Lives of the fellows

Harold Thomas Heneage Wilson

b.28 April 1910 d.20 January 1997
MRCS LRCP(1936) MA MB BChir Cantab(1937) MRCP(1939) DTM(1939) MD(1952) FRCP(1961)

Harry Wilson was a leading dermatologist based at the Central Middlesex Hospital. A parsons son, he was born in Scarborough, where his greatgrandfather had been in general practice. From Rossall School and Caius College, Cambridge, he went on to the Middlesex for clinical training and qualified in 1936. After house jobs he set his sights on the Colonial Medical Service and in 1939 decided to go to Liverpool to study tropical medicine.

He married a nurse, Joan May Trolley, and they left for Tanganyika some months before war was declared. He worked as a general medical officer for four years and then spent a year with the Masai tribe, dealing with all their major surgical problems. He contracted iritis which prevented his transfer to the RAMC. Eventually he was to lose all sight in that eye. His son, their second child, proved rhesus incompatible and was desperately ill from birth. These two medical problems promoted the decision to return early to London in 1945.

Back at the Middlesex his interests turned to dermatology and he worked with F R Bettley [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.39], the newly appointed consultant, and at St John's Hospital for Diseases of the Skin, along with the many other demobilized hopefuls. He was appointed consultant to the Royal Northern in 1948 and to the Central Middlesex Hospital in 1949.

His Cambridge MD thesis was on erythroderma (exfoliative dermatitis). He had come across a number of such patients at the Central Middlesex to whet his interest and this prompted a further search through the Middlesex records. His final data was based on fifty patients, the majority seemingly represented an activation of a pre-existing dermatosis or an adverse reaction to a drug, a minority were an expression of a developing reticulosis, particularly mycosis fungoides. The substance of this work appeared in the Archives of Dermatology in 1954.

Patch testing was now being developed, along with an appreciation of contact allergy. This intrigued Wilson and he was quick to begin research. Streptomycin allergy was to plague many nurses working in the TB wards at his two hospitals. Wilson rightly believed that the tedious but careful use of gloves and masks would do much to prevent this allergy. He also demonstrated patients with exquisite degrees of sensitivity, he even succeeded in desensitizing a few of them. This proved a relativity short lived state of affairs as alternative regimes appeared for tuberculosis treatment.

A less esoteric but homely problem was the allergy induced by wearing rubber gloves. He delved into the methods involved in rubber manufacture, its curing and vulcanizing, and investigated the various chemicals involved in the manufacturing process which could instigate an allergic reaction. He started a contact dermatitis clinic at the hospital and with Tom Garland would often visit factories in the local district.

His wife died in 1986 after a prolonged period of ill health. They were at that time based in Wiltshire. He later moved to Ramsbury to an attractive thatched house surrounded by water, next to a mill. The river Kennet flowed close by. He developed his splendid garden from scratch and was later able to extend it by buying part of the water meadows. He could readily indulge his piscatorial hobby and enjoyed passing on his expertise to those less experienced. He did not remain home bound, though he rarely ventured up to London he enjoyed a number of foreign trips with his chosen friends.

Harry Wilson was a popular member of the London dermatological fraternity, carrying on private practice, attending various meetings and enjoying travel with the Dowling club of which he was to become an early president. He had been president of the St John's Hospital Dermatological Society and served on most of the various dermatology councils.

He is best remembered for his squint-eyed mien and the dry wit which led to a remarkable facility for impromptu after dinner speeches. That these seemed totally unprepared was a special part of the Wilson charm. Harry Wilson died at home, some weeks after a stroke.

Stephen Gold

[Brit.med.J., 1997,314,1205]

(Volume X, page 526)

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