Lives of the fellows

Pendrill Charles (Sir) Varrier-Jones

b.24 February 1883 d.30 January 1941
Kt(1931) BA Cantab(1905) MA Cantab(1909) MRCS LRCP(1910) MRCP(1929) FRCP(1934)

‡ Pendrill Charles Varrier-Jones was born at Troedyrhiw, Glamorgan. As the son of Dr Charles Morgan Jones, a general practitioner in a mining district, and of Margaret Jenkins whose family were in big business in the coal industry, he seems to have inherited characteristics exactly suited to that rare combination of an interest in medicine and a flair for dealing with unusual industrial problems, and so to his life’s work in the foundation and development of Papworth Village Settlement.

From Epsom College he went to Wycliffe College, Stonehouse, which still has the Margaret Yarrier scholarship which he founded in memory of his mother. At nineteen he entered St. John’s College, Cambridge, as a foundation scholar, graduating with first class honours in the natural sciences tripos in 1905. His medical school was St. Bartholomew’s. After a junior house appointment there he held what his friends considered but a dead-end post as temporary assistant to Professor Sir German Sims-Woodhead at Cambridge, working on research into bovine tuberculosis. As he was unfit for military service he followed this with the stop-gap post of temporary tuberculosis officer to the Cambridgeshire Council’s Dispensary.

But Yarrier-Jones had found the basis for his career. He was quick to see that treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis in those days, when sixty-six per cent of patients admitted with disease beyond the early stage were dead within five years of discharge, was but a half-way house to death, and that advice on after-care was useless unless applied in sheltered conditions of home and work. With his characteristic enthusiasm he persuaded people of public spirit in Cambridge to support a Tuberculosis Colony at the village of Bourn, where his motto for his twelve patients was: ‘Work produces hope and hope produces vitality’.

Varrier-Jones saw that tuberculosis was then much more an individual social and economic problem than a medical one; security and pride in self-support from productive work were essential to the future welfare of every treated sufferer. He shocked his fellow-workers by saying that the positive-sputum patient could live with his family without infecting them if he was allowed to apply the lessons of sanatorium hygiene in a sheltered home. His critics were confounded; no child born in Papworth developed tuberculosis. Unfortunately he did not live to see that none of its sons returned from the Second World War with tuberculosis, although most of them suffered the horrors of the Death Railway in Siam.

His village settlement became the Mecca of tuberculosis workers from all over the world. Its success brought him requests to organise copies at Preston Hall for the British Legion, Enham Village Centre in Hampshire, and the Peamount Settlement in Dublin. In 1932 the International Union against Tuberculosis made him president of its sub-committee for occupational therapy and after-care. He received in 1931 the thoroughly deserved honour of a knighthood. He was Weber-Parkes prizeman in 1939 and Mitchell lecturer to the College in 1927.

No one who saw him only once in his beloved village could ever forget his massive figure, his dark eyes, his flowing black hair, his dynamic personality and his air of benevolent autocracy. There he was the fortunate personality who could leave a mass of detail to devoted workers whom he loved and who loved and admired him in return. His sudden death in 1941 was a loss not only to them but to multitudes of disciples. ‘V-J’, or ‘Pendragon’, as he was affectionately known to them all, wrote several papers on the administrative and economic problems of tuberculosis, on the value of Dreyer’s diaplyte vaccine, on clinical thermometry, and on the cellular content of milk. He did not marry.

Richard R Trail

‡ Changed name from Jones to Varrier-Jones by J 929.

[Brit. J. Tuberc., 1941, 35, 43-5; Brit.med.J., 1941, 1, 220-21, 297, 335, 348; Lancet, 1941, 1, 198, 231, 264; Nature (Lond.), 1941, 147, 290-91; St. Bart’s Hosp. J. (War ed.), 1940-41, 2, 140-42; Tubercle (Edinb.), 1941, 22, 47-8.]

(Volume V, page 429)

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