Lives of the fellows

Albert Hugh Thelwall Jones

b.8 October 1908 d.18 September 1990
MB ChB Liverp(1930) MD(1934) DPH(1935) MRCP(1945) FRCP(1958)

Thelwall Jones was a pioneer in industrial medicine who later became a distinguished teaching hospital physician. He was the eldest son of Albert Jones, a medical practitioner, who was born in Wallasey and who was awarded the DSO and the MC in the first world war. Thelwall was born in Ormskirk, Lancashire, where his father was in general practice before becoming MOH of Widnes shortly after his son's birth. Thelwall’s mother Ivey, née Cooke, was from a Cornish family. Two of his brothers are doctors: John Andrew Jones was in the Port of London Authority and his youngest brother Eric Sherwood Jones was a physician in Whiston and St Helens and was responsible for many advances in intensive care. Another brother, Sir Edward Gordon Jones, was a fighter pilot in the Western Desert, Greece and Crete, during the second world war and subsequently an Air Marshal. His godfather was Thelwall Thomas, professor of clinical surgery at Liverpool University from 1913-1925.

Thelwall was educated at Wade Deacon Grammar School, Widnes, and Liverpool University medical school. He was a house physician at Liverpool Royal Infirmary and was for a short time in general practice with his uncle Milton Jones in Llanfair Caereinion. Montgomeryshire and the Lleyn peninsular always had a special place in Thelwall’s affections. Though educated and working in industrial surroundings he was very much the countryman, with a love of horses and wild life. During the decade after qualifying he found time for hunting, polo and flying. His interest in National Hunt racing lasted until his death. He was also a keen photographer and his excellent film study of buzzards in the 1950s was appreciated by many audiences.

In 1932 he returned to Widnes, where he started in general practice. He was very soon appointed a part-time medical officer to ICI, a post he held as a consultant from 1946-1977, and in the next few years he was appointed to several other chemical firms where the workers were exposed to a large variety of chemical hazards. He was awarded the MD in 1934 for his thesis on ‘Dermatitis from Dinitrochlorbenzene’. In 1940 he married Sadie Wendt, a local school teacher, and they had two sons.

With the onset of war his expertise in industrial medicine led to him being refused permission to join the Armed Forces. He was appointed honorary industrial adviser to the Ministry of Supply and, in 1943, medical officer to Tube Alloys - which was a cover name for the firm working on nuclear fission. His principal concern was the safety of the staff who were working with uranium. Travelling on the floor of an unheated Liberator bomber, this highly secret work took him to the USA on two occasions in order to supervise the health aspects of the project at Los Alamos. He carried out much original research into the effects of radiation on man but because of the Official Secrets Act he was refused permission to publish until many years after the war, by which time workers in the USA had published similar results. In 1945 he was appointed to the Protection Sub-Committee of the MRC Atomic Energy Advisory Committee and in 1950 to the nuclear physics committee of the MRC.

Thelwall worked with Donald Hunter [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.288] during the war years and their friendship and fruitful collaboration continued when the war was over. It was Donald Hunter who encouraged him to study for the MRCP, which he obtained in 1945. Another wartime contact which led to a life-long friendship was with Kenneth M A Perry [Munk's Roll, Vol.VIII, p.374], together they worked on the effects of industrial dusts and gases on lung disease.

In 1946 Thelwall decided on a change of career to consultant internal medicine. He was appointed to the David Lewis Northern Hospital, a branch of the United Liverpool Hospitals, and served as a physician there from 1946 until his retirement in 1973. He was also visiting physician to Ormskirk General Hospital and was on the staff of the Birkenhead General Hospital until 1949. He gave up the latter post to take on a major commitment as senior physician at Whiston Hospital. At the Northern Hospital he was junior physician to H S Pemberton [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.327] whose large diabetic clinic he took over when Pemberton retired in 1955. At Whiston Hospital his major clinical interest was in the elderly. He had a warm, natural charm and in his clinical work he established a rapid rapport with his patients, having a deep understanding and sympathy with their problems. He was conscientious in caring for them and rarely visited a hospital without walking round his wards to have a word with each patient.

From 1945-47 he served on the council of the Liverpool Medical Institution and was its secretary of scientific meetings from 1957-59. He was a member of the board of governors of the United Liverpool Hospitals from 1961-66 and chairman of its medical executive committee from 1968-71. In 1968 he was invited to be a member of the National Advisory Council for the Disabled; the work of its medical committee led to the legislation to improve the lot of the disabled. He was also a member of the Thoracic Society and of the Association of Physicians.

As well as having special interests in chest diseases, diabetes and the elderly, he maintained his expertise in industrial medicine and started an industrial medical clinic at the Northern. He was a popular lecturer because he always managed to be humorous. He was much in demand both during and after the war, lecturing on a variety of subjects to do with industrial medicine such as accident services, lung disease, toxic chemicals, dermatitis, radiation hazards, job replacement, the value of routine medical examinations and the cardiac patient in industry. These lectures were given to societies and on the DIH course in Manchester and the DPH course in Liverpool.

His first published paper, in 1936, was on ‘A medical service in small firms’. Many more papers followed, including in 1946 his classic article on ‘Occupational dermatitis’ in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine, 6, 83-96. He also contributed chapters to books on industrial medicine and medical emergencies.

Thelwall’s clinical research was mostly concerned with chest diseases and the relationship between the degree of control of diabetes and the onset of its complications. Like many physicians, he noted the association between lung cancer and smoking during the 1940s but unlike others he undertook work to establish the association statistically. He was the senior author of one of the earliest papers on the subject [The Lancet, 1952, 2, 651].

He retired to the Vale of Clwyd where he was content in the company of Sadie, tending his large garden and walking his dog. He was much loved by his wife and sons and all his extended family, and also by those who had benefited from his skills as a physician and from his generosity as a friend. It was only in the last year of his life that he became troubled by Parkinsonism, yet his spirit remained cheerful and he was up a ladder picking apples the day before he died of cerebral haemorrhage. He was survived by Sadie and his two sons, one a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist in Dorchester and the other a stockbroker.

R B McConnell

[Brit.med.J., 1990,30l,1096; Liverpool med.Inst.,Trans. & rep.. 1979-80]

(Volume IX, page 279)

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