Lives of the fellows

Charles Ernest Lakin

b.23 February 1878 d.2 May 1972
MRCS LRCP(1901) MB BS Lond(1902) MD(1903) FRCS(1905) MRCP(1908) FRCP(1916)

C.E. Lakin was born at 58 London Road, Leicester, where his father, Dr. Charles Lakin (1849-1916) had been in general practice since 1873 and had been Mayor of Leicester in 1908. He was educated at Carter’s School and the Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys, Leicester, and entered the Middlesex Hospital Medical School on 6th October, 1896 with an Entrance Scholarship of £100. He qualified MRCS, LRCP in 1901, having been awarded the second Broderip Scholarship, the Freeman Scholarship and the Leopold Hudson Prize. He obtained the MB BS of London University in 1903 with honours in medicine and obstetric medicine. He was house physician at the Middlesex Hospital in 1902 and, while preparing for higher medical and surgical qualifications (FRCS in 1905 and MRCP in 1908), he worked at morbid anatomy and carried out all the post-mortem examinations at the Middlesex during the years 1904 to 1912. In an obituary note ‘D.H.’ relates that Lakin was paid £70 per annum and had a hard fight to induce the Hospital to pay a boy to cut the sections. Lakin was also curator of the pathological museum, of which he wrote a history in 1908. In addition, he was clinical assistant to James Pringle in the skin department at the Middlesex and to Theodore Thompson at Great Ormond Street. In 1912 he was elected assistant physician at the Middlesex and lecturer in Morbid Anatomy. He later joined the staff of The London Fever Hospital and became advisory physician to the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital, Golden Square. In 1914 the Bland Sutton Institute of Pathology opened at the Middlesex and Lakin became associated with it by virtue of his lectureship in Morbid Anatomy. During the first world war he served in the RAMC as Pathologist at the Addington Park War Hospital. He was elected FRCP in 1916 and was Senior Fellow by election at the time of his death, when he was also second-senior Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Lakin played a full part in the Royal College of Physicians; he was an Examiner during the years 1925-29, 1930-33 and 1949-51, Councillor in 1935, Censor in 1935 and 1936 and Senior Censor in 1938. He was appointed Lumleian lecturer in 1932 (‘The Borderlands of Medicine’) and Harveian Orator in 1947 (‘Our Founders and Benefactors’). At the Medical Society of London he delivered the Lettsomian lectures in 1934 (‘Disturbances of the Body Temperature’), his Presidential Address in 1938 (‘Lettsom’s England’) and the Annual Oration in 1943 (‘Outside the Textbooks’). The latter included remarks on spontaneous combustion, a fate which was reported as befalling alcoholics who literally went up in smoke, leaving only a greasy spot upon the floor. During the Second World War Lakin moved to Mount Vernon Hospital, Northwood, and continued there beyond his official year of retirement in 1943 at least until 1950. His Firm remained extremely popular and even after he had actually retired he still occasionally gave a "Last Lecture" at the Middlesex.

Lakin will be remembered with affection by a host of old pupils as a supreme teacher and clinical raconteur, as one of the last scholar-physicians, and as probably the very last physician-pathologist. The success of his teaching lay in his ability so to dovetail clinical and morbid anatomical findings with diagnosis and prognosis that, on his ward rounds, one could visualize the patient’s affected viscera. Similarly on Lakin’s legendary Wednesday morning pathological demonstrations, the wet specimens handed round on dinner plates were brought to life by his inimitable anecdotal clinical details of the patient.

Lakin was a short, stocky man who habitually wore a black swallow-tail coat, a wing collar, boots and pince-nez. On his ward rounds he swayed slowly back and forth on his heels and toes, questioning the assembled students with interrogative nods until he obtained the correct answer or had to supply it himself. He was quietly dignified and meticulously polite, but his sense of humour was not far below the surface and a chuckle would erupt at some particularly inept answer or to some solecism in a clerk’s clinical history. Lakin was in great demand in consulting practice; he never drove a car and always walked to the Middlesex from his home in Portland Place. After retirement in the early 1950’s he moved to West Stow Hall near Bury St. Edmunds, an historic house bought by the Croftes family in 1485 from the Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds. Here he had leisure to indulge in the beauty of his house and garden, music, history, the local archaeological society, antique furniture, pictures and a wide field of reading. He also became consulting physician to the West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St. Edmunds. Shortly before retirement he had an alarming illness with superior mediastinal obstruction due to a haemorrhage into a retrosternal goitre which needed surgical relief, and about 1952 he sustained a haematemesis. But, despite these episodes, he lived for a further twenty years, and only towards the end did his sight and memory fade. Lakin remained a bachelor and died at West Stow Hall.

LC Martin

[Brit.med.J., 1972, 2, 659; Lancet, 1972, 1, 1130, 1189; Times, 4 May 1972; East Anglian Daily Times, 4 May 1972; Bury Free Press, 5 May 1972; Middx. Hosp. J., 1968, 68, 83-4]

(Volume VI, page 272)

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