Lives of the fellows

Alfred Ernest Barclay

b.30 September 1876 d.26 April 1949
OBE(1918) MA BCh Cantab(1904) MD Cantab(1912) DMRE Cantab(1921) MRCS LRCP(1904) MRCP(1935) FRCP(1941)

Alfred Ernest Barclay was born in Manchester. His father was Robert Barclay, a cotton merchant, and his mother Mary Anne Morton, the daughter of a cotton manufacturer, both of Manchester.

Barclay was educated at Leys School, Christ's College, Cambridge, and the London Hospital, where he qualified M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P, in 1904. After qualification he was appointed clinical assistant in the electro-medical and skin departments of the London Hospital, and it|was here that he first became interested in the subject of radiology that became his life’s work.

His professional life was divided into three epochs, at Manchester from 1906 to 1928, at Cambridge, 1928-36, and at Oxford, 1936 until his death. The Manchester period was interrupted by his war service as captain, R.A.M.C., in the First World War, and the Oxford period by the Second World War, during which he was consulting adviser to the Ministry of Health, in charge of the X-ray services of the Emergency Medical Service.

In 1906 he set up in private X-ray practice in Manchester in partnership with Dr Bythell, and was appointed honorary radiologist to Ancoats Hospital. In 1920 he became head of the X-ray department at Manchester Royal Infirmary. From this time Barclay became interested in the radiology of the alimentary canal, the knowledge of which he did so much to promote in the years 1906-35.

He was the first to show a duodenal ulcer crater by a barium meal. Among his writings on the subject, which were many, perhaps the most important was his monograph, The Digestive tract: a radiological study, published in 1933.

At Cambridge he was responsible for establishing the first diploma in radiology, the D.M.R.E. (Cantab.), and for organising the teaching for it. When in 1936 Cambridge University decided to abolish all diplomas Barclay transferred his allegiance to Oxford as a lecturer in the Nuffield Institute for Medical Research. Here he co-operated with a team which included K. J. Franklin, Sir Joseph Barcroft, J. Trueta, P. M. Daniel and M. M. L. Prichard, in a series of brilliant researches.

He studied the method of dust excretion from the lungs and the mechanism of closure of the ductus arteriosus in the foetal sheep by cine-radiography. In 1945 he described, in collaboration with Franklin, Trueta, Daniel and Prichard, the vascular shunt in the kidney, whereby, in response to various stimuli, the renal blood flow is diverted from its normal course through the cortex and short-circuited through the subcortical plexus to the renal veins.

In 1946 he underwent a high gastrectomy and realised that time for him might be short. He threw himself with added zest into his micro-radiographic studies, which in conjunction with F. H. Bentley resulted in the discovery of a similar shunt in the wall of the stomach {Brit. J. Radiol., 1949, 22, 62-7). In 1948 he went to Torquay to winter and continued researches in the laboratory installed in his hotel until his failing health forced him to return to Oxford, where he died in April 1949.

What of the man? Barclay’s character won him both his outstanding reputation as a radiologist and the affection and regard of all who knew him, for he was irrepressibly good-humoured and benign. Unperturbed by unjust criticism, and incapable of taking offence, he imbued his work with imaginative enthusiasm and tireless industry. His two early books on the radiology of the alimentary tract, published in 1913 and 1915, were classics of their time. In them there is naturally much that is now quaint, but there is much more that has stood the test of time. Radiology is the richer for his long and active life.

In 1906 he married Mary McFarlane, the daughter of William McFarlane, a South African merchant. They had no children.

Richard R Trail

[Acta radiol. (Stockh.), 1949, 32, 1-10 (p), bibl.; Amer. J. Roentgenol., 1949, 62, 119-25 (p); Brit.J.Radiol, 1949, 22, 295-9, 406-08, bibl.; Brit.med.J., 1949, 1, 823-4; Lancet, 1949, 1, 803-04 (p), 845-6; Times, 2 May 1949.]

(Volume V, page 26)

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