A pioneer in public health and epidemiology, born on 10 February 1857 in Haworth, Yorkshire, to an Anglican wool merchant who was churchwarden to Patrick Brontë. After his father’s death when he was 5 years old, he was brought up by a Wesleyan mother and attended the Wesleyan Sunday school. His ambition to enter the Indian Civil Service were abandoned in favour of a medical career. At St. Thomas’s hospital, London he proved an outstanding student, winning many prizes. He became a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries in 1876, gained his MB in 1880 and MD in 1881 with a gold medal. After residential work in London hospitals, in 1883 he set up in practice in Clapham, became part-time medical officer of health there and published several books on public health.
In 1888 he became the first MOH for Brighton, where over two decades he effected many changes in such matters as sewage and waste disposal, food hygiene, healthy housing and the treatment of infectious diseases. He was especially remembered for the improvement in waste disposal by the abolition of cess-pools and the building of a municipal abattoir; for his improvement in the hygienic standards of milk and meat; and above all for his policy for dealing with tuberculosis. From 1908 to 1919 he was chief medical officer to the Local Government Board.. In both posts he promoted policies to combat tuberculosis, scarlet fever, diphtheria, epidemic diarrhoea, rheumatic fever and infant mortality. His work helped to lay the foundations of the National Health Service.
He was President of the Society of Medical Officers of Health 1900-1901 and edited its journal Public Health 1892-96 and 1906-08. He gave the Milroy Lecture of the Royal College of Physicians in 1895 and was made a fellow of the College in 1898. In 1907 he was president of the Royal Society of Medicine’s section on Epidemiology and the BMA’s section on state medicine. He was made CB in 1912 and KCB in 1917.
In retirement he lectured between 1919 and 1921 at Johns Hopkins University’s new School of Hygiene and Public Health, Baltimore and undertook several important public health projects. He wrote many books, including two on his fifty years’ experience in public health. He and his wife worshipped at Dorset Gardens Wesleyan church, Brighton, where they both took an active role in circuit and church life. He was a circuit steward for most of his time in Brighton as well as being a trustee both at Dorset Gardens and at Hove Wesleyan Methodist Churches.
His lifelong concern to prevent disease, relieve suffering and raise the living standards of the poorest in society were underpinned by his Christian (and specifically, his Methodist) faith. He died at his home in Durrington, Worthing on 17 May 1943. His obituary in the Times described him as 'a man of much personal charm' and an official who 'was always approachable by those who sought his advice'. In 2009 a Brighton bus was named after him.