medical profession.

Link to Africa

RL [?] writes: One evening Wilfrid Sheldon described to us at a meeting at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormand Street, how the parents of a sick child in Uganda walked 50 miles to Kampala to obtain medical help. He proposed a liaison between the Hospital for Sick Children and the hospital of the (then) University College of Uganda, which became a pattern for future paediatric liaisons overseas. He did many other things when later on he was chairman of the medical committee and guided Great Ormond Street through a difficult period. As a clinician he can be placed alongside Sir Frederic Still, whose pupil he was, Sir Robert Hutchison, and Dr John Poynton.

Instilled confidence

Like these old time clinicians he relied on bedside methods more than on investigations. It was told in the mess at Great Ormond Street that he had instructed his house physician which investigations he should not request, such as an erythrocyte sedimentation rate. Wilfrid never gave much away, even to his close hospital colleagues, but he instilled confidence in the nurses and the parents of his patients.

APN [?] writes: Wilfrid Sheldon was the middle of three brothers, all of whom have had a distinguished medical career. He was not only a great doctor but a great character and was one of the group of notable paediatricians who, in this country, shaped paediatrics when it began to emerge as a specialty in its own right. Wilfrid was appointed to the consultant staff of Great Ormond Street at the remarkably early age of 27 and remained all his working life a general children’s physician with no taste for the present trend to ever greater specialism.

The Southwood building in 1945, from a drawing by Dennis Flanders.

He was a superb clinician and a shrewd diagnostician whose suggestiims were never wisely disregarded in difficult cases as so often they proved to be right. His rather lofty bearing and occasional arrogance were awe inspiring for his juniors and overseas students, but to parents in their anxiety and grief he was always thoughtful and considerate, and he was beloved by his staff.

Like most of his generation he had no training in research and took little part in it except to encourage and counsel his juniors, and indeed he was in general responsible for few innovations. He did, however, in the days when such ventures were unusual, develop and organise the very successful teaching and nursing link with Mulago Hospital, Kampala, and Great Ormond Street, which flourished until the collapse of Uganda under the Amin regime.

This also stimulated a number of young paediatricians to a lasting interest in, and love of, Africa and Africans. To those of us who met him on coming back from the war in 1945 he first appeared to be an aloof figure, with little interest in us, until the ice would suddenly be broken and he would prove a kind and thoughtful friend and a loyal supporter.

He was indeed a sensitive and humble man who confided how difficult he found the increasing need to think in biochemical terms; in fact his high intelligence and logical mind enabled him to grasp new facts without trouble. He like to have time to digest new ideas, and in many friendly discussions over tea after his ward round it could be seen how new ideas were dropped and then the better ones were picked up again and polished or improved.

Considerable influence on GOSH

In committee he said little, but when he did speak his opinions were so carefully considered and were given with such authority that they were usually accepted. He had considerable influence in the postwar development of Great Ormond Street, and, of course, of the children’s department of King's College Hospital. His position as paediatric adviser to the Ministry of Health gave him equal influence in the development of paediatrics in the country as a whole.

After a lifetime in paediatrics at a high level and with many very responsible posts it is nut surprising that on retirement he gave up medicine completely and devoted his whole time to his garden and his family with complete contentment.


British Medical Journal (Clinical Research Edition) Vol. 287, No. 6396 (Sep. 24,1983), p. 918


The Southwood building in 1945, from a drawing by Dennis Flanders. Museum and archives service, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.


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