Papers of: Cleave, 'Peter' (1906-1983)

Scope and Content

The papers of T L Cleave, a pioneer in the field of nutrition, are predominantly correspondence files, generated by the series of publications in which he outlined his views on the medical dangers of a diet containing refined carbohydrate. The collection reflects the organic growth of an hypothesis, together with supportive evidence gathered from across the world, culminating in The Saccharine Disease , first published jointly with G D Campbell (1966). The majority of the papers are from 1952-1975.

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomas Latimer Cleave, known as `Peter' to his friends and colleagues, was born in Exeter in 1906, and educated at Clifton College. Between 1922-27, he attended medical schools at the Royal Infirmary, Bristol, and St Mary's Hospital, London, achieving MRCS and LRCP. At Bristol, one of his teachers was Rendle Short, who had proposed that appendicitis is caused by a lack of cellulose in the diet (it is worth noting, perhaps, from a biographical perspective, that Cleave's sister had died at the age of eight years from a perforated appendicitis). Charles Darwin's writings provided the intellectual framework to Cleave's life-long engagement with the relationship between diet and health, built upon the premise that the human body is ill-adapted to the diet of modern (western) man. In this context, he considered refined carbohydrates (white flour and sugar) to be the most transformed food, and therefore the most dangerous. After completing his medical training, Cleave entered the Royal Navy in 1927 as Surgeon Lieutenant. Between 1938-1940, he served as Medical Specialist at RN Hospital, Hong Kong. It was during his war service, in 1941, whilst on the battleship King George V , that he acquired his naval nickname `the bran man' when he had sacks of bran brought on board to combat the common occurrence of constipation amongst sailors. Following war service, he worked at Royal Naval Hospitals in Chatham (1945-1948), Malta (1949-1951) and Plymouth (1952-1953). He retired from the Royal Navy in 1962 as Surgeon Captain, having finished his naval career as Director of Medical Research at the RN Medical School.

Although Cleave had published a short booklet in 1932 ( A Molecular Conception of Organisms and Neoplasms ), the publication to receive attention first was a paper published in 1956, in the Journal of the Royal Naval Medical Service , entitled: "The neglect of natural principles in current medical practice" (42:2, 55-63). This paper can be considered the foundation to a series of incremental publications aligning (Darwinian) `natural principles' in diet to sustained good health. The major publications include: Fat Consumption and Coronary Heart Disease (1957), On the Causation of Varicose Veins (1960), Peptic Ulcer (1962) and Diabetes, Coronary Thrombosis and the Saccharine Disease (1966). His final publications were The Saccharine Disease (1974), which largely synthesised his previous publications, and the paper published in 1977: "Over-consumption. Now the most dangerous cause of disease in Westernised countries," Public Health: The Journal of the Society of Community Medicine (91:3), 127-31.

Recognition came late to Cleave. In 1979, he was awarded both the Harben gold medal of the Royal Institute of Public Health and Hygiene and the Gilbert Blane medal for naval medicine by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. During the 1970s, his ideas found favour in America, where the doctor and author Miles H Robinson was a particular champion. Robinson was instrumental in the American publication of The Saccharine Disease , for which he wrote an introduction. In 1973, Cleave gave evidence to the US Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, at the invitation of Senator George McGovern. Not without support (Sir Richard Doll provided a Foreword to successive editions of Diabetes, Coronary Thrombosis and the Saccharine Disease ), nevertheless throughout his life Cleave was very much an outsider to the medical establishment. His publications, all made at his own expense, were often criticised for being too theoretical and insufficiently grounded in detailed primary research. As Kenneth Heaton has noted, he was "recording differences in disease patterns over time and space long before the epidemiology of chronic diseases was a recognised discipline...[and] he painted with broad strokes on the biggest possible canvas when others were focusing on ever more minute areas of investigation."


By section as follows: A.1-4 Personal, B.1-2 Lecture Notes and Advice to Naval Personnel, C.1 Specific Correspondence, C.2 General Correspondence, D.1-4 Research, E.1-2 Appearance Before US Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs (1973), F.1-8 Publication, G.1 Proofs.

Access Information

The papers are available subject to the usual conditions of access to Archives and Manuscripts material, by prior appointment with the Archivist after the completion of a Reader's Undertaking.

Acquisition Information

These records were presented to the Contemporary Medical Archives Centre (known as Archives and Manuscripts following its merger with Western Manuscripts in July 2000) by The Hugh Sinclair Trust at the University of Reading in February, 1996 (Acc No 623).

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued by Chris Beckett, CMAC, Wellcome Library, June 2001.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Chris Beckett. Sources consulted: BMJ (15 October, 1983) 287:1145; BMJ (12 November, 1983) 287:1480; Lancet (8 October, 1983), 862-3; Heaton, Kenneth, Cleave (The Founders of Modern Nutrition series), London: The McCarrison Society (n.d.); and PP/CLE/A1/1.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies/photographs/microfilm are supplied for private research only at the Archivist's discretion. Please note that material may be unsuitable for copying on conservation grounds, and that photographs cannot be photocopied in any circumstances. Readers are restricted to 100 photocopies in twelve months. Researchers who wish to publish material must seek copyright permission from the copyright owner.

Custodial History

Cleave's papers formed part of the estate left to the International Nutrition Foundation (INF) by the late Hugh Sinclair. At the final meeting of the INF, on 18 November 1995, the Institute's assets were transferred to the Trustees of the new Hugh Sinclair Trust at the University of Reading.

Related Material

Material held by Archives and Manuscripts, Wellcome Library: Rev Dr H C Trowell FRCP (PP/HCT); D P Burkitt FRS (WTI/DPB: interim draft list only available); and N S Painter FRCS (PP/NSP: interim draft list only available).

Geographical Names