Pickles, William Norman (1886-1969)

Scope and Content

Papers of William Norman Pickles comprise two epidemiology charts, dated 1929-1940 and 1956-1963, both complied in Aysgarth, Yorkshire.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Norman Pickles, born 6 March 1885 in Leeds; educated at Leeds Grammar School and studied medicine at the medical school of the then Yorkshire College. In his third year he proceeded with his clinical studies at the Leeds General Infirmary, where he qualified as a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries in 1909. After serving as resident obstetric officer at the Infirmary, he began a series of temporary jobs and locums in general practice. In 1910 he graduated MB BS London and became MD in 1918. His first visit to Aysgarth, Yorkshire, was as a locum for Dr Hime in 1912. After serving as a ship's doctor on a voyage to Calcutta, he returned to Aysgarth later that year as second assistant to Dr Hime. In 1913 he and the other assistant Dean Dunbar were able to purchase the practice. Pickles served as general practitioner in Aysgarth until he retired in 1964. His only break was when, interrupted by World War One, he served as surgeon-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteers.

In 1926 Pickles read and was inspired by 'The Principles of Diagnosis and Treatment in Heart Affections' by Sir James Mackenzie, who had made many important contributions to medical knowledge from his general practice in Burnley. An epidemic of catarrhal jaundice broke out in Wensleydale in 1929 affecting two hundred and fifty people out of a population of five thousand seven hundred. Pickles was able to trace the whole epidemic to a girl who he had seen in bed on the morning of a village fete and who he never thought would get up that day. In this enclosed community Pickles was able to trace and to establish the long incubation for this disease of 26 to 35 days. He published an account of the epidemic in the British Medical Journal, 24 May 1930. Two years later he published record of an outbreak of Sonne dysentery and in 1933 he recorded in the British Medical Journal the first outbreak of Bornholm disease (Epidemic Myalgia). His first published medical paper, on Vincent's disease, was published in the Royal Naval Medical Journal in 1918.

In 1935 Pickles described some of his work to the Royal Society of Medicine. After this meeting a leading article in the British Medical Journal stated 'It may mark the beginning of a new era in epidemiology'. Major Greenwood, an outstanding epidemiologist of the time, suggested that he should write a book on his observations, which was published in 1939 as Epidemiology in Country Practice. It became a medical classic [and is still in print today], establishing Pickles's reputation. It showed how a country practice could be a field laboratory with unique opportunities for epidemiologists.

Pickles was Milroy lecturer at the Royal College of Physicians of London (1942) and Cutter lecturer at Harvard University (1948). In 1946 he shared the Stewart prize of the British Medical Association with Major Greenwood, in 1953 the Bisset-Hawkins medal of the Royal College of Physicians, and in 1955 he was elected an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and was awarded the first James Mackenzie medal. He was honoured with an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Leeds University in 1950, and in 1957 was appointed CBE. He became the first President of the College of General Practitioners in 1953, a post he held until 1956. He sat on numerous committees including the General Health Services Council and Register General's Advisory Committee and lectured extensively both at home and abroad. Pickles died 2 March 1969.


Arranged in one series of epidemiology charts.

Access Information

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Acquisition Information

Dr and Mrs Pickles presented the Department of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology with his original chart books. Drawn and coloured by Mrs Pickles, they beautifully illustrate the epidemiological events of Wensleydale over nearly 30 years and were the foundation of Dr Pickles' classic 'Epidemiology in a Country Practice'. Information from Annual report 1955-1956, p.25.

Other Finding Aids

A detailed computer catalogue is available for use in the Archives and the on-line archive catalogue will be available at https://www.lshtm.ac.uk/research/library-archives-service/archives

Archivist's Note

Source: Royal College of General Practitioners website: Overview of records in the Archives - Personal Papers, Pickles. Edited by Samantha Velumyl, AIM25 cataloguer.

Related Material

Royal College of General Practitioners: professional papers 1917-1985; correspondence and papers 1912-1972