Lives of the fellows

Eirwyn Norman Rowlands

b.11 June 1915 d.8 March 2003
BSc Manch(1933) MB ChB(1936) MD(1938) MRCP(1945) FRCP(1956)

Eirwyn Norman Rowlands, known as ‘Tom’, was director of the Medical Research Council’s gastroenterological research unit at Central Middlesex Hospital, London. He was born in Acrefair, north Wales, the son of William Rowlands, a minister of religion, and Margaret Jane née Roberts, the daughter of a gentleman farmer. He was educated at Hollywood School in Stockport, and then at Stockport Grammar School, where he was captain of football. He went on to Manchester University to study medicine, qualifying in 1936 and gaining the Turner medical prize and the Stephen Lewis prize for his final examinations.

He held a house physician post at Manchester Royal Infirmary and then, between 1937 and 1939, he was a chief assistant and later assistant director of the department of clinical investigation and research. From 1939 to 1940, he was a resident medical officer and assistant pathologist at Bradford Royal Infirmary.

In 1940 he joined the RAMC, and served as a major specialising in pathology. From 1940 to 1945, he was with the 17th British General Hospital, which served in the Far East during the last three years of the war. In 1944 he was seconded as officer in charge of a survey of schistosomiasis in a West African division in India, and in the same year took part in an expedition into Tibet. From 1945 to 1946, he was a pathologist at the Queen Alexandra’s Military Hospital in London.

Following his demobilisation, he returned to Manchester, as chief assistant to the medical professorial unit at Manchester Royal Infirmary under Lord Platt [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.470]. In 1947, he became a senior registrar at the Postgraduate Medical School, London. He spent two years in the US, as a clinical and research fellow in the department of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and as a research fellow at Harvard University, carrying out work on antispasmodic drugs (‘Antispasmodic drugs; evaluation of their effects on the motor activity of the upper portion of the small intestine in man’, J Am Med Assoc 1950 Jun 17; 143[7]:627-30).

In 1949 he joined the scientific staff of the Medical Research Council, working in the department of clinical research at University College Hospital Medical School, London, and, in 1952, he became an honorary consultant physician. His published work during this time included studies on gastrointestinal motility in man, the relation of motility to peptic ulcer and observations on the cardiac and pyloric sphincters, and were done in collaboration with David Arthur Wright Edwards [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.176] and Michael Atkinson. The department’s head technician, John Honour, was a collaborator on several papers.

In 1957 Rowlands was appointed as an honorary consultant physician at Central Middlesex Hospital, and was seconded by the Medical Research Council to set up a research group in the new building provided by the Nuffield Foundation for the hospital’s department of gastroenterology. This department had been founded by Sir Francis Avery Jones [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web] and became world famous under his direction. Later the MRC extended the building to double its original size and established the research group as a research unit. From 1961 Rowlands was director of the unit at the hospital.

His main research interests remained in the area of motor mechanisms in the gastrointestinal tract and, in 1971, he gave the Oliver-Sharpey lecture at the RCP on ‘motility of the gut in health and disease’. In 1964 he was appointed as an honorary consulting clinical physiologist at St Mark’s Hospital London.

Outside medicine his hobbies and interests were mountaineering, music, belles-lettres and history. Tom Rowlands was a stockily built man with a very friendly disposition and a good sense of humour. In 1955 he married Marlene Samson, the daughter of a lawyer. They had one child.

RCP editor
Arthur Hollman

(Volume XII, page web)

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