Lives of the fellows

John Crighton Bramwell

b.4 March 1889 d.8 September 1976
BA Cantab(1910) MA(1921) MB ChB Manch(1915) MD(1923) MRCP(1929) FRCP(1929) Hon FRCPE(1960)

John Crighton Bramwell was born in Edinburgh, the son of Byron Bramwell and his wife Martha Crighton. His father, later Sir Byron, an outstanding clinical teacher and scientist in Edinburgh, was for many years Scotland’s leading physician; and his eldest brother Edwin became a well known neurologist and professor of clinical medicine in the University of Edinburgh. Both were Fellows of the College.

He was sent to his father’s school, Cheltenham College, and entered Trinity College Cambridge as an exhibitioner, where he obtained a first class in the Natural Sciences Tripos. In 1912 he embarked on his clinical medical training with a scholarship at the University of Manchester, chosen by his father instead of Edinburgh so that the two brothers would not compete with each other in later years. At that time consultant posts at Manchester Royal Infirmary were almost invariably filled by selection from local graduates. Moreover the Infirmary drained patients from the largest populated area in the country.

On the outbreak of the first world war Bramwell volunteered for service overseas and joined the 1st East Lancashire Territorial Field Ambulance in Egypt. The following year he was granted leave for two months to sit his final examination, after which he was posted to the 23rd Division in France and Italy, at first with a Field Ambulance, later as DADMS to GHQ, Italy.

When demobilized Bramwell became GR Murray’s house physician, and medical and cardiographic registrar at Manchester Royal Infirmary. While at Cambridge he had come under the influence of Keith Lucas, and in Manchester he collaborated with AV Hill in the University department of physiology, which resulted in several papers on pulse wave velocity and arterial elasticity. In 1923, as Rockefeller fellow of the Medical Research Council, he studied at Washington University and the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research, New York.

On his return to Manchester in 1925 he was appointed assistant lecturer in experimental physiology. After five years devoted to clinical teaching and physiological research, during which time he obtained his MD with gold medal, in 1926 he was elected to the honorary staff of Manchester Royal Infirmary and entered consulting practice as a cardiologist. He was appointed professor of systematic medicine in the University of Manchester in 1940, a post he vacated in 1946 to permit the appointment of Robert Platt as full time professor of medicine. In its place Bramwell became professor of cardiology, a post he held with distinction until, on retiring in 1954, he was made professor emeritus by the University.

Throughout his professional life Bramwell was a tireless worker, and published on cardiovascular topics, pulse wave velocity, aneurysmal dilatation of the left auricle, bundle branch block, quinidine therapy, the heart of athletes, gallop rhythm, the alcoholic heart and on blood pressure and myocardial infarction. He was the author of several textbooks including Heart Disease and Pregnancy(1938), and Principles and Practice of Cardiology (1942) written jointly with King of Baltimore.

Tall and slim, Bramwell had a distinguished and cultured appearance which, with his innate courtesy and charm, made him a popular consultant in practice. His kindness and consideration towards his subordinates was invariable; even under provocation he was controlled and urbane. His success as a clinician however was due to the amalgam of a shrewd clinical sense and an extensive knowledge of the scientific basis of cardiology. As a teacher he was popular, since he had the peculiar gift of the greatest teachers of rendering difficult topics simple. He was an ideal examiner, and much sought after as a lecturer and speaker.

He was recognized by his contemporaries as one of the leading cardiologists of his time, and a clinician of the first rank, who built up an outstanding department of cardiology in Manchester. Bramwell’s flair for writing led to many demands on his time. He was editor, and later senior editor, of the Quarterly Journal of Medicine and a member of the editorial board of the British Heart Journal for many years. In 1956 a special number of this journal was dedicated to him. He was president of the Association of Physicians and the Cardiac Society in 1955.

Bramwell was active in College affairs, holding office as councillor, censor and senior censor. In 1937 he was Lumleian lecturer and in 1956 gave the Harveian Oration. When he retired Bramwell resided permanently near Ambleside in the Lake District, where he was occupied with his leisure activities of gardening and fly fishing. His later years were marred by increasing difficulty in getting about and much to his chagrin the loss of a leg was very restricting.

In 1929 Bramwell married Elsa Violet, daughter of James Risk, distiller, of Edinburgh. They had two sons, one of whom carried on the family medical tradition into the fourth generation when he became a general practitioner, and a daughter who went into medical publishing.

HT Howat

[Brit.med.J., 1976, 2, 764; Times, 11 Sept 1976; RCP Edin. Chronicle, Jan 1977, 7 (1)]

(Volume VII, page 61)

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